My Engineering Journey from Wall Street to Facebook NYC
Eight months ago, I made a rather surprising career change. I had been a Managing Director in the Quant and Technology organizations at a major respected global financial institution. I’d been doing the Wall Street thing for many years. I enjoyed the buzz of the financial markets, I had significant domain knowledge in financial technology, and I had a nice selection of ties to wear to work every day. Things were pretty good.
But I felt like something was missing.
I wanted to innovate more. LOTS more.
I wanted to impact customers more, with a mission of improving the world.
I wanted the excitement of being part of a rapidly growing company.
I wanted to work with a cadre of the most talented technologists in the world.
I wanted to be free from the daily frustrations of building tech whose primary goal is jumping through hoops for regulators or driving cost savings.
I realized that what I wanted was to be back in Wall Street tech in the days prior to the 2008 financial crisis. But, alas, I lacked a wormhole or flux capacitor. I felt a bit stuck.
An unexpected message on LinkedIn opened my journey to Facebook, where I’m back to doing all the things I enjoy and many more things that I never knew I was missing during my Wall Street career.
The Past and Present of Wall Street Tech
Prior to the financial crisis of 2007–2008, Wall Street was a great place to work. Financial companies were making good money and employee compensation was generous. Money was essentially no object and financial companies were willing to experiment freely with new products, and technologists could experiment with innovative ideas. Financial companies built massive engineering orgs full of savvy and capable engineers.
After the fallout from the financial crisis, Wall Street companies haven’t been as enjoyable or financially rewarding. Instead of innovating or experimenting to make new products for clients, many technology orgs are focused on jumping through hoops for regulators, shrinking tech teams in core locations (like NYC and London) in favor of “high value locations,” and building technology primarily to save costs. Implementing new systems shifted from “build and innovate” to “download and integrate”.
In contrast, Facebook feels a lot like Wall Street technology orgs had prior to the financial crisis: innovative, rewarding, and fun.
Interviewing at Facebook
I was concerned that my tech skills were too focused on financial systems engineering, and I wouldn’t do well interviewing at a pure tech company like Facebook. I was also concerned about whether Facebook compensation would stack up to Wall Street pay.
I spent time dusting off some CompSci fundamentals prior to the interviews. Facebook gives candidates substantial transparency into what types of questions will occur during interviews, and even recommendations/materials on how to prepare. The questions were fair and challenging, and I had fun answering the questions and interacting with the interviewers. Facebook hires engineers who are broadly talented and passionate innovators. They aren’t hiring for narrowly-defined skills to fit narrowly-defined job descriptions. My background building financial systems was definitely suitable for handling the interviews.
My compensation offer at Facebook was highly competitive with Wall Street pay, but the model is somewhat different.
An engineer who is recruited to one Wall Street company from another is generally assured to get their full annual cash bonus (“bonus buy-out”) and their new employer will replace any unvested stock they will lose from their former employer (“make whole”). Facebook, not being a Wall Street company, doesn’t do bonus “buy-out” or stock “make whole”. I was concerned that I would experience a big personal financial penalty by leaving Wall Street for Facebook but I was wrong. A job offer from Facebook generally includes a cash signing bonus and immediate stock grant RSUs, which I found to be generous and eliminated any financial concerns about making the transition to Facebook.
As I mentioned above, Facebook doesn’t hire engineers based on narrowly-defined job descriptions. Instead, we hire engineers generally and then provide the support and resources to learn and explore different roles across the entire company. New engineers choose several teams that interest them, and then spend quality time with each team — writing code, understanding their goals/mission, hanging out with them in the office cafes, etc. At the end of 8 weeks in the company (give or take a few weeks), new hires choose the team that he/she will join. Amazingly, newly hired engineers at Facebook choose their job at the company, not the other way around. This is an integral part of our culture.
Career Path for Engineers
In most financial companies, there is one career path for all technologists. Getting promoted beyond a certain level means that a hands-on developer must become a manager. And, hands-on developers are always considered lower on the food chain than managers. For passionate developers, this is misery. They have to choose to leave the thing they love and are good at (innovation and coding) in order to grow their scope, influence, and compensation.
Facebook has a different approach with separate career paths for individual contributors and people leaders. These career paths are independent and parallel in every way (seniority, respect, compensation, etc). This allows passionate hands-on engineers to remain hands-on, never abandoning the work that they love to do while enjoying continued role and compensation growth. Facebook also supports people who want to switch between hands-on and people leadership roles during their career here as well.
Working for Facebook affords great hands-on engineers a respected and rewarded career path building innovative solutions to hard problems. People who may have regretted their move into management roles in Wall Street tech can return to their roots and join Facebook as senior hands-on engineers.
Engineering Company = Engineering Culture
In Wall Street, Finance is the business, and technology is merely a mechanism that exists to facilitate that business. Technology is seen as a cost center, and when it is necessary to cut costs, which is a common occurrence over the last 10 years, technology budgets are especially at-risk. Technologists have no realistic shot at becoming the next CEO of their company.
At Facebook, technology IS our business. It is the core of who we are and what we do. Our CEO and senior leaders are technologists who respect engineering work and speak our language. We are an “engineering first” culture.
What I’m Doing
Today, I am an engineering leader at Facebook supporting the org that uses advanced Machine Learning and AI techniques to solve challenges related to News content on Facebook. Distinguishing high quality news from among billions of posts on Facebook spanning many languages, many topics and content types (text and video) is hard. Every day is a new challenge, and failure isn’t an option — because Facebook is the primary news source for 23% of people in the world and the exclusive news source for 11% of people in the world. Every day at Facebook I leverage the principles that I brought with me from years in Wall Street technology: innovation, stability/performance and leadership (to name a few).
Back to the Future
Facebook feels a lot like Wall Street technology in its heyday:
- We are in a strong financial position with solid and stable budgets and compensation
- We are free to experiment and innovate in order to deliver new and exciting products
- We hire the best and brightest
- We hire in locations where the best talent is available, not where the cheapest talent is available
Our engineering center in NYC has over 1,500 engineers in the East Village and is growing fast. Our engineers are working on Facebook and Instagram products in areas that include Machine Learning/AI, Mobile, Backend, Frontend, Data Engineering, Security Engineering, Infrastructure and more. There are plenty of former Wall Street folks here, and we want to add a lot more.
For more info about Facebook NYC and to access the full list of open positions, click here.
If you are interested in exploring Facebook or want to connect for coffee or a casual chat, definitely reach-out to me.