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Former Tiger Returns to CHHS to Discuss Life at Facebook

Sophia Anopa, a 2013 graduate, came back to Chapel Hill High School (CHHS) for a “pay it forward” visit on November 26. An ambitious and disciplined student during the early years of the Academy of Information Technology (AOIT) at CHHS, Anopa agreed to offer a “Life at Facebook” presentation for Curtis Crews’ Web Design class, with Jennifer Walker’s Network Engineering class joining in.

S. Anopa presents at CHHS For most of fourth period, Anopa shared a PowerPoint delineating her path from AOIT at CHHS to Facebook software engineer in Washington, D.C., before taking questions from the several dozen students squeezed into Crews’ room. After describing her academic trajectory through a computer science degree at Carnegie Mellon University, Anopa told students how and why she had settled on a position with the giant social media company.

Freshman Cogan McMichaels said, “I really enjoyed the format of the presentation and the in-depth explanation Sophia gave of her day to day work. Each slide was packed with information to truly express her job situation. I enjoyed seeing the progress she took from CHHS to Facebook over the past years."

“I had always thought software engineering would be lonely, mostly staring at my computer,” Anopa said. “But that’s not the case at all, though every day contains at least a little coding.” She explained the different rhythms of her “pressured” days and her easier ones, and she noted that she stayed very busy from March through October this year, as part of a team working to develop and launch the Facebook News tab rolled out late this fall. The feature’s tagline is “Building a more dependable and relevant news experience on Facebook.”

Anopa explained how the software engineers work on teams, and she appreciates that employees can choose their team. Among the many benefits offered at Facebook is the legendary Silicon Valley emphasis on having fun, in addition to working hard. “They host lots of parties,” Anopa said with a smile. “And teams are encouraged to organize ‘off-sites’ on workdays, to hang out with their team members and do things like archery or fencing.”

Alan Hunt, a senior in Web Design, said, “I thought it was very interesting to learn how Facebook employees are split into teams that each focus on a specific feature of the website. I had always wondered what the environment was like at such a large company, and it seems like an enjoyable place to work.”

In the presentation, Anopa had a slide titled “Fun Stuff,” with photographs of the game rooms, the micro-kitchens where they can eat three meals a day, and the vending machines that dispense items like chargers and mouses.

When Anopa had finished showing the PowerPoint, she took questions until the bell rang, and the range and number of questions reflected the degree to which her audience stayed engaged. One student asked what her favorite part of working at Facebook is, and Anopa answered, “I actually like the work even more than the perks.”

Anopa slide FB presentation Students seemed especially eager to learn more about her role on the new Facebook News team, asking questions about algorithms, accuracy, privacy and other topical and provocative issues. One student asked how she’s been impacted in her personal use of Facebook, from an insider’s view. Anopa shrugged and said, “I know now how pop-ups are used, and about tracking metrics, and how social media companies are always seeking improvements.”

After her presentation, Anopa talked to a few students and had the opportunity to ask them a question or two. Later she shared, “I think the main change I noticed, as I was coming up to speed with the current state of AOIT, is that there is more focus now on the software side of things, which I think is going to be helpful for providing a preview of the type of work that students might do, or even prepare for the entry-level college classes in computer science. When I was at CHHS, the offerings were more hardware-focused.” 

Joseph Borrelli, an AOIT junior, said, “It was a learning experience hearing about the day-to-day life and work-load of a Facebook employee. The presentation was very detailed and contained lots of useful information."

Freshman Weston Gant said, “Sophia was truly eye opening in showing us students the potential for classes in the AOIT program. I personally am very motivated by her to continue my path reaching my career goals in IT."