Mistakes I made in my 4 years at Faceook

I shared this note within Facebook & it was well received. I am pasting the same here as well.

It was my 4th Anniversary at Facebook last week & lately I have been reflecting on my 4 years at Facebook. I was thinking of what I would have done differently knowing everything that I know today. In doing so, I identified a few patterns & behaviors that I regret; this note is a collection of them. I am sharing this note more broadly to keep myself accountable & also to help others who are a little earlier in this journey than I am.

1. Imagining arbitrary timelines for promos

My halves at Facebook resemble a step function. I used to work very hard in the halves when I was chasing a promo. Then as soon as I would get promoted, I would coast for a half to recuperate from all the hard work that I put in the half before. My justification for doing so was when I got promoted, there was no way I was going to get promoted again anytime soon. So, I would relax a little & pick up speed the next half onwards.

Looking back, I realize this turned out to be a self fulfilling prophecy. There are a lot of engineering career stories out there where engineers were able to get promoted every half. I have seen a few anecdotal cases in my circle of friends as well. Moreover, it is not just about promos because working in this manner stalled my momentum and didn’t allow me to practice the skill sets that I learned to get that last promo.

I would like to think that I have done reasonably well in terms of career progression. So, I am not complaining. However, I ended up denying myself the opportunity to have a more rapid career growth than I already did. It also lead to burnouts. More on this in the next point. Going forward, I want to think of my career as a marathon & not a series of sprints and find a way to run at a sustainable pace.

2. Managing burnout & not taking agency of my happiness

I was badly burnt out last half. Working from home combined with personal troubles lead to a disastrous outcome for me. In addition to the last half, I can recall a few instances over the last four years when I suffered from small burnouts. I never vocalized my dissatisfaction while working on projects that made me unhappy. I suffered silently, sometimes oblivious to how I was feeling & just kept on without trying to fix the root cause. At no point during this time I took agency of my happiness & mental health. In fact, I didn’t even realize that I was burnt out. Like Deb Liu mentions, burn outs are often hard to recognize & usually only apparent in hindsight.

To fix this, I started doing monthly check- ins with myself. My goal with these monthly check-ins is to reflect on my previous month & see what worked well & what didn’t. I now do 1:1s with myself where I ask myself - how I feel & try to answer the question as honestly as I can.

3. Networking

This was hands down my biggest mistake in my first four years at Meta. I didn’t network enough. Back when we used to go to the office, I would often skip Friday happy hours in favor of writing an additional diff ( Diffs are equivalent to Pull Requests i.e. a code snippet that is submitted for review ) or reviewing some docs or just mindlessly scrolling Workplace. I don’t think I worked on anything time critical that I couldn’t have done the next morning had I gone to those happy hours. I wish I had spent more time networking with my awesome colleagues & getting to know them better.

Networking has some amazing benefits like getting to learn more about your colleagues, having better collaborations & not to mention having future job opportunities. The tech industry is smaller than you think. You never know when that conversation with your colleague during that happy hour might lead to a new friendship that lasts a lifetime. Maybe, they will start a unicorn company & invite you to join; if not, maybe it will just lead to better collaboration in future.

This year I plan to become a Yes Man & join every social hour virtually or in person & network more aggressively.

4. Setting a target to upskill myself

I have grown a lot, both in technical & soft skills in the last four years. However, most of my upskilling happened by chance. Sometimes it was because someone in the team left & I was forced to lead a project beyond my skill level or sometimes I was assigned a project which required me to manage 10 xfn teams. A lot of it was also a function of growing older & becoming more mature as a person.

I didn’t take a more proactive role in trying to upskill myself. Looking back, I wish I had made a personal goal to work on a new skill every quarter or half. Oftentimes I admired my colleagues for something that they did really well. I was a fan of how Sheldon always took initiative & proposed new ideas or how Josh volunteered to take more responsibilities on the roadmap. Bill is always prepared with an agenda before meetings & runs them very efficiently. While I did recognize their skills & admired them from a distance, I think I could have done a better job in trying to emulate their behaviors & set a personal goal every half to learn those skills myself.

Going forward, I will be setting a personal goal every half and try to copy behaviors of colleagues that I admire. This half I am setting two goals for myself - getting better at technical writing & running meetings more efficiently.

5. Be a champion for my colleagues

I have to admit; I have been stingy with my praise. I used to take great pride in making it a point to send #thanks to anyone who helped me or did something amazing at work. But looking back, I don’t think it was nearly enough. I wish I had done more. I wish I had thanked them in person or during our video chats & shouted it out from rooftops & become their biggest cheerleader at work. I wish I had let them & my team know how they had been generous with their time & helped me succeed.

If I look back & think of the people who I enjoyed working with the most, they all shared some similar qualities. They were all kind, competent & generous with their time. Now, I wish to be that colleague to others. I think this is the right mindset to adopt because (a) I would want my collaborators to do the same for me and (b) that is just the kind of awesome colleague I want to be.

6. Not asking for feedback during 1:1s with Peers

I made an interesting observation while reflecting. I never verbally asked any of my peers for feedback in my four years at Meta. I made it a point to ask my managers for feedback during our 1:1s. But in the hundreds of 1:1’s that I have had with my peers, I never once asked any of them for feedback. I only asked them for feedback via the PSC tool. ( PSC is what we call Performance reviews at Facebook ). Looking back, I don’t know why I didn’t ask for feedback during our 1:1s. Maybe, it was because it felt like a norm to ask for feedback only during PSC. Given that my peers worked closer to me, I think I missed out on some actionable & timely feedback that would have helped me grow further. Going forward, I plan on asking for feedback regularly from my peers, including how I could have done things better.

Guess, what? None of my peers ever asked me for feedback either. So maybe I wasn’t the only one making this mistake. If you are reading this, start asking people you collaborate the most with for some feedback & please don’t wait till PSC season for it (especially since it is going to be yearly from now on)

If you made it this far, I hope you found something useful that you could apply for yourself as well. Thanks to Tammy Stark and Silvia Fadel for helping proof-read this & providing feedback on the note.