What it’s like to be an engineering intern at Facebook, according to 2 students participating in the program remotely for the second time

Vallary Muhalia_Original

In 2020, Facebook decided to move its global internship program to a remote-only model for the first time in the company’s history. The eight-week program offers students from underrepresented communities roles in engineering, analytics, and product design.

Some students who participated in last year’s summer internship liked it so much that they’re returning for a second year. Insider spoke with two of them to get the scoop on what it’s like.

Vallary Muhalia 4

Vallary Muhalia is currently in her third year of college on a full-ride scholarship at the University of Chicago, majoring in computer and data science. She’s a returning data-science intern at Facebook, having served as a remote intern last summer from Chicago as part of the video data team, where she analyzed user engagement on the Facebook Watch platform. 

Patrice Gill, a third-year biomedical engineering major and computing and devices minor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and a Barbados National Scholar, started her second internship at Facebook on May 17 as a software engineer. Last year, Gill interned in the FBU for Engineering program while living in Atlanta, Georgia, working specifically on the Android track. 

Gill told Insider that she started with three weeks of training in CodePath, which offers college students free coding courses plus mentorship opportunities and career support, with a goal of increasing diversity in the tech industry. During her CodePath training, the intern worked on a movie app called Flixster, as well as her version of Twitter and an Instagram app using Parse.

Patrice Gill

Gill also worked on Echo App. Its purpose was to connect musicians based on their location to gigs, events, and other musicians and help them showcase their talent through images, video, and MP3.

"I enjoyed the challenges and meaningful work," Gill said. "I was also incredibly happy with my learning speed and the volume of experience gained. I started with zero experience in app development and in the end, I was able to implement UX enhancing features and concepts into my app."

This summer, Gill will be interning from her student residence once again and anticipates that the virtual experience "will be equally as productive this year as it was last year."

Transitioning to remote work

Gill had been looking forward to working at Facebook’s Seattle office when COVID-19 hit.

"In general, I prefer in-person interaction, as it can be more naturally engaging," she said. "Nevertheless, Facebook made virtual interactions seamless and fun, and I was happy with the experience."

Muhalia had also been hoping for an in-person internship, and admitted feeling "a little disappointed" when it suddenly became virtual. Despite challenges such as team members working from different locations and time differences, she was pleasantly surprised by how smoothly the transition took place. Laptops and phones were shipped to interns at their homes, Muhalia said.

At the start of the program, Gill said she was paired with three other FBU interns in a "pod," and they talked together every day on video calls, providing one another with help and feedback.

The colleagues also made time to get to know each other through games, random "topic point" chats, and following each other on Instagram.

"We still talk in our group chats occasionally a whole year after," Gill said.

Getting face time with managers and managing sprints

Gill said she communicated frequently with her manager and had daily 15-minute chats, where she gave her boss updates on her project progress and asked questions. Her internship involved many Zoom calls with peers and her manager’s team, as well as virtual social opportunities via events and Facebook Resource Group (FBRG) meetings.

She also participated in a weekly formal 30- to 45-minute meeting with her manager, who inspected Gill’s code and offered specific technical feedback.

Staying on top of tasks wasn’t difficult, she said, as she had to plan her milestones and sprints as well as specific goals she wanted to reach each week.

"I had to make sure these goals were feasible and able to be implemented and if followed, the app would meet the FBU expectations," Gill said. "GitHub Project tab is now one of my favorite tools for project planning."

Gill also enjoyed using Facebook’s employee platform Workplace.

"I was able to learn about other projects at Facebook and updates on their progress, hear from Mark Zuckerberg himself in livestreams, and I could even ask him questions if I wanted to," Gill said, noting that while she never personally asked him anything, she appreciated that the opportunity was there.

"It was captivating to see that he is open to take feedback and have discussions with team members at any level, further echoing Facebook’s inclusive culture," Gill added.

Muhalia said she’d start work at 10 a.m. CST since most members on her team, including her manager, were located in the Bay Area.

"The day started with a brief meeting with my intern manager, during which we would discuss my progress from the day before and upcoming tasks for that day," she said. "Occasionally, there were panel, team-wide, or company-wide meetings followed by time to work on my project." At the end of the day, often around 6 p.m. CST, she would have another debrief with her manager.

Participating in virtual bonding activities

When she started, Muhalia participated in an event called Triple F, or "First Friday at Facebook," a social event for interns hosted by their recruiters.

"We were divided into teams and had a virtual escape-room game, and this was my first time playing the game," she said. "I remember working with the interns on my team to find and crack all the clues and we came first. I enjoyed the experience so much that every Friday since, I find and try to solve a new virtual escape-room challenge. In fact, last Friday, I had a chance to take part in an in-person escape-room experience in downtown Chicago."

Gill said she was mindful to take 30 minutes or an hour out of her code-heavy schedule to attend virtual events like biweekly Black women lunch talks, where she had the opportunity to meet Black women in the company who worked on Instagram, Facebook, AR/VR, and other projects. She also joined the Black@Facebook and Women@Facebook FBRGs.

"We talked about everything, from the Facebook experience to our favorite things to cook to hairstyles," Gill said. "It was awesome to connect so effortlessly with others who shared a similar background to me."

Gill added that the women she interacted with via these talks acted as mentors to her, offering up refreshing insights on workplace essentials, such as communication with your manager, good time management, and healthy work-life balance.

"At the Black women lunches, I actually met someone whose family was from Guyana and we ended up bonding over our Caribbean heritage," Gill said.

She also enjoyed weekly game nights with her team, which she described as some of the most fun times of the internship.

Receiving perks

Gill said when she started, the company sent her "appreciation" packages that included branded t-shirts, water bottles, and bags. She also received a wellness stipend that could be applied to yoga classes, exercise subscriptions, massages, facials, or any other wellbeing perk.

Her favorite perk, though, was testing and getting a sneak peek at potential new features of Instagram and Facebook.

"Features that I tested last year included Facebook Dating and the Android grid layout for Instagram Stories," Gill said. "Acting as a test driver, I could report bugs and provide comments and suggestions. I also had the chance to preview Instagram Reels."

Muhalia said she also received a housing stipend and full health-insurance benefits, including dental coverage.

Feeling part of an ‘authentic’ culture

Muhalia said she felt supported to bring her authentic self to the table.

"Everyone, regardless of the team they worked with, was more than happy to lend a helping hand, answer a question, provide feedback and mentorship, meet for a casual coffee chat, or just engage at any given time," Muhalia said.

"In other words, I felt at home at Facebook," she added.

About halfway through her internship, she said she began to experience imposter syndrome.

"All interns in my program attended a meeting during which each one of us shared our project progress," she said. "At this point in my project, I was yet to gather impactful findings or insights to share with my team or other cross-functional teams."

"And I remember feeling that I was not doing well enough or doing the right thing," she added.

At the end of the session, Muhalia met with both her manager and recruiter and shared her sentiments with them, who helped her regain her confidence and see her value. 

Gill agreed that the environment at Facebook was inclusive and friendly. During her orientation, one phrase that stuck with her was, "Be your authentic self."

"I can honestly say that it was easy to be my authentic self at Facebook," Gill said.

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Robin Madell June 8, 2021 at 08:12PM

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