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Computer Science Faculty Students Complete Work Experience at Facebook

BA students at the HSE’s Computer Science Faculty, Ilona Papava, Roman Alexandrov and Pavel Belov have completed a three-month work experience term at Facebook’s headquarters (Menlo Park, U.S.). How did they land this opportunity? What did it involve? What is their impression of Mark Zuckerberg? HSE News reports.

An Interview that’s like an Olympiad

Last fall, the Faculty of Computer Science hosted lectures by Facebook engineers and developers. They mentioned the opportunity to get work experience at Facebook. Applied Mathematics and Informatics students Ilona Papava (who was then in the second year), Roman Alexandrov, and Pavel Belov (both – third years) were among those who submitted their CVs. ‘We were told that the company is selecting work experience candidates with some industry experience,’ Roman recalls. ‘I wasn’t sure I would beat the competition, but I told myself that Facebook is a major company and so there was sure to be tough competition, and there’s always a chance – even a small one. I sent in my CV and was called to an interview a little while later.’

The interview took place over Skype and comprised two sessions, each lasting about 45 minutes. I had to solve problems like the ones you get in an Olympiad. ‘In order to pass the interview, you don’t need to know complex algorithms, all you need is basic data structures and have a good head on your shoulders,’ Ilona says. Some Olympiad experience of solving problems to a tight deadline also comes in handy.

Advertising and a Social Project

They were placed in different sections of the company, Ilona worked with the internet.org team on social projects. ‘Now 60% of humanity has access to the Internet (for many it is almost an inaccessible luxury) and 40% have no access at all,’ she said. ‘Internet.org’s main goal is to ensure that everyone across the globe enjoys free access to the Internet’s basic services, like Wikipedia. In order to achieve this, the team is working to help existing providers ensure access to basic services is free, and secondly to connect the remaining 40% to the Internet via laser technology and solar-powered planes that can provide wifi. I worked with the first group on infrastructure and am proud to have been part of such a wonderful project that aims to make the world a better place.’

From my first week, I took part in projects like a regular team member, went to interviews, participated in discussions of engineering issues.

Roman and Pavel were both placed in the advertising department, but in different working groups. ‘Our team was involved in creating groups of people for ad testing,’ Roman said. ‘For example, now advertisers can load the emails of people they want to reach with advertising, and the service helps find these people on Facebook. My time with the project was focused on expanding the capabilities of this service.

Pavel Belov’s summer project involved implementing a mobile ad service. He said that the work experience people were given the opportunity to work alongside regular employees. ‘From my first week, I took part in projects like a regular team member, went to interviews, participated in discussions of engineering issues. In addition to the main project, I helped my colleagues fix bugs, close open tasks, and carry out code reviews,’ he said.

Where’s Zuckerberg’s desk?

Facebook paid for their flights, living expenses and even taxis from the airports. They ate onsite in free canteens and cafes offering a wide range of foods – form vegetarian meals to burgers. There was a gym in the office, climbing walls, games consoles, billiard tables, and creative workshops. ‘So there was no chance of us getting bored in the evenings,’ they said. Facebook’s working schedule was flexible, you can turn up when it’s convenient, and there are three shuttle busses for people who don’t drive. The end of the working day is also not set in stone – and no one is checking how much time you spend at your desk.

‘There’s a really good vibe in the working groups, people work as a team, are really open and can go to any other employee during the day and talk, ask questions,’ Pavel said. The work experience people had managers who helped shepherd them through the work, and meetings with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Cheryl Sandberg, as well as the founders of Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus (owned by Facebook). ‘Mark has a Q&A for employees each week, where they can ask him interesting questions,’ Pavel said. ‘It’s interesting, that at Facebook no one has offices, even the management, Mark has the same kind of desk in an open office as everyone else, and so you can meet him as you’re walking around the office. Mark seems like a down to earth guy, and in his talks mentioned some really interesting things about technology and events, he makes good jokes.’

What’s next?

For Roman and Ilona, their time at Facebook was their first experience of working in a major IT company. Despite her academic success (last year she won the Ilya Segalovich grant) Ilona was still uncertain about her choice to enroll in the Computer Science Faculty. ‘But having spent time in that atmosphere, working in one of the best companies in the world, I knew it was right for me’ Ilona said. ‘So yes, I plan to stay in this area and my time at Facebook will undoubtedly help me as I build my career.’

Roman said he has a clearer view of what he wants to do in the future, and before completing his BA he plans to complete another period of work experience in another major IT firm, ‘and perhaps, a year down the line, studying for my MA, I’ll try my hand at being a Data Scientist,’ he said.

Pavel wants to ‘look at the IT world from different angles’ and possibly work in a small startup. He also has a long-term goal – founding his own IT firm.

 

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