During this week's fireside chat, our co-founder Kevin spoke to Alex Krentsel, a 2019 graduate of UC Berkeley in Electrical Engineering Computer Science (EECS) and Music. Alex currently works at Google as a software engineer, and held internships at Google, Youtube, and Facebook. While at Berkeley, Alex was also an active teacher in many computer science courses, including internet architecture and machine learning. In his spare time, Alex is also and avid violin player, see some of his performances on his website!
Alex’s professional experience started at Google’s freshman program, followed by an internship with Youtube in Switzerland in his sophomore summer, a junior internship with Facebook, before returning to the Youtube team in California. As someone who’s both been on the side of the interviewer and the interviewed, Alex attempts to demystify the recruitment process of top tier tech firms and breaks down his advice into two stages:
A recruitment team in Austin, Texas screens all the resumes and decides between interview and no-interview piles
Phone screens and on-sites involve being interviewed by an engineer the company, like Alex
Skip to the bottom to get the summary takeaways!
Alex and Kevin talked about today’s hot button topic that involves both working at Facebook and Google: what is it like to be in engineering at a company that’s wrapped in a ton of political and public controversy; it’s sure to be on the minds of a lot of young undergrads considering a career in the field. Alex’s response was pretty simple: as a software engineer, his role is very much shielded by the PR and marketing teams, and most of the people around him are similarly able to focus on the engineering work.
On the subject of how different it is to work at Facebook vs Apple, Alex discussed how Facebook’s culture was very aggressively metric focused, and sometimes felt even shortsighted. Often, decision making structures like that push the work towards local maximums, but fail to arrive at global maximums in efficiency and effectiveness. However, Alex admitted, it did pay very well to work at Facebook! Google’s engineering culture is much more engineering driven; despite working on a very product facing team (on Youtube Premium), Alex still feels that a lot of the work is significantly engineering driven.
When asked about how the world of software engineering ended up feeling, compared to when he was still in undergrad, Alex and Kevin both discussed how as a student, it seemed like all their internships would fall under the title “Software Engineering Intern” and it seemed like everything was the same, but that feeling couldn’t be further form the truth. A network engineering working on the ensuring low latency does a very different job from a someone on the infrastructure team working with Google’s massive databases. Both of them also contrast greatly Alex’s product focused engineering teams, which are focused on attracting users. The best advice they have for current undergrads is to take a little bit of everything, class-wise, and figure out which niche you truly enjoy the most.
Alex talked about the initial excitement of getting into Google, which laid the pathway for him to succeed at his subsequent internships, eventually giving way to a more realistic realization that once you’re in one of the top companies in the world, you’ll have to work even harder to stand out from your equally talented peers. At Google, getting promotions and vertical experience was actually fairly rare, and if your interest is in climbing through the corporate structure pretty quickly, Alex would advise any young readers to consider looking at high growth rate startups, since if you’t join a team that’s doubling every quarter, within a month you’ll be in the top 25% most senior people at the company.
Another contrast between working at startups like us and Google is the freedom to start hacking away at certain aspects of the company’s code right away. Alex personally loves writing design documents, which can often be up to 20 pages long, but he also recognizes that a lot of people might find that prospect daunting. Ultimately, you’ll want to be exploring all the engineering cultures for yourself before you pick something that you want to stick with.
Tune in this Thursday when we're speaking to Max Liu, a mentor on the platform working as an analyst fellow at McKinsey. Hope to see you there!