I was incredibly excited when I learned of Reed’s Winter Shadows program. I would describe the program as a take on ‘take your child to work day’, where Reed students shadowed different jobs with the intention of getting a better idea of what it would be like to work at said job. It’s a great way of understanding what career path you’re interested in. A great Winter Shadow is one in which you learned something significant: whether it be that you want to pursue said career path or that you definitely do not want to pursue it. Tableau was an amazingly successful Winter Shadow, because I discovered a place where I definitely, absolutely, want to be. Culture is an important part of what people look for in a potential employer. Culture, however, is so much more than just whether a company is fun or if the people working there seem cool or whether or not there are free snacks in the kitchen. Culture is whether or not the employees enjoy working where they work, are personally fulfilled by it, and believe the work they are doing is important and valuable. This was true for everyone I met at Tableau. Furthermore, the employees were happy, but not complacent, satisfied, yet free.
Tableau exemplifies a lot of what I’m interested in. It’s the perfect combination of art and technology with a dash of positive feelings. It’s a nurturing work environment that encourages its employees to pursue what they are interested in, and recognizes the hard work they do. Tableau Desktop is intuitive, beautiful and very powerful. We spent the week watching tutorials on Tableau, shadowing product consulting calls, talking to employees from different departments, and creating data visualizations using Tableau. We took rows of data in excel and found what was interesting or hidden in the data. We learned to come up with the right questions when presented with data. The employees at Tableau seem happy. Not just happy, but fulfilled- not something you encounter regularly. Tableau almost seems too good to be real, but I’m ready to believe it.
I headed to Seattle on Saturday the 9th to rendezvous with my host, former classmate, and Shadow contact person, Christina Gremore ’14. Christina had not only made the Shadow possible by petitioning her former boss, but also offered up her apartment for two lucky Reedies to stay for the duration of the Shadow. I was doubly lucky as an old classmate of hers, since she invited me to arrive two days early in order to have dinner and catch up with her before her business trip to Austin. Though we would only reunite for those few hours for the duration of the Shadow, I was reminded exactly how lucky I am to know her. I can only hope that one day in the near future, I will be just as accomplished as Christina in my personal and professional life.
Christina had arranged for us Reedies to Shadow her old department and thereby develop an understanding of the demands and growth potential at an entry-level job. Andrew Barker, Christina’s former boss and a manager in the Product Consulting department, graciously took the three of us Reedies under his wing for the entirety of our time at Tableau. Coming into the Shadow, I honestly didn’t expect too much from the experience. I already knew that I liked the product and believed in the company’s mission, so I was skeptical that I would learn much more from the experience. Andrew and the rest of the employees at Tableau quickly made me eat my words. Throughout my time at Tableau, I was blown away by the generosity, hospitality, and candor of the employees. It was one thing to have done my research on the company and another to be able to speak to people working there about their own career journeys. Andrew and the other employees were happy to talk about their time at Tableau and their experiences transitioning into gainful (or more satisfying) employment.
For the first day of the Shadow we received a general overview of Tableau as a company. Andrew talked about Tableau’s beginnings, its organizational structure, and gave us a tour of the Seattle campus after providing lunch. I found the tour to be one of the highlights of the Shadow since we got to learn more about how the different departments (and the people within them) work together. Taking the American Capitalism Sociology class has really impressed upon me the importance of organizational structures for employee satisfaction, so I was pleased to hear that Tableau is conscious of the potential perils of transitioning from a national business to a global corporation.
This winter, I spent a week working with Arun, Ranjan, two other Reed externs, and one Lafayette extern. Working from 3 continents, 4 time zones, and 5 cities, we met each morning (PT) by video call to try to build a web application through our collected efforts.
Arun and Ranjan are about 6 months into their startup, Gloopen Inc., which is an extremely versatile communication platform. Their guidance helped us simulate a startup experience.
Ziyuan Zhong shadowed at Tableau, a software company that helps people visualize, analyze, and share their data.
I went to Seattle on January 10 for my winter shadow, which spanned from Monday to Thursday. This shadow was probably one of the best experiences of my life. I learned how to use Tableau, how to give a presentation using Tableau and data analysis skills, and how to solve real-world problems using what I had learned at Reed.
This shadow consisted of three main parts. First, we shadowed customer technical sales calls. By listening to the conversation between the workers and the customers, I realized the importance of good communication between people, in addition to having mastery of the technical details. This motivates me to grasp every opportunity in the rest of my academic life at Reed, and to practice my oral skills and communication skills.
Me, 2nd from the left, with my host Chris McCraw, on my right, and the Support Ops team
Mustering up the will to get out of bed at 7 am on a rainy Monday in Portland is a lot easier if you have something to look forward to. I realize that 7 am isn’t early for some, but after two weeks of loafing around with my family, it was a bit of a rude awakening (pardon the pun). Each morning that week, the 99 bus shuffled me to the 6th and Yamhill, and from there I’d walk a few Portland-sized blocks to 2nd and Taylor.
At the corner of 2nd and Taylor is– you guessed it– Jama’s headquarters. The building owner has a penchant for old motorcycles, so the first-floor lobby sports four beautiful bikes (three Ducatis and a Norton, if memory serves). The second-floor lobby is no less eclectic, though that’s Jama’s doing. Anyone who visits the Jama office signs in with a living wall at their back and an inspirational mission statement on the wall to their right. A few of my favorite bits: “This is where we do our best work. It’s where we ask the tough questions and challenge the status quo… As an employee, partner, customer, or guest within our space, you are a member of Jama Nation… Let’s get to work.”
Jama Software focuses on one product, known as Jama. “Jama,” as it was put me by my externship host, “is a little bit of a Swiss army knife.” It’s often used by companies who have a lot of specifications, procedural oversight, or regulations to meet during the product development process. My externship host was Chris McCraw, team Lead for Support Ops. The Support Ops team, which served as a home base of sorts for me, manages any technical issues that might pop up on the customer side. They also maintain online a community where users can ask questions, read documentation, and learn how to make Jama work for them.
"Marketing is something you do when people don't want to buy your product."
Part of a spirited lunch-hour debate, this quote from my sponsor (Richard Kotulski-Wakefield of AppFog) carries a lot of meaning. Hyperbolic, maybe, but the sentiment pervades many tech startups. If your idea is good enough, just give the beta of your product to the relevant bloggers and tech journalists, and it'll take off by itself. So the thinking goes. This somewhat romantic notion--software market as meritocracy, if you will--attracts the ambitious and the free-thinking in equal measure.
The successful are both.