[TSTIL] Autopullpep8 and the Facebook adventure

[ This is a part of "The Software That I Love", a series of posts about Software that I created or had a small part in ]

2012 - Autopullpep8 and the Facebook adventure

Achiel, my team lead at Mendix, showed me Python and it quickly became my go-to language. I got frustrated with the different coding styles, whitespace errors, and learned about pep8, flake, etc. Nowadays we use `black` but back then there was only `autopep8`. A tool that reformatted python code to the pep8 standard.

Learning about GitHub, its API and autopep8 I got a brilliant idea. What if I created a script to clone the top 100 most starred python projects, applied autopep8 and submitted a Pull Request. All completely automated. This was simple. I was nice enough to check the diffs before sending the PR. Autopep8 got a lot wrong and made some things really ugly. I spent 20 hours cleaning up code and then submitting PRs. I got my (small) contributions into a handful of top python projects. Pretty cool! Now more people figured out this trick and it is frowned upon in the open source community, but I think I did more good than harm.

I will never know for sure, but I suspect getting patches into top python libraries triggered some recruitment algorithm in Silicon Valley. In mid 2013 I got a message from a recruiter at Facebook for a position in their Production Engineering team. I actually really disliked Facebook and had deleted my account a few months prior. On the other hand the job was super cool and I loved California. I thought I had 0 chance of making the interview but it might be a great learning exercise. So, the process started. Over a period of 2 months I had 5 late night calls with the US West Coast that I had to keep secret from my bosses. I didn't prepare much and had the feeling that I passed every interview by the skin of my teeth. 

My brain works a bit strangely. I can't grasp theoretical knowledge well, so while studying Computer Science a lot of concepts did not stick. But in these interviews, I finally understood what the engineers were struggling with and how we could create solutions. The theory finally had a useful application! I learned so much during and after these calls, and I'm super grateful for the experience. 

At this time I was offered an incentive package at Mendix because of all the projects I did in my free time. I felt obliged to come clean and told Johan about my "affair" with Facebook, and that I appreciated the effort but first had some choices to make. I think the news spread quickly and most people considered me a lost cause. Facebook flew me out to Palo Alto for two days of on-site interviews. I did a bit of a road trip with my dad who by pure chance was doing a freelance project in LA. He came over to the Bay Area for 2 days, we rented a fancy car at Facebook's expense and had fun.



My dad taking a rest on the car between the sequoias


The Valley was cool. While at 1 Hacker Way I saw Sheryl Sandberg doing a walking meeting across the FB campus with 5 of her reports. When I checked into the Sheraton there was a guy in an Instagram shirt standing next to me, he looked very happy. Instagram was bought for $1B a couple of months prior and the guy was now worth north of $50M but he still looked pretty normal. This was a different world. I also saw my first Teslas on the road and I was stupid enough to put my actual current salary on some HR form.

The first Tesla Model S I ever saw

Back home I got a good offer, negotiated a bit and got a better offer. IIRC it was 128k + 2x yearly 20k signing + stock, and for a 25-year-old engineer from Europe back in 2013 that was amazing. I still don't make close to this amount now, even though I probably could ;) In the Valley it was probably "meh" and that's why they recruited from overseas. But remember, I never expected to get an offer because in my head I wasn't good enough for the Champions League of the tech industry. So now I had to think. While thinking I discovered that:

  1. I don't care about money beyond basic needs.
  2. I'm very loyal and liked our mission at Mendix a lot.
  3. I care about the environment. Flying back to Europe 2 times a year with Stephanie my wife and a brand-new kid did not sit well with me. We now have 3 kids and it still doesn't.
  4. I don't like joining a winning team, I like a challenge and have a giant weak spot for the underdog.
  5. I'm actually a pretty great engineer.
  6. The H1B visa would not allow Stephanie to do any paid work. The H1B spouse club is real and that's a pity.
  7. I want to work on something good and meaningful and still hate Facebook.



I snapped this picture in the Facebook office

I declined the offer. I felt bad about the super smart engineers and the recruiter for going through all this trouble (sorry Phil). I had made it clear from the start that declining was a very real opportunity. Thank you Zuck for sponsoring the free trip and the great learning experience. At Mendix, Roald told me he was very relieved I decided to stay. That was nice.


next2012 - JUDO

previous2011 - Social Gravity

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