From FBU to SWE — My Journey of Proving Myself to Myself and How Instagram Helped Me Do It

My Journey of Proving Myself to Myself and How Instagram Helped Me Do It

Written by Amy Huyen, 2-time intern at Instagram.

On my first day of intern orientation last summer, I walked into Facebook wide-eyed and in awe of all the talent that surrounded me. I saw my peers networking with one another, discussing past internship experiences, and using technical jargon that I couldn’t understand. I felt like an impostor.

I was an inexperienced freshman who had only been coding for 10 months. I had no industry experience, was only versed in Python, and couldn’t even begin to comprehend what tech at a big company was like. Unlike most software engineering interns, I had been admitted into Facebook’s freshmen-sophomore Facebook University program (“FBU”). Instead of working directly on company products, FBU interns spend three weeks in an intensive mobile development bootcamp, then five weeks developing their own mobile apps in teams of three.

I should’ve been ecstatic to be surrounded by such brilliant individuals, but instead, I felt guilty. Like I had stolen someone’s spot — someone more qualified and more experienced than me.

I spent the entirety of my 8-week internship battling these feelings of incompetence and fear. I worried that other interns would look at me and think, “How did she scheme her way into this company?” or “How did they let someone like her into the company?” Nevertheless, I shut these thoughts away and focused on creating the best Android app I could with my team. At the end of my internship, I walked away with an app that matched skilled volunteers to non-profit organizations, a return software engineering internship offer, and memories that would last me a lifetime.

However, the impostor syndrome lingered. Now, more than ever before, I felt like I had to prove to my peers at school that my SWE internship offer was legitimate — that I had earned it because of my abilities, not because of my gender. I had to prove to the world that I was truly qualified for the role I had been offered. Moreover, I had to prove to myself that I was enough.

Coming back

I accepted my return offer with the determination to prove others wrong. In May of this year, I started my second internship at Facebook. I would work on the Instagram Growth team as an iOS intern, which was daunting because, for the second summer in a row, I was working on something completely foreign to me.

During the weeks leading up to my internship, I worried that my decision to pursue an iOS role in the company was a mistake. I’d never coded in Objective-C before and was barely more experienced than I was last year. The imposter syndrome crept back in, and it was paralyzing.

Fast forward 12 weeks, and now I’m at the end of my internship here. I’m a different, more confident version of myself. This summer, I spearheaded Instagram’s invites project for empty state surfaces on iOS, developed lasting relationships with the members of my team, and created real impact in the company.

I learned about industry coding standards and workflows, immersed myself in Facebook’s culture. First, a quick summary of my work, and then the lessons I learned.

What did I build?

My work this summer involved adding an invite unit to Direct and Search’s empty state using Instagram’s IGListKit framework. In Direct, I introduced two different user experiences: 1) adding an invite card to the end of the existing collection of activators, and 2) converting all the cards into rows to increase visibility of each of the calls to action:

I also surfaced an invite row in Search’s empty state. When a user searches for an account that doesn’t exist, they are prompted to invite that friend to Instagram:

What did I learn?

1) Be unapologetic

I used to apologize profusely for mistakes in my code or for “wasting” others’ time with my stupid questions. However, apologies fall flat when you keep repeating the same mistakes. Stop apologizing and start acting on feedback instead.

As I was building the invite unit to show to Instagram users in various empty state surfaces across the app, I encountered numerous challenges. My code quality was far from perfect, and my code reviewers often pointed out different areas where I could improve. During my first couple of weeks, I would apologize constantly for these nits, but I soon realized that words are just empty promises if they aren’t backed by actions.

The best way to thank your peers for their time and patience is by showing them your progress. Stop apologizing and, instead, start proving to your peers and managers that their time wasn’t wasted on you.

2) Ask questions — but care enough to listen to the answers

During my first few weeks, the thought of asking another engineer for help terrified me. Fear of judgement crippled me from the start, and the thought of being considered “annoying” held me back even more. I was so obsessed over the idea that everyone would be too busy to entertain me that I found myself writing, deleting, and rewriting messages to my manager when I needed help. I wasted so many hours of my life drafting these messages only to never send them out.

Ultimately, I was so fixated on my own perception of myself that I never even considered how other engineers truly saw me.

It wasn’t until I finally mustered up the courage to ask an iOS engineer on another team for advice that I realized just how eager everyone at Instagram is to help. Never did they give off the impression that I was a nuisance to them or interfering with their everyday work. In fact, they welcomed these opportunities to understand my project and get to know me as a coworker. From that day forward, I stopped drafting and redrafting my messages to my peers and manager. Instead, I just hit send fearlessly because I realized my time was just as valuable as theirs.

However, another crucial thing I learned from asking questions is that asking questions isn’t enough. Listening is the most important part. As humans, we often prepare ourselves to respond while others are still speaking. We don’t take the time to acknowledge others’ words because we’re too adamant that our solutions and thoughts are the only ones that can be right.

That’s an awful way of thinking. Not every conversation is a battle, and not every one of your solutions is the most optimal. The moment I decided to drop that mindset and truly listen to the words of my peers, I learned more than I ever could’ve imagined. So yes, ask your questions, but listen to those answers too.

3) Expand your comfort zone instead of stepping out of it

From the time I was young, I’ve been told to step out of my comfort zone, but it’s never spurred me into action. No one willingly throws themselves into uncomfortable situations, and I’m no different. For the first 8 weeks of my internship, I focused primarily on iOS client-side development. Although I had no previous experience in this area, I slowly but surely grew familiar with the codebase, and gained confidence in my abilities.

However, when my manager Vivian encouraged me to try some server-side work towards the end of my internship, I was intimidated and hesitant to accept. A part of me was fearful of the new learning curve that I’d have to overcome again, this time during my ninth week, when I theoretically should be the most productive. I grew uncertain of my abilities again and was certain that I’d fail and disappoint my team.

As it turns out, working on server code wasn’t all that different from learning the client code. As I did before in my first weeks, I analyzed the existing codebase, contacted other engineers at Instagram for assistance, and threw myself headfirst into the new project. Soon, without realizing it, the server-side code became a part of my comfort zone.

What I’ve discovered is that adopting the mindset of conquering new obstacles instead of abandoning your existing accomplishments has done wonders in helping me tackle new challenges. If we all slowly chip away at the unknown one piece at a time, we can and will prevail. (Even writing this blog post required a lot of courage from me, as I am by no means a professional.)

4) Prove your own worth to yourself first

Perhaps my biggest takeaway from my internship at Instagram is that I am worthy of my position here. From working on the Growth team, I’ve gained a sense for how Instagram products are conceived, built, and delivered. I’ve developed a deep appreciation for all the steps that go into the delivery of a new feature onto our users’ screens. I’ve gained full stack development experience, had measurable impact on the product, and collaborated with a variety of professionals: designers, data scientists, product managers, and more. I’ve taken ownership of a feature and watched as this idea evolved from a design on my computer screen to a fully functioning feature on users’ devices.

None of this would’ve been possible if I didn’t deserve my position here. None of this would’ve been possible if I had only gotten into Facebook because I was a girl. None of this would’ve been possible if I didn’t show my team that I had what it took to succeed as an intern here.

So to all the hopeful interns out there who are confronting the same struggles as I did: stop trying to prove yourself to others when you haven’t even proven yourself to you. Step boldly into your internships and know your own worth because once you silence that nagging voice of doubt inside your head, everything else will fall into place.

And if you can’t quite do that just yet, take a summer to unapologetically expand your comfort zone and surround yourself with people who celebrate your successes with you as I did this summer at Instagram. You’ll be amazed how much you’ll accomplish when you stop doubting your own worth and start believing the people who believe in you.

Thank you!

Ultimately, I’ve grown so much over the course of these past twelve weeks, both technically and personally. Thanks to everyone on the Instagram Growth team for making my summer here an unforgettable one, and special thanks to Vivian Yang and Serena Jiang for their unwavering support. You’ve all helped me believe in myself, and for that I’m eternally grateful.

Amy Huyen was a summer 2019 intern at Instagram. If you want to learn more about this work or are interested in joining one of our engineering teams, please visit our careers page, or follow us on Facebook or on Twitter.


From FBU to SWE — My Journey of Proving Myself to Myself and How Instagram Helped Me Do It was originally published in Instagram Engineering on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Source: Instagram

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