Moving across the big pond – Czech programmer Jakub Vrána prepares for his new job at Facebook

Jakub Vrána

At a conference in the US, the 33-year-old Czech programmer Jakub Vrána made quite an impression on developers from the well-known social networking site Facebook and became the first Czech to be hired by the company. Now, he is preparing to move across the ocean and set up a new life in California, near San Francisco, where Facebook's headquarters are located. Ahead of his departure from the Czech Republic, he speaks about what he is looking forward to and what he will miss, what the interviewing process was like and which of his projects he thinks caught the Facebook team’s attention.

Jakub Vrána
“I think it was my projects for programmers working with databases which I was presenting at a conference in the United States, and some Facebook developers were there. And so I think those projects caught their attention.”

And what were you doing at the conference in the first place?

“I had sent some proposals there for talks about my products and software, and they were interested. So I talked about these products, the main one is adminer, which is basically a database management tool, if you have data in a database, with adminer you can edit and save it.”

Your interview process was quite long, I believe. Can you describe how many rounds of interviews you had to go through?

“It had six rounds; the first was over-the-phone. I had a computer and was writing a program and algorithms according to the task they gave me. The second round, I was already at the conference in the US, so the second round was on site, at the Facebook office, as were the next four rounds. As I was departing soon, I had to do all these rounds in one day. It was not exactly exhausting, but still, it was quite a marathon. And I passed.

How do the offices of Facebook look like?

“It is a very big open-space. From the outside, the building looks quite small. It is comparable to a normal open-space, but there are big screens everywhere.”

Do you know what kind of problems you as a programmer would be solving for Facebook?

“I don’t know yet. I am a PHP developer, and most of Facebook is written in PHP, so I guess I will be doing something in PHP, but I am not sure what yet. There is a six-week boot camp at the start of my employment. It will focus on Facebook’s technologies and projects. And in this boot camp, I will get to choose on which part I would like to work.”

Do you have a real job title yet?

“Just software engineer, which is a broad term. There are about 1000 of them working for Facebook. But they are not very specialized and they change their position quite often, once a year, so that they do not get bored.”

You are preparing for a very big move. How much time did you get to prepare and what is left to do before you can get on the plane and start your new life?

“I was hired in April and am starting in October, so I had half a year. There are some visa issues left to sort out, my stuff needs to be transported, I need to rent out my flat and sell my car, stuff like that. So it could be done in less time, but six months is enough to get it done.”

Are your family and friends glad for you, or also sad that you are moving away?

“Most of my friends are happy for me, because it is considered a huge success to move abroad and work for such a big company. My family, my wife and children, are going there with me. They are happy, but also a bit afraid, but mostly excited. And my mother and mother-in-law are a bit sad that their children and their grandchildren will be so far away.”

Entrance to the Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto,  California,  photo: Coolcaesar,  CC 3.0 licence
What do you think will be the biggest difference between your life here and your life in the US?

“I have already visited the US for about three weeks and I don’t think the difference is not so great. Last year, I spent three weeks in India, and the difference between India and Europe is much bigger. I think there are no really big differences. Maybe in transportation, because in Prague, we use public transportation and it is very good, in the US, everybody takes their car everywhere. But Facebook is proud that only about half of their employees go to work by car, and the other half uses their bikes, public transportation or Facebook shuttle busses.”

And what are you looking forward to?

“A nice house, because we live in an apartment here in the Czech Republic, and it is not really big enough for us. So I think it will be nice, because the US is a big country with lots of space, so I hope we will rent a nice house.”

And is there anything that you know you will miss?

“I am not a big beer-fan. I drink beer but not too much. I will miss my friends, my native tongue, because I still find it quite hard to speak in English. So if I am going to spend at least eight hours a day in English, or more, because most likely our new friends will be English-speaking as well. So that will be quite hard for me, I think, but I will get used to it.”

You already mentioned that you work in PHP, and you have a blog with PHP tricks – you call it elegant programming. Could you describe what that entails?

“Programming is describing an idea how to solve a problem. You can describe this idea with a very long algorithm on several pages. Or, sometimes, you can describe the idea just in a couple of lines, which is smart and fast, and uses a trick, or an elegant way to solve the problem. So I am a fan of this kind of programming: To think about it first and solve it in an elegant way, rather than writing several pages, which also solves the problem, but is hard to read and sometimes it is slower. So that is what I mean by elegant programming: To think a bit more about the problem and then to solve it in an efficient and elegant way, rather than writing hundreds of lines of code.”

Does Facebook have any problems that you think should be solved?

“I am not sure. Some users are complaining that their privacy settings are difficult to change. I don’t see a big problem with that, the settings are there and if you want to change them, you can. So I don’t think this is a big problem and I don’t know what exactly I will be working on.”

I have heard that you are not a Facebook fiend yourself…

“I use Facebook ten minutes per day, so I am not a heavy user who sits there several hours a day. I see Facebook usage, the same as other social networks, as a fun thing, but I prefer to talk to my friends in person or read articles. So I think using Facebook for two hours or more is light entertainment and I am not interested in that so much. But I like using it to create events and to communicate with other people.”

Photo: Jakub Krechowicz,  stock.XCHNG
You are moving to the US, but do you think you will return?

“I am not sure yet. I talked to my friends and family, but I don’t think that I could make my decision now, from here, in the Czech Republic. I think after one year in the US, I will see if I like it there more than here, or if I miss home too much. And who knows, maybe I will be there one year, three years, six years, or for the rest of my life, but that is a decision that will come later, after I have spent some time there.”