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Questions with Samuel Soares '18, Facebook intern

September 3, 2017
"One of the things that surprised me the most is that one of Facebook’s company values, “move fast,” is real." - Samuel Soares '18
Sam Soares is a senior computer science major from Scranton.

Note: We asked Sam Soares some questions about his Facebook internship, which he answered earlier this summer.

Tell us a little bit about your internship.

I am currently doing a 12-week software engineering internship at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California. I work on a team in Android infrastructure.

Describe a typical day on the job.

Most days, I get picked up by the shuttle in the morning. When I arrive, I grab breakfast with some friends at one of Facebook’s cafes before heading back to my desk. I like to spend my first half hour reading up on company news and internal discussions on Facebook/Workplace about our products and business. I plan ahead and set goals for my morning, day, and the rest of the week. I write down whatever tasks I need to get done and people I need to see. I get moving on those tasks until lunch time. I generally eat lunch with my team, but sometimes I go check out a new cafe with a friend. I head back to my desk and complete the tasks I set aside for the afternoon. I take breaks regularly throughout the day by taking a walk through campus to clear my head or think through a problem I am facing.

On other days I'd attend one of the intern events, planned for us most weeks, including Q&A sessions with company leaders like Mark Zuckerberg, Kevin Systrom (founder of Instagram), Brian Acton (founder of WhatsApp), and Nate Mitchell (founder of Oculus).

I also participated in an intern-only Hackathon. Interns have the chance to work on a project that they believe will have a lasting impact. Lots of Facebook’s features started off as intern hackathon projects. The top teams get a chance to present their projects to Mark Zuckerberg and receive support from full-time engineers to ship their project.

Some days were more active than others and I would play in intern-only games of Quidditch. We had an intern field day where we split up into different teams and competed in games like kickball, capture the flag, human foosball, and soccer. There were a ton of events planned out for us throughout the summer and all expenses were covered. We did not even have to worry about food or transportation.

What are some hard skills you've learned?

I have certainly learned more about Android development. Most of the hard skills I have learned deal with handling problems at Facebook level scale. We recently reached 2 billion monthly active users. We have to figure out how to ship our products to all those 2 billion users and make them work smoothly. We have to evaluate each line of code to ensure that it is optimal in terms of memory, storage, and processing resources. Minor inefficiencies add up over time to create a huge impact. Figuring out how to solve major problems at scale has been a great part of what I’ve learned this summer.

How about some soft skills?

Some people do not realize that being social is a critical skill for software engineers. It is a job where we work on a team and every team needs to communicate if they are going to succeed. We take on new problems together by discussing the problem, possible solutions, and figuring out the best way to move forward. If we encounter any issues along the way, we have to stop and work it out as a team. One of the things that surprised me the most is that one of Facebook’s company values, “move fast,” is real. Figuring out how to “move fast” while still effectively communicating with my team is the biggest soft skill I learned this summer.
 
What did this teach you about the real world and the tech industry?

This internship taught me how quickly things move in the tech industry. Getting to market first is crucial to a product or feature’s success. It also showed me how much companies in Silicon Valley work together on issues. I surprised to see how well Facebook works together with partners who work at Google or other tech companies within the industry.

What did you learn about the real world and the tech industry that inspired or frustrated you the most?

What I learned about the tech industry is that most of the founders of the tech giants did not intend to start a company. They each focused on what they were passionate about and eventually it led to a company. Nobody started off by wanting to start a company and then focusing on an idea. It inspired me to just focus on what I love and am passionate about because that will lead to the biggest impact.

What's the biggest mistake you've made?

I believe the biggest mistake I’ve made was not taking more advantage of what Facebook has to offer. I believe some of the brightest people in the world work here, and I have not done enough to reach out to them and learn from them more. We have access to educational courses taught by employees and I could have done more to take advantage of the opportunity they gave me. I also wish I could have done more to network and meet more interesting people.
 
Most important lesson you learned?

The most important lesson I learned is that I have to be bold. In order to be successful, you have to take risks. We may not always know where a decision will lead. You have to look at all of the options and then make a decision. Often times, the worst thing you could do is nothing at all. The tech world changes so quickly and you’re guaranteed to fail if you do not take any risks. Everyone at Facebook is encouraged to “be bold” even if it means we make the wrong decisions sometimes.

What are you most proud of?

I was not sure if I would be able to quickly learn Facebook’s code base and internal tools to make a lasting impact. At previous internships, the first few weeks were spent on getting my computer setup and getting access to the tools I needed to do my job. I knew coming in that we would only have two days of training before we were sent off to our teams. I was worried that I would not pick up on everything I needed to do my job and that I would be left behind. That did not happen at all. I was able to contribute to the code base quickly and I shipped code into production my very first week.

What’s been your most surprising, unexpected, memorable experience?

There was one morning where I was tackling a problem and got stuck. I researched the problem on Stack Overflow, an online community commonly used by developers to learn and share their programming knowledge. I found the right post and scrolled to the top answer. I read it over and found it to be extremely well written and documented. It turned out to be written by one of my teammates this summer. My teammate answered my question about six years before I even got a chance to ask it. After looking into his profile, I saw that he is ranked in the 0.30% as an overall contributor on the site. I shared what I found with him and my entire team and we all had a laugh. It was a moment where I realized that I was working with and learning from some of the brightest in the industry.

What did you learn about yourself through this experience?

This experience taught me that working for a technology company is what I want to do. I learned that I enjoy working in a challenging environment that moves fast. I was worried that I would not be able to handle the work, but I am more confident in my abilities and education through this experience.

What’s it like to intern at Facebook? Can you talk a little bit about the company culture, and the people who work there?

Interning at Facebook has been a dream come true. I have been trying to work in Silicon Valley since I was a student at Scranton High School.

My absolutely favorite part of working here is the company culture and the people. Facebook is a mission-driven company that makes its decisions based on social impact. Employees and interns alike are trusted with lots of autonomy. We are trusted to make our own decisions on how we want to move forward with a project. My formal summer assignment was only a short paragraph, and I had the flexibility to execute in the way I felt was best. I had complete control over my project and I was trusted to take it in a direction I felt was right. This kind of autonomy is not found anywhere else.

The open culture makes it not only easy to know about projects going on within the company but to give honest feedback on them. We had access to the entire codebase of all of our products including Instagram, Oculus, and WhatsApp. We are trusted with a lot of confidential information. Employees are the first to try out any new features and we test our own products. Facebook moves extremely fast. I kept hearing about how quickly things move here, but it was even faster than I imagined. A lot is expected from us, but we have great resources and people around who are eager to help. Nobody at Facebook has a private office, including Mark Zuckerberg. We all have a desk on an open floor. Everyone is accessible and approachable.
 
I believe the people who work here are some of the most intelligent people in the industry and the world. I had lots of chances to meet with influential people this summer. Mark Zuckerberg holds a Q&A weekly where anyone can ask him a question in person. I got a chance to not only meet, but to question the founders of Oculus, Instagram, and WhatsApp. We met with Sheryl Sandberg who is our COO. I certainly learned a lot by interacting with executives and other company leaders, but I learned the most from the people around me. The people who I worked with are some of the brightest in the industry and they served as excellent mentors. I went to them with any issues and they were happy to help and teach me.

Any advice for others?

It is not difficult to find out what topics Facebook expects you to know and what experience you need to get an internship. You just have to put in the time to learn each of those topics and you have to make sure you gain the experience they are looking for. Simply going to class and doing well is not enough to get recognized. You have to put in a lot of work outside of class to learn new technologies and work on interesting side projects. There are tons of resources online that I used. You have to be persistent. I received lots of rejections before being accepted at Facebook. I was even rejected for a Facebook internship last summer after doing an interview. The technical interviews are extremely challenging, so you have to dedicate lots of time to prepare for them. I applied through Facebook’s careers page. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions!

 

 

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Gallery 1. Teams at Facebook regularly hold offsite events to form stronger connections between team members. My team spent a morning playing a few games of bubble soccer and archery tag. 2.  This is the Facebook Wall located in Building 20 of the Facebook HQ. Employees and guests are encouraged to write what’s on their mind. 3. This year’s summer interns teamed up with Save the Bay and spent a day cleaning up Bair Island in the San Francisco Bay Area.    

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