Facebook engineers share a love for improving lives through programming
#IMInspired > Success Stories
By IMDA Posted 10mth(s) ago Reading Time: About 10 minutes
If there was one thing that Esther Goh wanted to do when she was young, it was to build things.
She has since achieved her dream by working as a Partner Engineer on the Media Partnerships team at the Facebook company in Singapore.
Growing up, Esther did not have much exposure to programming or computing. However, she became interested in the subject when she saw her junior college classmates dabbling in programming and creating webpages.
“I thought it was so cool. I enjoy solving problems and building things,” Esther, 32, explained. To Esther, programming was fascinating as it gave her the power to create things that could potentially help others.
To pursue her passion, Esther majored in Computer Science at the Nanyang Technological University. After graduation, she completed a master’s in Computer Science at the Georgia Institute of Technology under Singapore Digital (SG:D) Scholarship as she yearned to study overseas but did not have the financial resources.
Building tools to make people’s lives easier
As a Partner Engineer, Esther works with partners across different sectors to help solve their technical problems and build tools to make their work more efficient and effective.
Out of all the projects that she has handled, there is one that Esther is particularly proud of.
“Recently, we noticed an uptick in the demand for Messenger chatbots. However, it can be difficult for our partners to create a Messenger Bot from scratch because of its technicality and the engineering resources required. So, my team built a tool that can help them do it in a faster and easier manner,” shared Esther.
The tool has since been launched with selected partners and it has given Esther a strong sense of achievement when she sees the tangible impact of people engaging in it actively.
On a day-to-day basis, the nature of Esther’s work is often fast-paced and fluid.
“Sometimes we receive phone calls from our partner on news about certain events happening; we would have to be on call to ensure that everything is running smoothly during that time,” she said.
There are also cases when the issues raised by her media partners are complex and demand urgent attention.
“For instance, if the media partner is broadcasting news and something goes wrong, that is very critical. We have to be ready to help them at any time.”
The nature of being a Partner Engineer is also different from a software engineer where the job scope is focused on a specific product.
“Partner engineers have to be able to answer any questions from our partners so, I need a breadth of knowledge across all Facebook products. That can be a bit stressful, but I also see it as a challenge to push myself,” Esther shared.
The challenging nature of the job was another reason that drew Esther to it. “I think it's very interesting to learn about my clients’ businesses. You need to be empathetic about what they are going through and that makes me want to solve their problems.”
Encouraging more women to join engineering
As a woman in the technology industry, Esther is passionate about advocating for greater female representation in engineering.
For instance, after receiving multiple requests for education tours around the Facebook office, Esther took the initiative to conduct the tours herself. During the tours, she shares with visitors about why she decided to choose computer engineering as a career.
Beyond this, she is also a mentor for a Facebook mentorship programme, which pairs experienced female mentors to new female staff.
Esther also participates in Facebook’s Developer Circles as a speaker to share her experiences. The Circle is an event for Facebook developers to connect with other developers, learn about new technology like bots and artificial intelligence, as well as best practices.
According to Esther, taking up the SG:D Scholarship proved to be great help to her career. She also credits the scholarship for giving her a chance to pursue her interest and serve her bond at her desired info-communications company. The SG:D Scholarship is an industry scholarship offered by the IMDA to groom Infocomm media talents for an exciting career in the digital economy.
“The scholarship gave me a chance to go overseas, and that helped me to get to know people of diverse backgrounds, especially when I joined multinational companies,” she shared. The exposure to people of different nationalities and the experience of being a minority in a foreign country also helped Esther develop a greater sense of empathy for others.
Beyond that, the scholarship gave Esther a supportive network of peers in the same industry.
“Taking up the scholarship also opened a lot of opportunities to networking. IMDA had many networking sessions for both the alumni and current students. I will reach out to these networks for advice or even just brainstorm about some technical problems that different companies have. I would not have this chance if I didn't have a scholarship.”
A love for programming
Like Esther, Facebook software engineer Henry Bai also developed a keen interest in computers and programming from a young age.
“I love creating things, building things, deep-diving into how things work,” said Henry. He credits Facebook for providing him with the right opportunity to do what he likes, with challenging problems for him to solve.
As a software engineer in Facebook’s Business Integrity Tooling team, Henry’s role is to build a platform for human reviewers to review ads more efficiently and accurately.
Explaining his role, Henry said: “We ensure that advertisements on Facebook’s platform comply with our policies. Normally, advertisements go through machine review first. If the machine is unsure, it gets piped to a team who will review these ads.” The Business Integrity Tooling team’s role is to ensure that the platform is safe and secure for people and advertisers alike.
Facebook has robust set of policies for advertisements based on the nature of the ads such as political or e-commerce advertisements These policies are put in place to weed out issues like fraudulent or misleading advertisements.
Before joining the Facebook Singapore team, Henry was working in Facebook’s US office. In early 2019, Facebook decided to start its first software engineering team in Singapore to be closer to Asia. The move is also more practical as the reviewers are mainly in the Asia Pacific region.
Seeing the chance to return home and be closer to his family, Henry leap at the opportunity to join the pioneer team in Singapore.
Programming, more than meets the eye
Lest you think that work for Henry is straightforward coding or programming, he quickly dispels this notion.
“My work is also a cat-and-mouse game because when we reject advertisements that do not comply with our policies, they will reverse engineer and come up with creative ways to find and exploit loopholes ,” Henry explained.
At the same time, Henry also must constantly keep abreast of the emerging trends such as blockchain as there may be scams related to that. As a result of these emerging trends, Facebook’s policies need to be updated accordingly to tackle evolving threats.
Benefits of working in Facebook
As one of the highly sought-after employers in Singapore, Facebook’s employees enjoy holistic benefits ranging from generous paid leave for new parents, wellness reimbursement to support employees’ healthy activities, to free vending machines for commonly used electronics, just to name a few.
For Henry, one of the things he loves about working in Facebook is the freedom to be himself and pursue his interests. A cause close to his heart is supporting an inclusive work culture.
“Facebook takes a bottom-up approach. We get resources and the empowerment to support our causes,” Henry shared.
Apart from that, Henry also organized a family-friendly picnic where Facebook staff’s families could participate in various activities such as face-painting, karaoke and more.
“Being yourself is important because that is when you can do your best work,” Henry says. The freedom of being yourself also means diverse opinions are accepted and individuals can speak up freely, he added.Henry enjoys working at Facebook because there is never a dull moment. “Every day, I head to office only to be surprised by the activities that are happening,” he said. There are events happening all week round, such as mixology classes, durian parties, tennis lessons, board game nights, bubble tea deliveries and many more. These are made possible by Facebook’s Life@ clubs which are run employees.
For Esther, an important benefit of working in Facebook is its flexibility.
“At Facebook, we are focused on delivering the highest impact in the work we do. You can work from home or anywhere else outside of the office provided you have discussed with your manager on work arrangements. I have even worked in another country. You have to deliver your work, your responses to your partners; you are responsible for your partners,” shared Esther.
Esther also appreciates the open culture at Facebook.
She explained: “I am very close to my colleagues. If I see them leave, I will be very sad. My colleagues are very open and helpful. Compared to my past job environments, I never felt as comfortable to ask for help.”
Getting hired at Facebook
For those who are interested in joining the Facebook company, Henry urges them to keep on trying.
“In the past, I thought Facebook is a big company and wondered why they would want me? But if you don’t try, you will never know,” Henry said.
In Esther’s case, she encourages potential candidates to be themselves during the interview.
“I think what Facebook looks out for is whether you are suitable [for the role], rather than you trying to fit into the role,” Esther explained.
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