From Engineering to Design: How I landed Facebook’s Product Design Internship
I recently accepted an offer to join Facebook as a Product Design Intern next summer. This will be my third internship at Facebook, and I am super excited to get started! I decided to write this story to inspire others who might be thinking of making the switch from Software Engineering to Design.
My Past Experience — Engineering
In June 2016, I flew to the Bay Area for the first time in my life. I joined Facebook as an iOS Engineering intern in their FBU program (which is awesome by the way, you should totally check it out). Over my 8 weeks in Menlo Park, I learned about iOS development in Swift through Codepath, then designed and built a full standalone app in a team of 3 FBU Interns. This was the most fun and intellectually challenging project I had ever worked on. We were designing an app and then implementing it on the spot. I had an amazing time, and landed a return offer for another Engineering internship the following summer.
In May 2017, I joined the Instagram Ads team as a Software Engineering Intern. I developed front-end iOS and Android features for the Instagram Promote product. In the process, I learned a lot about what it’s like to be a contribute to a codebase at a large company. I learned the incredible value of working on a cross-functional team.
Most importantly, I learned a lot about myself. The role of a Software Engineer is incredibly exciting and challenging, but I felt that it was not the right fit for me career-wise. The work I was doing was great, but I did not feel that this would be a sustainable source of personal fulfillment in the long-term. I found that my passion was in the work that the Product Designers on my team were conducting. They were crafting experiences for our users, focusing on the details of the screens while keeping the end-user in mind for the big picture of the product. They were discovering problems and being intentional in their solutions. I knew that this was what I wanted to pursue, so towards the end of the summer, I began exploring the path to Product Design.
I already knew that Facebook was an amazing company to work for, so landing their Product Design internship became my main goal. I knew that I had to be intentional and efficient in my approach, since recruiting started in the early Fall. These are the steps I took:
1. Research, Research, more Research
I started by talking to current Product Designers and Product Design Interns at Facebook. They gave me invaluable insight about the role, the values of designers, and the basic competencies. I read everything and anything I could about product design on Medium and Quora.
2. Find peers and mentors
I sought out peers who I could learn from and who I could also teach. I was lucky to find many of these peers at Startup Shell, the University of Maryland’s student-run entrepreneurial space. We worked together on projects and gave each other detail-oriented feedback. I also sought out mentors who could give me honest feedback on my developing work and wisdom on the field. Many of the conversations with my mentors involved big-picture ideas about where to go with my portfolio and what kind of projects to work on. Overall, these people were the ones who motivated me when I was slowing down, and who encouraged me when I doubted myself.
3. Dive right into designing things
Transitioning felt like a daunting process, but I knew that the only way to succeed was to get my hands dirty as soon as possible. My friend and mentor, Jeff Hilnbrand, recently gave a talk called “1000 Shitty Designs” where he discussed the necessity for making bad designs before you start making good ones. The sooner I got started, the sooner I would be making quality work.
4. Build a portfolio
I found trends in dozens of Product Designers’ portfolios and built my portfolio accordingly (cofolios.com is an awesome resource for this). Overall, I found that student portfolios didn’t need to show a huge breadth of work, but had just a few case studies that were very thorough and well put-together. I also noticed that many designers completed redesign projects to show their product thinking skills, so I took a stab at redesigning Pinterest. Luckily, I was able to do a design side project during my Facebook Engineering internship, so I wrote up a case study for that as well.
5. Leverage existing strengths
Although my work experience had not been formal design, there were many things I had learned that I could incorporate into my brand as a designer. For example, I had gained some Product Thinking and analytical skills from being on an Instagram Ads team, and I had developed some good user research skills from my work in my university’s Student Government Association Committee on IT. I emphasized these strengths in my portfolio and interviews. I also acknowledged that my Visual Design skills were not my strongest asset, so I continued to work daily to improve them and become a more well-rounded designer. Daily UI is a great place for this.
6. Prepare for interviews
Lastly, I prepared for applications and interviews. I found lots of awesome articles here on Medium to fully understand the process. Here, my investment in finding peers and mentors paid off. I completed app critiques with some of my fellow aspiring designers at UMD, and did some portfolio review preparation with my mentors. Because of this, I was confident going into Facebook’s interviews and they ended up feeling quite conversational and fun!
Looking Ahead — Design
In May 2018, I will return to Facebook’s Menlo Park campus, this time as a Product Design Intern! I am extremely excited for this opportunity, and I know that I will learn so much about the roles and responsibilities of being a Product Designer.
If you’re considering making a similar transition, I’m here to tell you that it can be done! It will definitely be difficult, but staying focused on exploring new things and meeting new people will result in nothing but positive things.