Jen Dolson started at Facebook as an intern last July on the Photos team. At the end of the summer, she decided to join the photos team full-time. Read on to learn how she transitioned from grad school to Facebook, her advice for engineers starting their first job, and how to get ahead of the learning curve.
Q: How did you make the decision to work here?
A: I was in the Ph.D. program at Stanford and was looking for an internship where I could work with large photo sets. More people use Facebook to share their photos than any other photo-sharing site in the world, so that really attracted me to working on the Photos team. Being on the Photos team, I learned a lot about how and why people share photos and tell stories through their photos, and I wanted to help make that experience better.
Q: What have you learned since joining?
A: I’m learning a lot about all the pieces of the image sharing process – from client-side user interfaces, processing, and metadata, to reliable uploading and scalable storage. It’s great to come here and be able to work with passionate stakeholders who are knowledgeable about each part of the process.
Q: How was the transition from intern to full-time?
A: Facebook is really good about giving you the level of responsibility that you’re ready for, so the transition was pretty smooth. Previously, my strongest programming language was C++, and I spent my internship accumulating more experience in some of the other programming languages we use here, as well as company-specific processes like code reviews and coding practices; so the ramp up to full-time employee was manageable.
One piece of advice that helped my transition came from my intern mentor: continuously reevaluate what you’re spending your time on, and make sure your work has impact. Impact is a universal value at Facebook. If you stay aware of that objective and don’t expect someone else to always prioritize your tasks for you, then you’ll be successful both as an intern and full-time employee.
Q: Why does the work you do here matter to you?
A: A large percentage of my friends use Facebook Photos and upload photos from their phones. It’s just such a powerful thing to think that if I’m successful with this product, my friends and then millions of other people are going to benefit from it.
Q: What advice do you have for new grads looking for jobs in tech?
A: 1. Play to your strengths. I spent years studying image processing, computer graphics, and computer vision. I also enjoy developing products and building things. My work at Facebook is a great combination of areas I enjoy and am familiar with.
2. No matter what you’re background is, there will most likely be new things you need to learn to be successful at your job. Don’t wait until you get hired to hit the really steep end of the learning curve. Try to learn as much as you can before you start working, and don’t be afraid to do a few projects on your own. Looking back now, the iPhone projects I did before I started at Facebook were not sophisticated in comparison to the stuff we’re working on here, but just being familiar with iOS programming really helped my transition. You will always continue to learn, because you’ll be surrounded by people who are really good at what they do. But if you can get past that uncomfortable feeling of looking at something completely foreign, that’s definitely helpful.