The Life of a Delphix Intern: Tushar Bhargava

My time at Delphix has helped me see code as craft. I now know that not only will software engineering make a good first job for me, but also will be a worthwhile way to spend the days.

Written by Tushar Bhargava (Brown University '17) - In the middle of my junior year, I had my first moment of doubt about my choice of major. I was at a birthday party talking to my friend's roommate, a student at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and we were having a desultory conversation when he mentioned that he was a furniture design major.

"Oh cool," I said, "I'd love to see your work someday."

"You can see it now," he said and pointed to something behind me.

There, in the corner of his room, was a bedside table. It was short and squat--two drawers with hollow handles and four tiny legs like pirate pegs. I was enchanted. I have always been bad at crafts--my freshman year I had made a found-object sculpture by sprinkling grass and mud on a Reebok shoebox. Consequently, I've always admired craftsmen.

Seeing my interest, the RISD student said, "You can look inside if you want."

I opened the first drawer. It was empty except for a thin wooden box. I lifted the box, which was surprisingly heavy, and ran my thumb along the smooth finished wood.

"This goes really nicely with the table," I said.

"Yeah, I made it from the same wood," he said.

"You made this..." my voice trailed off as I slowly opened the box--the metal hinge creaking slightly. Inside were many unsharpened wooden pencils like miniature felled logs. They fit the box perfectly.

"I made those too."  

Later that night, on the way back to my dorm, walking past the shuttered shops on Thayer street, the snow still soft underfoot, I felt restless. I thought about the table, which had been a class project, and wondered what use my semester's coursework could be put to. Perhaps my stack of problem sets and midterms could work as a makeshift coffee coaster, but otherwise, not much.

I was taking mostly theory classes to fulfil upper-level requirements. There were mathematical proofs and problems, but very little coding; the programs that I wrote were a few lines of code--throwaway MATLAB code, meant to be used to solve a problem and then never used again. This was a far-cry from the project-based classes of freshman and sophomore year, where every line of code went towards building something you could be proud of. Seeing the RISD student's work underscored this difference. Promising myself that I would take more coding classes next semester, I turned off Thayer, through Soldier's Arch, into Lincoln field. Walking up the steps to my dorm, I looked back for a moment: fresh snow had fallen and covered my footsteps.

* * *

After completing my last final as a junior, I got on a plane to San Francisco for my software engineering internship at Delphix. The first week seemed promising: I was assigned my first bug, and though I hadn't written Java for almost a year, I felt the familiar rush as I tapped away on the keyboard--slowly at first but then faster and faster. While the code for my first bug was being reviewed, I set up my new desk and MacBook. At Brown, the undergraduates all work in a giant subterranean computer lab--I never had my own programming desk. By the end of my first week at Delphix, I had loaded my MacBook with the Terminal application modified to run zsh and the text editor Sublime with a half-dozen coding plug-ins. I had also cycled through enough computer hardware--four mice, three wireless keyboards, two mousepads, and one trackpad--to drive Mike, our office manager, crazy. When the set-up frenzy was over, I took a photo to show my parents. As the camera clicked, I had a brief vision of the RISD furniture major in his studio, tools neatly arrayed on the wall, a half-built bedside table in the middle of the studio. I dismissed this scene as passing fancy.

I could not have been more wrong.     

As the weeks passed, I kept returning to the image of the craftsman in his studio. The care with which he was shaping and polishing blocks of wood was mirrored by the care with which I was writing and rewriting blocks of code: wood and computers can be unyielding; you have to develop a deep understanding of them, and from the understanding, a precision--only then can the wood be shaped, the computer commanded. This precision was not the only thing I had in common with the imaginary craftsman. We both were learning about our craft. I learnt, from my mentor Alex, about Streams, Optionals, and higher-order functions; the craftsman learnt about the different grains of wood and how to shape them. We both were making something useful: the table would find its way into someone's home, my summer project would find its way to our customer companies. We both took pride in this usefulness. It was this utilitarian pride that I had envied in the RISD student with his self-made table; now, I felt it, too.

With the summer coming to an end and graduation a year away, I have been thinking about the future. I spent the last summer researching, and this was my first internship. I did not know whether I would like software engineering, but my time at Delphix has helped me see code as craft. I now know that not only will software engineering make a good first job for me, but also will be a worthwhile way to spend the days.

Tushar and a group of Delphix interns enjoying a weekend in Tahoe

Tushar and a group of Delphix interns enjoying a weekend in Tahoe