Holy Shit: My First Month At BuzzFeed

Your boy started working for BuzzFeed almost a month ago. It's been real. Hands down: working at BuzzFeed is the best trip I have ever had the privilege of being on.

The gist of this post

I'm working with some of the smartest people on the planet. If they weren't at BuzzFeed, they'd be building rockets and flying to other planets. Yes, without any exaggeration, everyone's that smart. Scary smart. Real Genius smart. Amadeus smart. WarGames smart. Frasier smart.

Half of me is saying "You belong with these guys, Greg. Chill out." The other half is saying "If they haven't at this point, very soon they'll discover that you aren't as smart as they are. Don't talk to anyone! The company's going to implode and it's going to be all your fault. YOU'RE SLOWING SHIT UP!"

I love it all and I don't want to leave. I have a lot of personal improvements to make if I'm going to survive and contribute.

The People

The employees were separated into a few large departments, and in those departments are teams. Usually, I only think of the creative and tech departments. Without asking, sometimes, I can tell who's on one of the designated creative teams and who isn't.

I haven't spotted any entirely unique qualities I can peg to each department, but creatives usually wear somewhat unconventional clothing (or anything your favorite hip hop artist or pop star is wearing). While "artsy" isn't really the word, I get the sense that each creative makes an effort to avoid being grouped. It's pretty extraordinary.

Tech employees are dangerous. I feel like almost everyone in tech has something heavy on their mind. I'm like "Bro, I know you can shoot laser beams from your eyes using all that brain power. I'll try not to divde by zero in front of you." I'd give anything to learn how to focus the way these guys do.

Imagine our thoughts could be described as bottles lying on the ground in front of each of us. The creatives would have halfway-full bottles of lots of different flavors of juice. There'd be no observable order throughout their group of bottles. The tech folks would have lots of bottles of juice that wouldn't really differ from each other in terms of flavor, but there'd be lots more in each bottle. There'd be a straight line of bottles for each tech person...

<< something deep >>

I don't know where I was going with that very poor bottle analogy, but it really comes down to the tech people being distinct because they always seem to be in equation-solving mode. They only stare ahead as they walk. The creatives look around a lot. They still seem focused on their work, but you can tell their thoughts are in different places at once.

Everyone's super friendly. If you greet them, they'll greet you. You won't get funny looks. Everyone's all like "Oh, you must be talented if you're with us. Welcome! Let's make the world what we want it to be. We're glad to have you and your super powers. Let's grab lunch or a drink sometime. —flies away or gets beamed somewhere—"

Figuring out who the managers are without asking is tough. Everyone acts the same way when it comes down to sheer confidence and leadership. Coming from a super bureaucratic company in which everyone knows just about everyone's role, the BuzzFeed society seems so, so foreign, but it's so, so good.

Oh, and most of the employees are (seem to be) around my age. I'm 24.

The Work

Seen how he was livin', said "I gotta get my weight up,"
Formulated my plan, motivated by dreams,
Parlayed with my mans, motivated my team,
Ced said "Look, my ni--as, we got a foot in,"
Bein' good is good -- that'll get you Drew Gooden,
But me? I want Jordan numbers, Lebron footin',
Can't guard me, Vince Lombardi, John Wooden...

J. Cole

I wanna be dope, too.

On my second day, I was assigned my first task. It wasn't a complicated one. I had to edit a feature on one of the internal platforms BuzzFeed uses to manage ads. It took me a few days to get it right, but I got it. I learned a lot about the way BuzzFeed dev works throughout that week.

There are deadlines, but they're looser than you'd expect if you consider how productve BuzzFeed tech is as a whole. Each team follows really organized deployment and collaboration processes. Just about everything is planned before anything is built. That's a big change for me. The last team I was a part of encouraged copy/pasting and very little questioning. Not here. You actually have to know what you're doing and Stack Overflow isn't your best friend. The manual for whatever you're working with is your friend.

There's a fair amount of jargon to remember, but it's not so bad once you draw out each part of the code base. I find myself drawing lots of UML-like diagrams. I'm really glad I didn't skip those boring-ass lectures on drawing diagrams back in school.

It's been easy to make a lot of fundamental mistakes as I write code since I'm usually wrapped up in the question of why something is where it is and what the presence of some pattern implies about how I should go about writing code. It'll take some getting used to, but everyone's pretty understanding of that.

I think my only work-related pressure is from watching my coworkers get their tasks done so efficiently as I lag behind. That's all self-imposed.

Productivity is king at BuzzFeed and that was clear since day one. As for dev here, it's definitely a "work hard, play hard" atmosphere, but that notion is prefaced with "there's a such thing as the right work, which isn't simply hard work." Even if I wake up each morning four hours early in order to get a few hours of cramming in, what will actually matter by the end of the day is that I've translated preparation into production. At this point in the game, my output has all to do with asking a lot of questions, even if they're as simple as "Are tuples mutable?" I might look like I suck and shouldn't have been hired, but getting the dumb questions out of the way early will ultimately make me more productive. That's the nature of dealing with the work at BuzzFeed, at least in tech: fail now and learn, contribute as a result of your many small shortcomings.

Where I Need Improvement

Being around such talented people made me realize a couple of things:

1) There are actually people who are "magically" aware of how stuff works. They can learn very, very quickly. All that seems to mean is that they're able to identify patterns very well. They can see what's being repeated in abbabbabbabbabbabb much faster than many people can.

1a) Their talents are enhanced by hard work. You should see what smart people are like while they're in the zone. A zombie apocolypse can be in full effect across the street, but they wouldn't turn their heads from their computer screen or book to check it out for even a millisecond.

2) I'm not very good at identifying patterns yet. I'm getting there, and by comparing myself to those around me, I realized that I'm getting there... But, I'm definitely not where most of these guys are in terms of problem solving. Problem solving is all about pattern recognition/identification.

3) A closed mouth really doesn't get fed. (But I already sorta knew this.)

4) It's important to break through social discomfort in a fast-paced tech environment.

5) Sleep is actually important. I've been getting more of it progressively.

My challenges may be attributed to my own social discomfort. I found that even as I write code, I'm thinking "Oh man, they're looking at me. They know I'm not as smart as they are. Did they see me google that? Did they see me type that dumb variable name? Do they think I dress like an idiot? Am I sitting in this chair like a dummy?" That has to stop. I know I'm better than that.

If I survive this (I don't get the boot), I'll become a beast. You should see some of the internal tutorials some of the engineers wrote over time. They're like my TLT ("The Little Things") posts on steroids.

I'm really happy to be here. Even if I get axed for slowing things up, I'll be out in the world as a better engineer. Of course, let's continue to hope that doesn't happen... lol

If there's absolutely any way Renee is reading this, I'm sure she's telling me I need to relax and have more confidence. I wit' it, Nae Nae.


Software Engineer

Subscribe to GregBlogs