culture

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Meet Alejandro Torrealba: How My Willingness to Learn and Embrace Different Cultures Has Grown My Career

In honor of National Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month, I sat down with Alejandro Torrealba to learn more about his career at MongoDB, how moving around the world has allowed him to embrace his passion for other cultures, and how he honors his Venezuelan roots. Alejandro is a Technical Program Manager at MongoDB. Take a look at his story. Ashley Perez: It sounds as if you’ve had an exciting start to your career, especially in terms of all the places you’ve lived. Can you tell me a bit more about that? Alejandro Torrealba: I always like to learn new things, relate to new and different people, and apply logical and mathematical thinking to solve problems. As I finished my computer engineering degree, I had a technical internship supporting Microsoft Venezuela’s marketing department. After working a few years, I decided I wanted to interact with different cultures and professional spaces, so I went to England to get my master’s in computer science and worked at a London startup, first as head of development and later as a product manager. After five years in London, I left the startup to work as a product owner at a much bigger European corporation in Edinburgh. Eventually, I was promoted to the role of an agile program manager there. In 2018, I moved to New York for personal reasons. When considering job opportunities, I wanted to work for a growing, innovative organization with modern products that had a diverse and inclusive team, high working standards, and strong branding. With those criteria, I applied to MongoDB and officially joined the team in May 2019 as a technical program manager. AP: As a travel lover myself, I’m a little envious of all the amazing places you’ve lived. Very cool! And it sounds as if MongoDB benefited from your move to New York. Can you tell me about your role? AT: On the Technical Program Management team, we focus on managing and supporting the processes to ensure lean and timely software delivery. That requires a technical understanding of what we want to build, knowledge of the “team’s personality,” cross-team communication, planning, and follow-ups. Each technical program manager works with a defined number of teams, managing cross-team initiatives and performing process improvement and automation projects. Outside of the projects we manage, we usually have regular program manager team meetings to coordinate, share ideas, support each other, and generally catch up. AP: Before COVID-19, you worked in our New York headquarters. What was that like? AT: New York City is one of the greatest cities and cultural centers in the world. The diversity there brings people together from all continents, religions, gender preferences, and professions, providing infinite choices for different relationships, work opportunities, technologies, entertainment, arts, dance, food, and social events. MongoDB’s NYC office reflects this variety too . There is significant diversity of personal and professional backgrounds, and every person is well-acknowledged and respected. As there is space for everyone in NYC, there is space for excellent employees at MongoDB. You just have to make sure you do a great job! AP: Speaking of diversity, let’s talk about Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month. What does it mean to you? AT: It is a time to commemorate and celebrate the Latino American people's continuous contributions in building the United States’ modern society. For me, that celebration is a welcoming message to all the Latino American people willing to work and continue contributing. There is so much of the Latino American culture found in NYC, including food, music, dance, sports, people, arts, and more. Even during the pandemic, there are plenty of options for experiencing the culture. I am sure there are great taco and arepa places that can deliver you a taste of that, and good online events for you to see salsa dancing! MongoDB is a place where you can be and express who you are. One of our core values literally embraces the “power of differences,” and this has shaped our company culture. That is something many of us may take for granted, but in reality, the MongoDB culture has been designed to be inclusive, and we invest to make it better in that way. This is why we’re able to celebrate things like Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month. And we will continue to celebrate other aspects of the diversity we have here as well. AP: Is there anything you’d like to share about your culture that’s a huge part of who you are? AT: Kindness, sharing, and being family-oriented were always big parts of the Venezuelan culture, as I know it has been part of Latino American culture in general. As Venezuelans, my family always emphasized these values, as well as learning, working, and having some fun and celebration to connect with family and friends. I like to keep these values no matter where I live. My culture has also taught me to be kind to others, conserve the books I read so that others can read them later, and not to ever waste food. AP: How do you keep your culture alive as you move around? AT: I have great friends from Venezuela who live in New York, and we see each other frequently. Apart from that, I enjoy specific Latin food places and never get tired of inviting friends and coworkers to share that food with me. I also try to enjoy other cultures, especially by spending time with friends I’ve made in the United Nations systems and other international organizations. After living and working in a few places, I truly believe that most people are naturally willing to relate to others in a safe way, so it’s been interesting to share our cultures with one another. AP: That’s a great way to look at it. Backtracking a bit, I’d love to learn more about why you chose MongoDB and what makes you stay. AT: Once I arrived in New York, I was looking for a growing technology company that was a leader in its industry and financially stable, with an excellent reputation as an employer. I found all of that in MongoDB. I have worked with teams from Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, England, Scotland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, India, and different places from the United States during my career. From that experience, I can affirm our standard for professionalism and excellence here is very high, generating the best products quickly. I believe it represents an attractive challenge for anyone in the technology industry. I can say all the great reviews I read on Glassdoor while applying to MongoDB are totally true. AP: Any parting thoughts for why someone would want to join your team? AT: At MongoDB, you’ll have the freedom to do your job in the best way possible while responding to high, transparent, and fair expectations. We discuss, agree, do our work, check results, look for improvement, and support each other as needed. It’s a great environment to grow your career and genuinely an amazing place to work. Interested in pursuing a career at MongoDB? We have several open roles on our teams across the globe , and would love for you to build your career with us! Join MongoDB in supporting organizations fighting for racial justice and equal opportunity. Donate to our fund by December 31, 2020 and MongoDB will match the donation up to a maximum aggregate amount of $250,000. Learn more here .

October 15, 2020

Technical Services Engineering at MongoDB: Meet Alex Bevilacqua

I've been a technical services engineer (TSE) at MongoDB for two years now, but I wanted to share what the journey of getting started in this role looked like for me. I'm also going to dive deeper into what a TSE actually does and why it is both a challenging and fulfilling career. First, a Bit About Me I have been writing software since I was a kid, starting with some automation tools for my mom's business. I then moved on to building tools to help me cheat at various games I was playing at the time, and eventually I got more into emulator programming and reverse engineering. I guess you could say I've always loved solving problems programmatically, and I've especially enjoyed identifying opportunities for automation and custom tooling. I have been working in application development and software engineering for nearly two decades. I started off writing desktop applications in QuickBASIC and Turbo Pascal, and then eventually in Visual Basic 6, Visual Basic .net, C++, and C# as well. When it was time to shift focus to web development, I began with HTML/JavaScript/Cascading Style Sheets (as we all do), and then moved to Adobe Flash/ActionScript 3, Flex, Python, Ruby on Rails, and Node.js. This led me down an informal DevOps track, because I was finding a need for optimization in the infrastructure layers to which my applications were deployed. And that led me deeper into Linux internals, system administration, and network operations. While I was gaining these new skill sets, my primary focus was always on application development and delivery. Before coming to MongoDB, I was working as a development lead/system architect, but I found that my focus was always being drawn back to solving performance challenges at the infrastructure level. Why MongoDB? I started working with MongoDB on a number of "hobby" projects around 2012. At the time, I really only had experience with RDBMS's, but due to the unstructured nature of the data I was working with, I decided to give this new technology a whirl. I fell in love with the database almost immediately and have since carried it forward to multiple new employers, as well as to contract opportunities and consulting agreements. The low barrier to entry from a development bootstrapping perspective made it ideal back end for proof-of-concept development through to production deployment. As a result of this increased activity with MongoDB, I found myself doing a lot more investigaiton into performance issues and internals (links are to blog posts about challenges I encountered and resolved). Why Technical Services? This was initially very challenging for me, because I had preconceived notions about what "technical services" actually implied. The first thoughts that popped into my head were "technical support," "client support," "tiered customer support," and so forth. While researching this position, I came across a two-part blog post from 2012 by a MongoDB employee who blogged about his experience as a support engineer. I found his reasons for joining MongoDB, such as the kinds of challenges the job poses on a daily basis and how there is a constant push for self improvement and continuing education, aligned with what I was looking for in a new career. What's a Technical Services Engineer on Paper? To answer this question, let's start off by analyzing the job posting that kicked off this journey for me in the first place. So, they're looking for people who are able to solve problems and communicate clearly. This could be a call center gig after all...oh wait, experts in MongoDB, related database servers, drivers, tools, services...hmm, maybe there's a bit more to this. Architecture, performance, recovery, security -- those are a lot more complex than what you would face in a traditional support role. What really sold me, though, was the "contribute to internal projects" statement, which aligned perfectly with my desire for process improvement through custom tooling. By the time I got to this point in the job posting, I was already sold. MongoDB is either trying to staff its first-tier support with ridiculously over qualified employees, or technical services really isn't what I thought it was. I proceeded to fill out the application, attached my resume and cover letter, and crossed my fingers that MongoDB would reach out to me. What's a Technical Services Engineer in Practice? After working with other TSEs for the past two years and having had an opportunity to handle customer cases on my own, I think I can shed a bit of light on what this role really entails. How is it a Support Role? A TSE interacts with MongoDB's clients via a support queue. This allows incoming "cases" to be prioritized and categorized to allow engineers to quickly identify what form of subject matter expertise may be required (indexing, replication, sharding, performance, networking, or drivers, for example). As a TSE, You're responsible for claiming cases from a queue and providing feedback in a timely fashion that is clear, concise, and technically accurate. The types of problems can vary from "How do I...," to "We are preparing for a major sales event and want to ensure we're properly configure" to "OMG EVERYTHING IS ON FIRE!!!" I've had the privilege of leveraging some of my past experience to assist customers through data recovery exercises, and of using new skills I've learned to help with query optimization, programming challenges, performance troubleshooting, and diagnostic analysis. With experience also comes the opportunity to become more integrated with key clients that require more attention. As a trusted advisor, you act as the liaison between the client and MongoDB Technical Services and are more involved in long-term planning to help customers prepare for major events. How is it an Engineering Role? Here's the juicy part of this job. Although replying to client requests is the "deliverable" for a TSE, how you go about reproducing the clients' issues requires a very deep understanding of MongoDB internals, software engineering, network engineering, infrastructure architecture, and technical troubleshooting. Depending on the type of issue, a reproduction is likely in store. These involve re-creating the environment (locally or in the cloud) to either benchmark or replicate the identified client challenge. There is a vast library of tools available to TSEs for these kinds of tasks, but on some occasions, the right tool for the job may not exist. In these cases, you have an opportunity to write your own scripts or tools to parse logs, measure performance, record telemetry, or verify a hypothesis. Although MongoDB doesn't require TSEs to have any programming experience, for those such as myself who come from product engineering, it's refreshing to know there's still an opportunity to scratch the development itch. How Does it Feel Working Here? MongoDB has set a high bar for TSEs with respect to the level of experience and expertise required to join the ranks. Although I'd already had a multi-decade career in software development and architecture, I definitely felt some imposter syndrome as I got to know and interact with my team. Everyone I've had the pleasure of working with up until now has been welcoming and helpful. I've learned a lot about MongoDB's suite of applications, services, and drivers and continue to learn daily. As a programmer I have access to like-minded developers. As an author I have access to like-minded bloggers and writers. As an individual contributor I have access to a wealth of resources and knowledgeable individuals who are willing and able to help me continue achieving new personal and professional goals. Wrap-Up The TSE role continues to be redefined and refined as new MongoDB products come on board and new challenges present themselves. What will likely remain constant, though, is the need for new engineers with the following characteristics: A passion for continuing technical education A willingness to step outside their comfort zone A interest in software engineering A interest in network operations I encourage you to check out MongoDB's available jobs if what I've described here interests you (I swear HR is not putting me up to this), because we could use more engineers like you in our ranks! Feel free to read my personal blog or shoot me an email at alex@alexbevi.com if you have any questions. Interested in pursuing a career at MongoDB? We have several open roles on our teams across the globe , and would love for you to build your career with us!

October 12, 2020