First week at Facebook

published on October 18, 2011

Orientation at Facebook

While I obviously can’t publish the details here, the orientation was very cool. The guy who was doing orientation was very energetic and enthusiastic, and this definitely had a positive effect. He explained how the company functions (flatness for the win!), the rationale behind some of its core technologies and products.

Badge and notebook!

What’s also very amazing, is that he’d only been there for 4 months!
In fact, as you talk to more and more Facebook employees, you’ll learn that most of them have actually joined in the past year or so. It’s amazing. It’s also very strange if you’re not used to the start-up culture and the optimistic atmosphere that’s seemingly inherent to Silicon Valley.

In the afternoon, we got our laptops (either MacBook Pros or Lenovo Thinkpads) and phones (iPhones, although you can request an Android device later on). Quite impressive, seeing dozens of new devices lined up in rows and waiting to be used productively.

After the orientation was wrapped up (which included a tour of the headquarters), there was a Happy Hour (i.e. beer), which I skipped to go and meet my manager, Okay Zed, and the rest of the Site Speed team.

They assigned me to my desk after a quick intro, so I could drop off my two backpacks (my own and the new one from Facebook). Even though I shouldn’t have been amazed because everybody has it here, a 30” monitor was sitting there. Wow.

My desk, where a monstrous 30

Overwhelmingly overwhelming

On Tuesday, Okay and I went to HTML5devconf in San Francisco, in particular to see Steve Souders’ talk. It was great to see him live — he lived up to the expectation set forth by several people, who said he’s a great speaker. He managed to make a very dry subject funny :)

I took the Caltrain (which I barely made due to a delayed bus) to SF, then walked to the hotel where the conference was being held. While walking, I noticed that San Francisco turned out to be quite different from what I expected. Skyscrapers were interleaved with parks and two- to three-story buildings. So strange. But also so much less overwhelming than I had expected. It makes the city far less intimidating and so much more accessible, or even “cosy”. I especially liked the Buena Vista park. They also have crazy food here: Sushiritto. Yes, that’s sushi + buritto. I could hear my father-in-law cringing at this food monstrosity — he’s a food purist.

Buena Vista park in San Francisco.

After the conference, Okay and I took a long walk along some of the many piers that SF counts. On the way there, we encountered the Bay Bridge. That bridge is actually far more impressive than the Golden Gate bridge — from my initial point of view, it seemed as if the bridge was actually reaching into some of the skyscrapers next to it! I feel very lucky to have such an understanding, kind, accessible manager as my first manager at a real job (well, it’s an internship, but Facebook treats interns the same as regular employees). He answered many, many of my questions. We also talked about life in the bay area and Silicon Valley in general, which was probably kind of obvious for him, but very interesting and revealing for me.


Okay had written three rough project proposals for me. I could choose any one of them. Or even propose something else. It doesn’t matter, as long as it’s both of use to Facebook and of interest to me.1 All they want, is for you to be highly motivated and for you to work on high-impact projects.

After a lot of thought, I decided to go for the one that is strongly related to my master thesis, since I felt that’s where I could have the largest impact. On the plus side, that also implies possibly (hopefully!) letting the work I put in my thesis impact the lives of hundreds of millions of people, because this project would, like my master thesis, help in finding the slow spots, and thus allowing Facebook’s developers to know what to optimize to make the site faster for as many as people as possible per optimization.
If it’d work, then it’d basically be a “high impact performance optimization finding tool”. Clearly, I find that very exciting! :)

However, I’d need to analyze Facebook’s existing (performance and otherwise) infrastructure. One must understand something before one can try to make it better, right?

What Facebook is like

This is where Facebook is overwhelmingly overwhelming. There are over 50 infrastructures, tools, APIs, data sets and whatnot affecting, measuring and analyzing performance. I didn’t know there were 50. I had to find out on my own, by scavenging the wiki, reading code, going to onboarding sessions and trying to follow discussions.
Facebook moves so fast, that you’d have to learn new systems by the time you had learned existing systems.

There even are posters with the motto “Interns, move faster & fail harder!” — that says enough, I think. Interns are encouraged to fail even harder than employees, because they can get away with even more experimental things.

If I’d use two words to describe Facebook’s general atmposphere, it is overwhelmingly overwhelming.
The people are overwhelmingly enthusiastic and inclusive. The site’s statistics are overwhelmingly overwhelming. The software and hardware behind the site are overwhelmingly overwhelming. The atmosphere is overwhelmingly overwhelming.
It’s almost as if you’re doing something severely wrong if you’re not being continuously overwhelmed. And that’s probably even true.

The Aggravating ATM Quest

I was going to move to my permanent residence here — the rear suite of a house in Mountain View on Saturday. I had to pay my rent, however, so on the night before, at 9:30 PM, I went out to an ATM to withdraw the first half of the money (like most banks, my bank limits the amount of money that can be withdrawn per day). Besides the ridiculous fact that there seems to be a $500 limit per withdrawal2, there was another plague peskering me: all ATMs nearby were either closed, had a $250 limit, or were BSOD‘ing. Really.


When I finally found a working machine, I withdrew $800. I had expected 16 notes of $50. Instead, I got 40 notes of $20. Walking across the parking lot, I imagined this must be what a being a drugs dealer feels like: walking with thick stashes of money, late at night, wearing a hoodie, earbuds and white shoes.

An array of money…

What was supposed to be a 20-minute trip to withdraw the money turned out to be a 50-minute tiring walk. Sigh.

My first post-jet lag week-end alone

Loneliness overcame me.

So I went out to explore Mountain View’s Castro Street. After strolling around, I figured I’d go to a charity event that was going on that night: $30 for food & drinks as well as a Colombian tango & singing performance. I guess I’d meet people there. Turns out that mostly only friends came. There were 15, maybe 20 people there in total, and I was the only one there who doesn’t speak Spanish :P

Since they were all friends, they were mostly talking amongst each other. Yay for diving in and meeting new people!

So, why didn’t more people come? After sitting there for about half an hour3, I noticed that I was in fact sitting in a … Scientology church4! I guess that (partially) explains the lack of guests…

On to my second week at Facebook!

  1. That’s a rule that doesn’t apply to just interns though, it applies to all of Facebook’s employees! ↩︎

  2. Try anything higher than $500 and the ATM will claim that your balance is insufficient — even though my limit is much higher than that per day. ↩︎

  3. The event also started >1 hour late by the way, in accordance with the Latin American spirit of going with the flow? :) ↩︎

  4. To be exact, they call it a “Dianetics and Scientology Life Improvement Center”. ↩︎


Anneleen's picture

So very proud of you :)

David Jennes's picture
David Jennes

Absolutely hilarious that the first thing you did on your own in your free time was going to a scientology event… And didn’t realize it… Only you Wim ;-) Did they try to get you to join them or something?

And lol @ the bsod’ing ATMs.

Wim Leers's picture
Wim Leers

:P They didn’t try to make me join, although they did show a video (in Spanish, FWIW) to demonstrate what Scientology is about.

Robert Brown's picture
Robert Brown

Welcome to California Wim. There’s a very active Drupal community in the bay area that you may want to check out. There are also literally hundreds of interesting tech events. Have a look at to find a few. Pantheon Systems is also up there, you might want to drop a line to those guys and see if you can pop by and check out their office.

Wim Leers's picture
Wim Leers

I know there’s a lot of Drupal people around here — and the BADcamp that’s currently going on is a testament to that with its >1500 attendees. But after a long workweek, I just like to not think about work-related stuff :)

That said, I’ll definitely get drinks with some Drupalistas and hopefully will run into some Drupal shops in the neighborhood :)

Bart's picture

overwhelming article :)