Interview for Facebook internship provides insight into tech industry

March 16, 2017 — by Roland Shen

“Hello from Facebook!”

I stared at the words blankly for a few moments until I realized that Facebook, a company I had dreamed of working for since my middle school days, was actually giving me the chance to have a phone interview for their college internship program. The company has been known to hire high schoolers for their internship program. Knowing this, I applied a few weeks earlier and was fortunate enough to have my application reviewed.

A week later in February, I toured the company’s campus with my family. I was confused the first time I walked through the main entrance. Instead of heading into a traditional skyscraper building with cubicles all over the place, I found myself standing in front of something that resembled more of an amusement park than a corporate workplace.

It was like a miniature city — a single, wide road with yellow divider lines divided Facebook’s campus into two sections. The campus included multiple areas for engineers to set up their own places to work, but there were plenty of restaurants, gift shops and even a dentist office on site. Did I mention that all the restaurants were free for employees?

Yep, just walk into whichever restaurant you want, whether they serve orange chicken or burritos, and pick up what you’re feeling. After leaving Facebook’s jaw-dropping campus and seeing the culture of the company first hand, I was more committed than ever to try to work there myself.

Once arriving home, I sprinted to my laptop and did something I rarely do: order a book online. I picked “Cracking the Coding Interview,” a book commonly referred to as the Bible of coding interviews, something every engineer has bought and studied in preparation for the dreaded coding problem that all tech interviews include.

I waited anxiously every day for the brown Amazon prime box to come in the mail, and when it did, I began to read the book religiously during my February break, cramming into my head new data structures and algorithms that I had never even heard of.

Aside from simply reading about how certain systems work, I put my knowledge to the test by attempting various coding challenges on a website called HackerRank. The site offers hundreds of challenges based on the same topics taught in the book.

To be honest, I really struggled with some of the easier questions at first. Concepts just weren’t clicking in my head.

After working my way through a dozen challenges, I noticed that ideas and nuances from previous challenges built upon themselves in exercises of higher difficulty. I also sought advice regarding certain topics from other Saratoga students who prepared for interviews before, as well as students who have competed in competitive programming competitions such as the U.S. Computing Olympiad (USACO).

Then came the dreaded interview date: March 6. I had only two weeks to study from when I first received the invitation to interview, a timeframe anyone else would completely ridicule. I was competing against college computer science majors who have had over three years to study, and in that comparison, those two weeks of cramming seemed like nothing.

The interview itself was scheduled for 2:45 p.m. that day. I had to rush home from school that day just to get my mind off of Spanish and into computer science mode. I set up my headphones and waited eagerly for the call to come in — when it did, I took a deep breath and began talking.

I was greeted by an engineer at Facebook who introduced herself with a bit of her own background. She proceeded to ask about my previous computer science projects and programming background as well. After what seemed like just a few seconds, the coding problem was brought up.

Everything froze as the interviewer explained the question — I had no idea what she was talking about. She recognized my confusion instantly and proceeded to give more information about the problem, even throwing in a few hints about the edge cases I had to consider.

Solving the problem my way was easy, but then I was asked to optimize the solution in order to help the program run more smoothly. At that point I froze again, but still had to try really hard to show no signs of panic on the phone. There was one clear pathway to the problem in my head, but I just didn’t know how to write out the method in code. With some nudging by the interviewer, I finally found myself finished with the problem by the end of the 45-minute period.

A few days later, I received an email titled “Thanks from Facebook.” From the title alone, I knew that I didn’t get through. Surprisingly, I wasn’t too devastated by the result. I knew I was competing against the top minds in tech, and having gotten an interview and completing it was already a huge accomplishment.

From the whole experience, I gained valuable insights on the tech industry and the real interview process. I also toured a fascinating facility. Based on my quick dive into the Facebook experience, I’m even more excited for the future and the opportunities that lie ahead.

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