An internship can be a difficult time of transition. For many of you reading this blog post, next summer will be the first time you have left the safe confines of academia and ventured into the world of deadlines and responsibilities. In other words — you’ll be taking on your first real job. And like anything you do for the first time, you walk in with trepidation and cautious optimism, wondering how everything works. You’ll have a million questions and you’ll want to ask them faster than Eminem can rap. If only there was someone who can answer them all for you. Ladies and gents…presenting Exhibit A — your very own personal VMware mentor.
Before we delve into the wonderful luxury of having a mentor, let’s talk about me first. I started my first internship with VMware in the summer of 2010, working as a member of the Quality Assurance team. It was my first real taste of the working world, and frankly, I was quite lost. But I had a great mentor who figuratively held my hand through the summer, and I ended the internship on a high note. Fast-forward a year later. I was back at VMware for a second summer stint, this time with a completely different department. I had made a soul-enlightening revelation as I had discovered what I really wanted to do, write. So I signed on to help VMware push out their vSphere 5.0 product as a summer intern for technical publications.
Same company, different job. Another million questions I needed answered. Enter Wendy Shaffer, VMware staff technical writer — my mentor for summer 2011. The person who arguably saved my entire summer from crashing down in a fiery blaze. So what did I do this past summer?
I wrote Knowledge Base articles. See, when a customer that’s using a VMware product gets stumped for whatever reason, he calls tech support. There’s a back-and-forth question and answer session and hopefully, at some point, the issue is resolved. The better alternative is for said customer to visit VMware’s online repository of useful information called the VMware Knowledge Base. Here, you can type in the keywords of a symptom and chances are there will be a well-written article with all your answers. How convenient, right? So I wrote over a hundred KB articles in anticipation for the big vSphere 5.0 summer release, and Wendy was there for every single one.
Right off the bat, we established a good working relationship. We had to. Countless VMware customers will read these KBs, so a poorly written article could very well bring the company grief. It didn’t help that a level of polish and clarity was often missing when a clueless intern drafts them. So twice a week, an hour at a time, Wendy would waltz over to my cubicle and we would sit there, reading what I wrote earlier that week. It wasn’t just her comments on my writing style that helped improve my work, it was also the way she approached an engineer’s request to document a KB article. I remember, on more than a few occasions, sitting there with my hands pulling on my hair as I tried in vain to understand what a developer wrote in the KB request form. It was a disheartening feeling, the one you get when you’re at your wit’s end. But Wendy was always there to go “Aha! I think I can explain this! Here goes nothing!” Again — the person who saved my entire summer.
But it goes beyond that. Wendy approached her mentoring with a laissez-faire approach, and this is something you need to understand — your mentor is not your boss. She is there to guide you and be a helping hand in times of great need. In my case, it seemed like this time was every other day. But what she was not there to do was boss you around. In many ways, Wendy was like a big sister who knew the right answers and always brought a calming presence to a hectic day. We also bonded on a personal level and discovered we both had a passion for fantasy and science fiction novels. In fact, we still keep in touch, and will be meeting up for FOGcon, an annual literary-themed Sci-fi/Fantasy convention, next April.
So there you have it — a portrait of a typical VMware summer intern and his mentor. It was a great experience, and something that may very well be unique to VMware. I remember the CEO, Paul Maritz, telling us interns about how committed VMware is to the internship program because it’s a commitment to the future. That’s why we all have a mentor, no exceptions — someone you can go to when you’re at your lowest moment. Someone who can help you better yourself and further your career at VMware.
Liang has worked as a MTS: QA Intern during the summer of 2010, and as a MTS: Technical Publications Intern for vSphere 5.0 during the summer of 2011. He received his B.S.E.E. from San Jose State University in 2009, and is currently finishing up his M.S.E.E. at San Jose State University. In his spare time, he enjoys a good laugh or two.
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