I have been at Facebook and in the US for four years. It seems like a really long time. Many times during this time I wondered how on earth did I end up here because the one thing that I was absolutely convinced of, four years back, that I was a mediocre guy who could just about manage to keep a software job.
I remember a conversation with my friends on the terrace of Kendriya Vihar in Gachibowli right after I landed a job at Google, back in 2011. We were doing some old style BC. ‘You keep saying you are a bad engineer. How the hell did you end up with Google?’ a friend asked. What he did not know what I was rejected 5 times for a position at their Hyderabad office before I got this offer from the Mountain View office. Yeah, interviews are funny like that. Anyway, I told him ‘I just had to fool five people at Google into believing that I was good enough’. ‘Well, you should try Facebook as well. That wont be easy’ he said. I managed to fool not five but twelve people at Facebook into thinking I am good enough. But I also remember thinking to myself ‘fuck mediocrity’ then. That did not make me a rockstar overnight but it began a lot of introspection and I think I have become more serious about my contributions both as an engineer and as a human being ever since. Both have improved with my move here.
The Tech Stuff: Cutting to present, I am still an average guy at facebook but at the same time my accomplishments in the four years probably overshadow all of my work before that. Not just because it was great work but because I threw all caution to the wind and picked an area where I sucked. My grade in Computer Networks at college was D, just above the dreaded F for fail, and I could not even identify different layers. Even if I had gotten a good grade it would not have mattered: I like IIIT, but as far as the courses on Networks are concerned, we really failed to meet even the lowest of the bars (this was then though. I am sure this is fixed now). Given that background, it was a risky move but it got me in touch with some terrific teams and probably now I am a network person more than I am computer vision or machine learning person. Over this time, I helped teams here build a world class cdn, a global load balancer for one of the largest sites in the world and a mobile http client that runs nearly on every smart phone. Solid stuff for a guy who nearly failed a networks course. My mentors, engineering heroes and role models at Facebook are the ones responsible, I guess.
The other major thing I learned here was to not get stuck up with titles like SDE, SDET or SRE. At facebook I played multiple roles based on the context: dev, tester, sysadmin and even a PM at times and it worked really well for me. This is why now I like the title Engineer better than anything else. Being well rounded is as important as gaining depth in one area. I wrote an internal post about why this is important. Hopefully, one of these days I can adapt it for sharing it wider.
The Non-Tech Stuff: I never doubted that joining fb would benefit me on the techincal front a lot. But having to move to the US because of that brought about a big and probably more important change. The number of non-Indians I met before I came here was in single digits and it now is probably 1000+. Surely, I made a lot of friends at facebook, the company, and built some close bonds. That was bound to happen at any US-based company, I guess. But the world outside work was the real factor behind the change. IIIT friends or folks in my family know this well: I was someone who would not even respond to a stranger’s smile, leave alone bring up personal stuff in conversation with a stranger. I did not deal well with crowds. I avoided our own batch picnics, celebrations and even refused to cut my own birthday cake once. I guess I had to be thrown into a different world to appreciate the value of talking to people. Now I am usually the first one to strike conversations with strangers, talk about their country or city, family, politics and what not. The willingness of other people to talk was a big surprise.
Silicon Valley and New York (which has now become my second home in the US) are crazy diverse. If you are into talking to people about things other than technology your perspective is bound to widen. I enjoyed striking conversations with people from all the over the world from the hot bed of middle-east to little know countries like Burkina Faso, in various professions from directors of companies to taxi drivers, from various religions and ethnicities. I will narrate my interesting experiences with people separately. The point is: It definitely made me less cynical, many stereotypes are broken and I think am a better person now. And not all of it is just because of age. I doubt if there is another place where I could have gotten such exposure to different people. Someday I wish India and many more countries will become economic hotspots and get this diversity. The discourse it enables will do the world a lot of good. I used to say I learned all of what I know of Computers and most of what I know of life at IIIT-Hyderabad. I think now that definitely has changed a bit.
The personal stuff: Marriage brought its own unique gifts. I will not lie by saying it was a smooth road all along. The first 6 months or so was really stressful for both me and Bona. I failed to adjust to the reality of living with someone for the first time in about 18 years and she was away from parents for the first time. An immigration system that made us feel less than welcome did not help. But we turned it around pretty well. She found work here that she is passionate about and got bold enough to become my most useful critic. She encouraged me to take bigger steps in profession and finally get over fear with things like motorcycling. Finally, I am willing to say marriage has benefits. I intend to keep unlocking more potential with her help.
The Future: Friends always ask me if we will move back to India. First off, Its not really up to me in my case due to the immigration complexities. But if you put that aside, I never thought I will have a doubt in my mind when I was coming here. I already disliked US then, so a return was never in question. Now, I am more ambivalent and probably a little in favor of staying here. But like a colleague of mine said: there is really no going ‘back’ to home. If we move to India now, it will be like moving to an entirely different country. It would only be moving forward. And with how fast India is changing, it surely would be moving forward.
For me, home has always been where my parents were. Or so I thought. But I left that home at 15 and never returned, going from city to city mostly for work or education. Now I realize, for me, home is where work is. And it is great to have work that is very fulfilling and aligns well with my goals of having a direct impact on people from where I came. If you did not understand why I was defending the seemingly indefensible with stuff like internet.org, now you know. For now, we are placing work above anything else. And we will be here until that work is complete.