July 2, 2019

Career Path: Katie Paugh, DevOps Engineering Manager at Lola

What do the career path and day-in-the-life look like for the DevOps Engineering Manager at Lola?

We connected with Katie Paugh to find out!

Also, Lola is hiring! Check out the list of all the company's job openings to the right!

Where did you grow up? What did your parents do for work?  

I was a military brat so I was born in Anchorage, Alaska, lived a few years in Iceland, and then finally settled in Virginia. Growing up, my parents were both in the AirForce as jet mechanics. My dad then went to work for the Norfolk Northrop Grumman Shipyard and my mom became a nurse. She always says, “I went from fixing jets to fixing people”.

Where did you go to college?  What did you study and what were some of your initial jobs out of school?

I went to the Rochester Institute of Technology and studied Information Security and Forensics with a minor in Criminal Justice. I was always drawn to security and finding out how people could exploit different systems. I knew while still in school that I didn’t want to be 100% security focused because I was worried I’d miss the forest for the trees. I wanted to see how systems worked and decide where I could fit in and how I could apply my security background. 

Right out of college I ended up at a small company that made a risk management product for high-frequency traders. I was a support engineer talking to end users about their problems and packet sniffing to see where the issues were occurring. I learned a lot about Linux systems and scripting. I wasn’t there long before I realized I was getting extremely specialized in a field I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay in.

My next job was at a DevOps consulting company. That was my first deep dive into all things DevOps. I was exposed to dozens of different companies and how they handle automation and deployments. I was exposed to compliance in different industries and different technical solutions. This really sparked my love for security, compliance, and technology all rolled into one. I learned which tools were good for which situations and how to react to production outages.

What has attributed to your success thus far and has helped propel you to the position you have now?

I’ve been extremely lucky with the people I’ve had the opportunity to work with during my career. Every company I’ve been at I’ve been surrounded by people who are excited to help me learn and who have inspired me to be my best. I never want to be the smartest person in a room because that’s when you stop growing and learning. At Lola, I’m learning from my team every day. We all come from different backgrounds and all bring something special to the table so I’m constantly pushed to be better.

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Manager of DevOps at Lola Travel?

  • Handle a lot of the project management for my team and help prioritize tasks since we get a ton of unplanned work and requests. 

  • Go to high-level architecture meetings with other teams to scope out what the DevOps and security portion would look like. 

  • Vet third-party products to determine if it’s better to build or buy the software. 

  • Manage the on-call schedule and participate in on the call for both the infrastructure and the application side of things

  • Schedule all of the onboarding meetings for the new hires

  • Work on determining what career ladders and career growth looks like for my team and for all of the engineering team looks like as a whole

  • Hands on the keyboard to help determine the cause of outages or deploy pipeline issues

  • Work on rolling out small projects and working towards DevOps goals

  • Interviewing candidates who want to join our Engineering team

  • For fun, I organize or help organize Game Nights, Beer Friday, sponsoring a community garden, Engineer Breakfasts, and Engineering Offsites (like going to King’s bowling).

Any tips for someone considering a career in DevOps?

Try a bunch of different tools! Being able to switch tools and contexts quickly really helps make a great DevOps engineer. There are a half dozen different ways to handle configuration management and the best way to know the benefits of each is to try using them. There are different scripting languages, build pipeline tools, infrastructure as code tools, and there are new open source projects every day. 

DevOps at a startup is going to be drastically different than DevOps at a Fortune 100 company. In a startup, you’ll have to wear a bunch of different hats and that could include IT and QA. A priceless skill is being willing to jump into any problem, regardless of whether you’re familiar with it, and trying to piece together what’s happening. Operations, in general, can be high stress because they tend to get the most attention when things are broken. You need to be able to calmly assess a situation while people are asking a million questions during a production outage. 

I really enjoy those kinds of high stress/high adrenaline situations. I feel like I really get to stretch myself and focus on a hard problem. Things break all of the time and I love diving in and trying to figure out what changed. You need to have a wide knowledge of how all of the different systems interact with each other in order to debug things.

Day in the Life

Coffee, tea, or nothing?

Tea in the morning and coffee after lunch!

What time do you get into the office? 

Between 9 AM and 10 AM. Or earlier if I want to leave earlier that day.

What are three things that motivate you in your role?

  1. My team! They’re the best part about coming to work every day. They’re both super passionate about DevOps and bring a different perspective to the problems we’re solving.

  2. The tech. Our team has the autonomy to choose the tools that work best for us so we’ve been able to try out some fun technology to solve problems. We get the chance to spend a few weeks R&Ding a solution and then determining if we should move forward. I’ve learned a ton just by experimenting with different open source and third-party tools.

  3. The Problems. I love a good stress-inducing problem. Why does the server crash at 2:32 AM every third Tuesday of the month? What keeps pegging the staging database and locking everyone out? Why can’t User A access the service but every other user can? I like to do deep dives into a technical issue to help solve problems. In DevOps, we get a good overview of how everything works together so we’re often called in to help troubleshoot. As weird as it sounds, I really enjoy digging through logs to find the discrepancies. As my role has changed so have the problems I love to solve. How do we manage our ongoing projects while also handling all of the unplanned work? How can we make our systems more resilient to certain failures? When do we add more tooling vs better training for engineering? And the best problem that every startup hopes they run into; how do we scale?

Every day is different, but can you outline what a typical day looks like for you?

  • I get in around 9:30 AM and grab some tea. 

  • Talk to my team about the issues we ran into the day before and what we’re focusing on today. See if there are any blockers I can help with and give an update on anything I was working on.

  • Go through emails, slacks, and ticket requests that came in since my last login. Prioritize the requests and assign them to myself or find someone on the team.

  • Go through any ThreatStack Sev 2 or 3 alerts that have been triggered and respond or tweak the thresholds of alerting.

  • Work on whichever project I’m tasked to that week until lunch.

  • After lunch, I tend to do onboarding trainings for new hires, one on ones, or career ladder planning.

  • My day is also peppered with various unplanned worked and answering questions for people.

Do you log back in at night or do you shut it down completely?  

I’m pretty available until 7 PM and again at 7 AM. I try not to check Slack or email outside of those times. I definitely have trouble unplugging on vacation so I go places that don’t have Wi-Fi or cell signal. 

Any productivity hacks?

Break large projects into smaller tasks and prioritize. That way if you need to simplify the scope then you’ve already got the important things out of the way. It’s also really motivating to see a bunch of small things in the “Done” column.

What are the 3 apps that you can’t live without?

  1. Slack - for chat

  2. Keybase - for secure chat

  3. FitBit - I like to see how many steps I get in a day running up and down the stairs between floors.

Colin Barry is the Content Manager for VentureFizz. Follow him on Twitter @ColinKrash

Images courtesy of Katie Paugh