My Career Story

Hi and welcome back to my blog! Today, I wanted to write a little bit about my career story, how I got started in computer science and managed to land my dream job right out of college. So, I realized that I wanted to study computer science well before I got to college and I was lucky enough to have programming experience by reading a lot of computer science books. Unfortunately, my school didn’t have a computer science program but I really think as long as you come in willing to learn and you’re excited about computer science, it doesn’t matter how much prior experience you have before college.

I went to a school called James Madison University which is a small liberal arts college in the western area of Virginia (my home state). I wanted in-state tuition and so I started school as a computer science major where I did eventually graduate so I had the same major all throughout college. In my sophomore year, I went to the Grace Hopper Convention for Women in Computer Science and it was out in Texas. One of my friends from high school lived nearby so he picked me up and after the convention, we went to tour NASA and I was just so enthralled with it.  I ended up applying to some wonderful companies that were there at the Grace Hopper Convention. I kind of just got this idea in my head like wait, what if I tried to intern for NASA,  like what if I applied at NASA instead of some of these other companies. So, I filled out the application and I was so nervous. I hit submit and waited to hear if I would become a 2016 NASA summer intern.

However, there was just one problem. I applied to be a NASA spring 2016 intern. So, I ended up getting the NASA internship which was unreal, I remember just screaming, thinking I couldn’t do it. I was thinking oh my god, how am I going to uproot my life in college in my dorm and go to NASA and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida? So, I did end up dropping out that next semester and taking the job at NASA and my mindset was:

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I cannot pass this up. This is the springboard for the rest of my time.

So, I moved down to Cape Canaveral, Florida where I met so many of my absolute best friends. I literally met my husband there,  we worked at NASA together.  I worked on a testing system while I was there for the launch room and I loved it so much I applied for the summer with one of my best friends named Riley (who I met at NASA) and we did end up getting a second return internship. In the summer, I returned to NASA and because I had done so well on my first internship, I actually got to write code for the launch initiation sequence of the next man space flight program. I actually made the dashboard that would show all the critical user information and I was very lucky to get to work on a small part of this and I absolutely loved it. 

At this point, I returned back to school for my junior year (I dropped out the second half of my sophomore year). I ended up going to the Grace Hopper convention again, with NASA on my resume, meeting with some of my dream companies and offering my resume. I ended up getting interviews on the spot with Apple and Facebook, and of course, I was thinking there’s no way I would get these but it was a great practice interview opportunity. I just thought there was no way. I ended up receiving an Apple offer on the spot, I actually remember during my final interview, they asked me so why do you want to work for Apple and I just said because I love and genuinely use the products and I want to create something for myself and I want to create something for people like me, I want to be able to empathize with their experience. She looked at me and says okay,  you’re going to come work at Apple and I was so excited, I remember they had this really cool white Apple folder with all of my info inside about the new internship. 

I was pumped so when I didn’t hear from Facebook, I didn’t really think much of it because I was so excited, I wasn’t going to be working in an Apple store, I would actually be an Apple software engineer, working on software at Apple. That was so cool to me because I truly, truly love Apple, I had the Apple watch, a Mac, an iPhone, an iPad, you name it, I had it. I love the innovation of the company. So I got back from the convention, still hadn’t heard from Facebook, and on a whim, I emailed them, being like hey, I got this Apple internship, I was wondering if you could let me know because the Apple deadline is tomorrow and I need to decide. It was a no-brainer that I was going to take it, but maybe an hour later, I got an email back from the Facebook recruiter saying, yes, we loved you, we would like to offer you an internship. 

This just put me completely in a conundrum of having both internships and how do I choose? Back in 2016, Facebook was this cool “hacker” company. I loved Instagram, I loved the Facebook product. I remember when I first got my Facebook profile (I never had MySpace, I just started on Facebook). I really couldn’t pick between the two because I’d also heard Apple was a little secretive or it’s like Facebook was known for being a  little bit more open and I truly just could not decide. So in true Nicole fashion, I took another semester off and I took both internships! 

I ended up leaving JMU the second half of junior year and moved to Menlo Park, California, where I interned for Facebook and I was actually lucky enough to get to intern on the Instagram growth and acquisition team. A lot of my work revolved around the sign-in and sign-up flow for Instagram on the iPhone which is really exciting because it means a lot of people have used my code. I was just so entranced, NASA was great, don’t get me wrong, but it is so slow to get work done. You have to go through all these processes and safety checks (which totally makes sense you’re launching a rocket) but at Facebook, one of their sayings was move fast and break things. You move fast, get things done and we’re out here making an impact in the world. I was just so obsessed, I worked my butt off. I probably stressed a little bit too much about it because I remember just working and wanting so badly to continue that work, not just for the perks and the pay but because I had so much fun working on the code. This was one of the first times that I actually got to launch code and see people use it. I remember I made a small little change to the sign-up flow and later that month, I was on a train and I look over and see someone with an iPhone, signing up for Instagram and I’m like holy moly, that is my code on a totally random stranger’s phone and it just blew me away, the feeling, I’ll never get over it.

So in the summer, I went to Apple, and unfortunately, I can’t tell you much about what I worked on because Apple is known for its secrecy but I really did enjoy my time there too. I was so entranced by working at a company that was so focused on design and user experience. I’m not a good designer but I appreciate good design and I love the prioritization of the user. and experience having empathy for the user. At the end of the day, when I had to pick between Apple and Facebook, it was kind of a no-brainer for me because Facebook was so open and I loved their mindset. I decided that after I graduate, I would join Facebook as a full-time software engineer and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I mean if I really look back, probably like accidentally applying for the spring internship for NASA which led me here was the best decision but I am so happy I work for Facebook. 

My start date for Facebook ended up being October 2018 and by the time I graduated college, I was just so ready to get back to that feeling of coding and making an impact that I moved back a week after I graduated college. So I graduated college, went to a robotics competition, and then immediately moved out to California and started work. I’ve now been working at Facebook for almost three years now, on different teams, and I seriously love it so much. I’m glad that I went the less traditional path of being an intern in the middle of college and not staying on my education path. I think it gave me an edge because not many people apply for a spring position and I really think that launched me. It gave me a way to explore both opportunities and I really credit a lot of my success in my career to that. I hope you enjoyed my career story and I hope you’ll stay tuned for what’s next!

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