Powerful Lessons From Splunk I’ll Never Forget

While working at Splunk over the past eight years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with incredibly wise people. It’s important to note that I joined the company as an intern before my junior year of college, these years were extremely foundational for my career and life overall.

There’s a long list of colleagues I’ve learned from, but these five people made the greatest impact on me. Some of these lessons came from projects we worked on, conversations we had, or simply their modus operandi. Over the years I’ve passed these lessons on to others, and hope to continue doing so.

Itay Neeman

Lesson: It’s not right until it’s right.

For any field, receiving project feedback early in your career can be frustrating. That feeling only compounds with additional feedback after multiple revisions. Before I worked at Splunk, I hadn’t gone through a real code review process. At previous internships I wrote some code, if I thought it worked that was good enough. After receiving very thorough feedback on a few code reviews (from multiple coworkers, after multiple revisions) I began to embrace an iterative approach to software development. Making 20 revisions is better than making 19 with a critical issue. It’s a mindset that I’ve applied to creative projects as well, from design to video editing.

School projects always have a hard deadline, and typically grades are reduced for each day they’re submitted late. In the world of software, this is often not the case. It took me a few years to understand that deadlines can be flexible. On a few occasions, I rushed projects in order to meet deadlines (often arbitrary or self-imposed). As my manager, Itay guided me to focus on quality rather than timeline. Sometimes taking an extra day or week is worth the quality of the project and more importantly the well-being of all team members.

Glenn Block

Lesson: Know your audience, use their language to show them what’s possible.

I started out my career like most software engineers, focused on the technical aspects of projects. In the early days, I would work on projects just enough to check the box. I thought I was creating perfect solutions, but they were often the minimum level of functionality (at best).

As the first product manager I worked with, Glenn taught me to really think from the other side of technology. To explain technical concepts in the most intuitive way possible for the customer. His background in API design and developer evangelism came through time and time again in conversations about showing customers the benefits of our products. Customer empathy is everything, even if your customer is another developer.

Moving forward, it’s really awesome to know that the customer-first mindset I learned from Glenn has translated directly into the next stage of my career as a designer and brand strategist.

Michael Szebenyi

Lesson: After graduation, watch out for lifestyle inflation.

Financial literacy was a foreign concept to me growing up. After years of conversations with Michael, I began to understand money in a very different way. After graduation, he told me to watch out for lifestyle inflation (the tendency to spend more money when you earn more). Another way I’ve heard that lesson: to have more money you can either earn more or spend less. Although this approach may be conservative for some, I saw it as an opportunity to set myself up for financial security in the long term. Michael and I had a similar way of thinking about finances and I think that’s why he continued to mentor me over the years.

I spent my first year out of college living like a student (except the part where I ate a lot of sushi that summer). I kept my expenses at an absolute minimum and spent my free time learning everything I could about personal finance. During that year, I paid off all of my student loans, which reduced my stress a great deal, allowing me to focus on personal development, and gave me an opportunity to give to others.

The biggest upside to financial security has been freeing up my mind to explore other interests instead of worrying about how to pay my bills every month.

Tedd Hellmann

Lesson: Know which battles to fight, let go of the rest.

As the team’s product manager, Tedd and I worked closely together on many customer requests with Splunk developer tools. At times we’d have a huge backlog of requests coming in. It never felt good, yet we had to balance them with new projects. I don’t know if we ever talked about it directly, but we often applied the Pareto Principle to stay balanced (addressing 80% of issues with 20% engineering effort).

For quite a while, we treated our project backlog and customer request backlog as two separate things (the latter was totally unorganized). Once the team got intentional about deprioritizing non-critical work, we noticed everyone’s morale and productivity increased rather quickly. The only unfortunate aspect of deprioritizing our open source software projects is that it becomes a very public “failure”. We had to surrender some battles (projects) to win some wars (team health, sustainability, managing resources, etc.). Perfection is not possible.

Tim Pavlik

Lesson: Health before work, and that includes mental health.

Tim became the manager for our team just before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Somehow he found a way to thrive in the role at arguably the toughest time to be a manager in the past several decades. He really cared about our team members as the people they are, beyond just the work they do. Although empathy has become a buzzword in recent history, there’s no better way to describe Tim than as an empathetic leader.

Overnight the team transitioned to fully remote work as many tech companies did. Tim’s weekly personal check-ins on our overall well-being really made a difference. I can’t speak for others, but I felt appreciated and cared for beyond my work contributions. Leading by example, the rest of our team was incredibly supportive during remote work during the pandemic. If our team culture was overly competitive, I don’t know if we would’ve endured 2020.

With Gratitude

For those I’ve mentioned here, the ripple effect of your shared wisdom reaches farther than you may ever know. Thank you for an incredible eight years of life lessons.

To recap:

  • It’s not right until it’s right.
  • Know your audience, use their language to show them what’s possible.
  • After graduation, watch out for lifestyle inflation.
  • Know which battles to fight, let go of the rest.
  • Health before work, and that includes mental health.