How I became a computer engineer at Facebook: Jeff Reynar

Jeff Reynar has been rolling in the tech world. He started his career at Microsoft, spent some time as a Googler, ventured into the world of startups and investing and now helps to manage the engineering team as an engineering director in Facebook’s New York office.

We caught up with Reynar to talk all things espresso, learning and getting tech education into public schools.

The first thing I do is make my wife and myself a double espresso. You’re not yet caffeinated when you make the double espresso, so it’s always harder than it should be.

In 2008 a colleague and I started a product to let friends ask each other advice for important product purchase decisions, like a new parent asking their friends for advice on what stroller to buy. We worked on this for like a year and a half, and we had a bunch of customers, but, like a lot of startups, we couldn’t figure out how to make money, and we had to wind down the company.

Completely unintentionally, I’ve worked on the same thing twice at very different scales.

I have a friend who is a very successful dude in technology, and a very humble guy, and he’s kind of been an unofficial mentor for quite a while, because he always gives me really good advice about dicey decisions. He’s in Silicon Valley, so he’s in the heart of a lot of things and has been exposed to a wide variety of circumstances and has worked at a lot of pretty inspirational places, so I feel like I can always go to him with any sort of question.

Facebook’s mission is to help make the world more local and connected, and our mission is to help people find and connect to local business. You find a place to go for the first time through social recommendations or search, or check in to Places, share about your experience. And what I do day to day is work with a talented group of people from a number of different disciplines (product managers, designers, beta scientists, product marketing, user research, content strategists, engineers), and try and figure out what they right problems are to solve and to try and figure out how to build great products that consumers will really enjoy using and that will solve those problems for them.

It’s a lot of fun because they’re hard problems to deal with at a large scale, for more than a billion people who use Facebook every day.

I work with a couple of other people to do a lot of the things specific to the New York office, with community and culture. The culture is very internal to Facebook — having a great work environment, diverse work environment, hiring people from all kinds of backgrounds and make sure they have a great experience.

The community aspect is more externally facing, making sure that people in New York know Facebook has a presence here and to give back to the community within New York. One way is by making sure that we’re good citizens of the neighborhood, so we work with schools nearby, maybe by sponsoring wifi on Astor Place, where our office is.

When I was a kid I got really interested in artificial intelligence, and as an undergrad I studied psychology and computer science. I was in denial about getting a job, so I went to grad school, studied computer science and got my Ph.D.

I took the non-traditional route and decided to not become a faculty member but to work in the industry. I worked for Microsoft and worked on getting what was cutting edge technology back then into Microsoft. I worked on getting speech recognition technology into Microsoft Office, and from there I went to Google and then forayed into the startup world. Now I am happily at Facebook here in New York.

Helping people solve problems that I’ve seen myself. I’ve been in the industry for a long time and been a manager for a long time, so I kind of like the coaching and mentorship aspect, and I like helping people see a problem a different way.

There is that big adage that nice guys finish last, and I think that there could almost be nothing further from the truth. People have long memories, and if you don’t treat people well and are not a good teammate or manager — not fair, or not interested in hearing different perspectives — you might in some way get ahead in the short term, but that’s going to come back to haunt you.

To never stop learning new stuff. That really is about the most important advice that you can give someone — it’s really easy to think about learning as something you do in school, and then you graduate and the learning ends. That’s just such a missed opportunity because you can learn a lot on the job, have hobbies that allow you to explore new ideas and areas, read widely.

It’s often quite surprising that something you learn for one reason can be really applied to something, and then a couple of years later you can use it to solve a problem or to look at a problem in a completely different way. The more broadly you can learn, and the wider pool of experience you have to drive on, the more likely you are to make connections.

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June 16, 2017

Sources:` USA Today

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