Before understanding how I even got into FAANG, you need to understand how my academic ability couldn’t have been more average. I maintained a solid B+/- all throughout high school, even dropped out of all my AP (advanced placement) classes within the first week because I forgot to do any of the summer assignments. I wasn’t particularly a high achiever compared to my “hardo” (a term I learned later on that meant try hards) peers. This isn’t a story of traditional hard work and Ivy League privelege but rather preparation and working smart.
I went to everyone’s safety school, the last resort nicknamed ZooMass Slamherst for it’s notorious partying shenanigans often ending up in the media outlets for it’s riots. Even there where I first studied Eletrical Engineering, but quickly dropped for Computer Engineering because there was too much math, I was struggling hard and perceivably failing many of my engineering exams. I quickly realized I wouldn’t succeed if I only relied on my grades. I somehow figured out along the way that I needed to differentiate myself from the crowd. I couldn’t just do the bare minimum and put class projects on my resume. I became president of a dance and culture organization, got an on campus job in repairing student laptops, and applied for a web development job I was highly unqualified for.
I figured having some real world web development experience would be incredibly applicable to potential employers and boy was I right. I had heard that Facebook was developed in PHP and I saw a job listing for an experienced web developer in PHP for the off campus housing website. The experience requirement didn’t deter me because I’ve never been one to follow the rules. I applied anyway and during the interview I immediately admitted that I had zero experience with web development. I guaranteed my full committment and my desire to master what the current developer had to teach. I won him over with my personality and charisma. He then became one of the rare mentors in my life with the biggest impact.
Disregarding my GPA, which was around a 3.3, by sophomore year I had built a pretty decent resume that stood out. I landed my first big tech interview with Cisco. I was not confident with my interviewing abilities because data structures and algorithms were my weakest point. Many peers recommended praticing “Cracking the Code Interview” which had hundreds of interview problems I could practice. It just gave me PTSD of SATs and I didn’t want to study on top of my already stressful exams. I understand people way better than data structures and so with the interview prep information I received from the company I did some research into my interviewers. Google, LinkedIn, I dug up whatever I could find so if I failed the technical portion of the interview I could distract them with personal questions. That’s exactly how it turned out… I bombed a simple data structures question but I had found something interesting, a common interest I could talk about for hours. We nerded out over this commonality and I showed genuine interest in this interviewer and their work. It’s overrated how simple passion can make an interviewing candidate stand out more than a technically sound candidate with no emotion.
Needless to say, I got the internship and that set me up for great success. The following year I attended as many hackathons as I could because I wanted to put cool projects on my resume I could start and finish within a weekend. This showed passion as an engineer and that I had the creativity and resolve to work on projects outside of academics. Companies want motivated and passionate employees, not just those who only follow the rules and think inside the box. Success is a combination of luck meets preparation. I was lucky to come across a website that was accepting applications for FAANG internships. I’ve never heard of the website before but I applied anyway and to my surprise they liked my resume (later confirmed with the recruiter), one out of hundreds of applicants and the first time one selected from UMass Amherst. I was even more nervous for this interview because it was the big leagues. If I could get this internship, it was one step closer to being set for life.
The interview process involved an initial cultural interview with the person in charge of the program. Following that I had a 1:1 with my potential direct manager and after him, his manager. I don’t have great advice here because I lucked out big time. I didn’t study at all except for how to show my passion for the company. No one asked me difficult coding questions. Both managers just wanted to get to know me and talk about my past experiences. I talked a lot about my leadership experience and being president of a break dancing club. Just like that, I got the job.
I like to believe that all the smart work I put in prior to that moment led to these opportunities. But the journey didn’t end there. I felt way out of my league being surrounded by Ivy League peers who all seemed way smarter than me. Only around 30% of interns were offered a full-time offer. I didn’t let my imposter syndrome paralyze me and I ended up spending nights in the office to make up for my incompetence. Read - I Slept Under my Desk Every Night at my FAANG Internship.