July 29, 2011Culture · Women in Tech · Backend · Hacking · Academics · Recruiting

Interning at Facebook: Coding, Inspiration and BBQs

Brie Bunge

Sharing my passion for solving hard technical problems and innovating with other people has been one of the most exciting aspects of interning at Facebook. We all share a sense of courage, determination, insatiable curiosity and a zest for challenge, and so far my internship has embodied all of these qualities. For my first project, I programmed an interactive graph that visualized data center assets. I dove into PHP, XHP, JavaScript, and the glue that Facebook uses to hold them together. I was able to ship code in a few weeks! Now, my mind is bending in a whole new direction, especially while working on backend stuff in C++. Every day I am able to contribute to the Capacity Engineering team and learn a ton, especially from my teammates — awesome!

Last week, my fellow interns and I took a break from coding and headed over to Sheryl Sandberg's house for a BBQ for Facebook's women interns. As I walked around her backyard with about 50 other interns, I was struck by how cool it was to have a role model like her. She and Schrep, the VP of Engineering, have made themselves approachable to interns and are passionately and actively encouraging women to find strength and ambition within themselves in an industry that isn’t always welcoming. To work at a company where the VP of Engineering, a man, tirelessly promotes women in technology says a lot about Facebook. It is a community where everyone wants to see you grow and succeed based on your merit.

Coding aside, I think one of the best parts about working at Facebook is the community of people and the socializing that takes place at work. I've noticed that because of the relaxed culture and atmosphere, people are their authentic selves more than what I’ve experienced at other companies. There is less pretense about being “professional” and so the socializing between people at work and in their personal lives is real and as a result, happens both at work and outside. As an intern here, you get to be part of this great community and as well as have a huge and immediate impact at work. You're given responsibility and autonomy from day one. Environments like Facebook challenge the idea that there is a divide between men and women in computer science and engineering. It would be awesome if these types of efforts permeated to colleges and, especially high schools.

Even though Sheryl herself isn’t technical, she emphasized the importance of staying involved in computer science. Encouragement like hers comes from all over the company and it’s good reinforcement because following your passion takes work. For me, it involved willingness to register for the computer science classes in high school, even though I was one of only a few girls. My journey started with a fascination with puzzles. As I grew older, the puzzles turned into computers, building them, then programming them. I thrive on the way that computers continually push the limits of my understanding. Plus, like Schrep said, working in computer science is one of the most impactful ways to change the world for the better.

Reflecting on my experience, and talking with other women who work at Facebook, it is refreshing that we are welcomed based not on what gender we are, but what we can accomplish. I know that at the end of my internship, I will have a very diverse set of projects — from Web interfaces to log parsers to performance tools — that I can be tremendously proud of building with our team. Facebook is a place where the battle between outdated social expectations and the desire to hack on stuff no longer needs to be fought. Moreover, it is a place where people throughout the company, all the way to the top, are committed to ensuring that people are surrounded with others that encourage their passion and help them grow.

Brie Bunge is a capacity engineering intern from Stanford University.

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