April 17, 2019

Career Path: Sukhi Gulati, Product Infrastructure Engineer at Facebook New York

What do the career path and the day-in-the-life look like for a Product Infrastructure Engineer at Facebook New York?

We connected with Sukhi Gulati to find out!

Where did you grow up?  What did your parents do for work?  

I grew up in Frederick, Maryland. My parents ran a dermatology clinic growing up. My brothers and I would always help out with the family business. It made for a very tight-knit family!

Where did you go to college?  What did you study and how did you end up joining Facebook?

I went to Stanford University where I majored in Computer Science and minored in Political Science. I actually didn't imagine myself as a software engineer until my Junior year in college. I enrolled as a political science major, focusing on international relations and doing research on nuclear non-proliferation. I took my first Computer Science class thinking it would help me get more quantitative with political science research, and I ended up loving it.

I learned more about career opportunities at Facebook when I attended DubHacks—a hackathon in Seattle—and stopped by the company's informational table. That visit inspired me to apply and participate in an internship my Junior year. The experience deepened my interest in the intersection of social media and governance. My senior capstone project was actually about news dissemination on social media within activist communities.

After graduating from college, I joined Facebook and embraced a role that brought together all of my interests—an engineer on the News team.

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as part of Facebook’s local news product, Today In?

I work as a product infrastructure engineer on 'Today In'. A little background on 'Today In' - it's a local community product that was created at Facebook New York and it connects people to news and information about their community. You can also easily see highlights of the most popular updates from 'Today In' by opting-in to receive daily updates in News Feed. Unlike News Feed, which is personalized and ranked for each person based on who they’re connected to and what they’ve chosen to follow, the 'Today In' section shows everyone in a given city the same content, allowing people to see multiple perspectives around issues in their area. My work on the team is primarily focused on content selection and organization within the 'Today In' tab. From a technical perspective, I work with other engineers to source inventory for the surface and then write or utilize classification systems to rank and organize that content in engaging ways.

Any tips for someone considering a career as a software engineer?

Right now, I want to tell aspiring software engineers to care deeply and embrace all your life experiences—it's not just about the code! Don't be afraid to ask the hard questions about what you're building and how it impacts your users. I think we're going through a transition period in technology right now where so many different kinds of people are interested in being software engineers and it's amazing. The image of who can participate in this discussion is changing and it's more important now than ever that the people building software are a diverse set of people who care about building not just the most innovative technology, but the most ethical technology.

Day in the Life

Coffee, tea, or nothing?

My mom makes the best chai and I have 3 cups a day every time I go home. So, tea is kind of in my blood.

Every day is different, but can you outline what a typical day looks like for you?

I basically have two kinds of days: days with meetings and days with no meetings or very few meetings.

Days without meetings are all about getting into productive zones and making progress on my projects. On these days, I spend the day writing code for whatever project has my primary focus at the time. Often, I'm trying to hit a milestone I've set for myself or set with the team.

Meeting days are more about planning, communicating outwards, and team culture. These days might include team meetings, interviews, diversity recruiting, or technical planning sessions. I do most of my technical work in long, uninterrupted stretches so I try to group meetings together. That way, I have chunks of the day for meetings and chunks of the day for independent work.

Any productivity hacks?

I'm a super social person, so often times, I can't help but be distracted by a hallway conversation or text from my best friend (who I am in a constant, unending conversation with). Engineering requires getting into focus zones, so I found that the Pomodoro Technique helps me concentrate when I'm easily distracted. Basically, you give yourself 25 minutes where you commit to finishing a certain task distraction free. I end up not following it strictly, but the act of defining a task and setting a timer helps kick start me into a deeper focus. It also forces me to decompose gargantuan tasks into manageable pieces.

What professional accomplishment are you proudest of?

I've had the fortune to work on a lot of amazing projects on the News team, including 'Today In' and our Third-Party Fact-Checking program, so it's hard to pick one since they're all such critical endeavors. If I had to pick one, I'm really proud of the work I contributed to Facebook's Breaking News feature, a pilot program which allows publishers to mark news on the platform as a “Breaking News” article. In my role, I was involved in the early stages of the product and focused on solving unique engineering challenges, working closely with cross functional teams at Facebook as well as publishers to define a product from the ground up.

Who do you admire or call upon for professional advice?

My current product manager, Anthea Watson Strong, is definitely a huge role model for me. She's principled in her product approaches and gracefully executes on the tough goal of transparent communication. Working with her, I'm motivated to contribute to product discussions while also trusting that Anthea will effectively resolve a multitude of opinions into a vision we believe in.

Alexander Culafi is Producer & Editor for VentureFizz. He also edits and produces The VentureFizz Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @culafia.