How I learned to speak engineer: Lessons from a future member of the Office of the CTO

Anna Latinovic Intern, Office of the CTO Published 22 Oct 2021

The following piece of thought leadership was submitted to the Office of the CTO by Anna Latinovic. She has spent the last few months working as an Extreme Networks co-op student (intern) as a software automation developer in Toronto. She’s going to have a great career, and we thought her tips on learning how engineers actually work and what she’s learned about working with engineers were just as helpful to anyone who’s been in business for 20 years or two minutes. Best of luck to Anna in her career!    

Everyone deals with engineers and engineering for the first time. This was my first experience in a real role, working alongside engineers and leaders of engineering. Here’s what I learned:

  1.      “To go fast, you have to go slow first.”

This quote is from my favorite soccer coach; however, I never understood what this meant until my co-op term with Extreme Networks. In the beginning, it felt like everything was moving slowly in terms of my learning and work progress. That was slightly discouraging, but I didn’t let it stop me. Halfway through the co-op term, I knew I was hitting the fast part after going slow. I was able to refer to code sections immediately, answer questions off the bat, provide new ideas and be resourceful.

  1.      “Never be afraid to ask questions, even if they may seem silly to you.”

In the first two months, I asked questions like crazy to soak up all information like a sponge. Halfway through the co-op term, I made a mistake in terms of asking questions. In my head, I thought that I should not be asking as many questions because I felt I should know a lot more than I actually do. After discussing this with my manager, he reminded me that I should continue asking questions. Asking questions shows that you are interested and want to learn more. It’s how you learn, no matter where you are in your career, I think. 

  1.      “I learned more from these four months than I did from eight months of university.”

There’s no substitute for doing. I do not want to bash my university of any sort. Instead, I want to highlight the importance of industry experience. The corporate world and classroom are two different dimensions. In the classroom, you are only worried about your GPA.  In the corporate world, millions of dollars are invested in these products that you assist in developing, expanding, or improving. You feel the weight of your work and its importance much more than in the classroom. Customers are involved in handling these networking solutions to grow their businesses – they need them to work! They are also investing large sums of money that I cannot even visualize. The way you interact with your professor is entirely different from your manager or colleagues.

What I did

My primary project throughout the four months was creating detailed Sphinx documentation for the software development kit (SDK) of the Extreme Campus Controller. In simple terms, Sphinx documentation is website-style documentation with an in-depth explanation of the code for the Extreme Campus Controller SDK. The elemental need for documentation is to reference specific functions and classes of code with ease. As well, it is valuable for employees, partners, and customers to read it to understand the code. I also wrote a deep-dive technical blog on the subject.

I want to acknowledge that the first two months of my internship were the most significant learning curve I have ever overcome. I was plopped into the corporate world. It was a small fish in a big pond moment for me. Before I continue, I would like to acknowledge that my manager was very helpful in answering my questions and being patient with me.

However, there are some components of the corporate world that you cannot be taught in the style of a textbook to paper but rather just by effort. One of those learning moments is the whole bunch of acronyms for the company products. I felt as though I needed a dictionary for all these acronyms. I crystally remember when I asked my manager what ‘QA’ was. The software world means “Quality Assurance,” but I thought it was some intricate product name. I bet you are enduring a second embarrassment right now because I am too for myself. Does this happen to other people? I feel it must.

Another crucial obstacle for me to hurdle over was comprehending the code handed to me. I have never seen that many lines of code. It felt like I was reading the encyclopedia. To create the Sphinx documentation for the Extreme Campus Controller SDK, I needed to understand the code. Here is where I learned the meaning of a game plan on a whole different level. I swallowed small increments of code to solidify my understanding. Whenever I was at the crossroads of knowledge, I would ask questions because I never wanted to assume anything.

Overall, I learned to overcome any embarrassment, to ask questions and try to learn. I have learned: Knowledge is gained through effort and the desire to understand.

And I have learned that engineering is a world that can be understood

I am so grateful for the opportunity I had at Extreme Networks and excited for the career ahead of me. There is a lot to do, and so much to learn. I can’t wait.

Anna Latinovic is a third-year student (junior) at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, majoring in Honors Specialization Applied Mathematics with a minor in Computer Science.

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