Production Engineer, Facebook
Bachelor of Internet Science and Technology 2006
Cooper Lees describes himself online as a sport-loving nerd and he still lists Wollongong’s Amigo’s Mexican Restaurant as one of his favourite restaurants on his Facebook profile, even though he lives in a city that boasts some of the best eateries in the world.
But for Lees, Wollongong will always be home despite the fact he is one of the high-flying, ex-pat Aussies now making their mark in one of the biggest, most well-recognised global corporations in the world.
In 2013, Lees packed his bag, left his home in Corrimal and headed for San Francisco to become one of about 40 Australians in the 6000-strong workforce at Facebook’s head campus in Menlo Park. He is a Production Engineer, looking after the backend of the company’s platforms to ensure they’re reliable, monitored and scalable, with the aim of expanding the social media giant’s reach into the few places it has not already arrived.
“My job sees me move from team to team every 12 months to power up the developers and power up the products. We have a network that spans the whole globe,” he says.
It’s a dream job for a self-confessed nerd, and one Lees admitted he never even contemplated when he finished his computer science degree at the University of Wollongong in 2006.
In fact, when he left UOW, Lees’ ambitions were much less grandiose. In 2006, he wrote on his website – cooperlees.com – “My ambition is to become the Systems Administrator in a medium to large firm. I wish to lead a team upgrading and maintaining a firm’s computer systems, building strong robust servers, developing enterprise quality scripts and applications, construct resilient networks and create a problem-free work environment for the company’s stakeholders.”
Now, Lees has his own cult following, returning to Australia in December 2013 to hold a series of seminars to try and encourage more university graduates to consider Facebook as a career move – not a pie-in-the-sky fantasy.
For Lees, the job offer for Facebook seemingly came out of the blue. While working back in Australia one day he checked his phone and saw an email from a Facebook recruiter asking if he wanted to work at Facebook.
“The interview process was challenging. I had three interviews from Australia. I found out they usually only do two, but they asked for a third one and I didn’t know if that was a good thing. But then I was asked to fly to the States,” he says.
One thing Lees found out early on in that interview process is that Facebook likes to do things pretty quickly. He was on a flight a week later after a work trip from Malaysia to Australia where he stopped at home for one day before flying to San Francisco.
“I had five interviews in one day there. It was a big day of drawing on whiteboards, waving my hands in the air and pretending I knew what I was talking about,” he says.
He must have said something right, because he was offered the job and within weeks was setting up office in Menlo Park.
“There are a lot of great things about working at Facebook - the campus here at Menlo Park for a start. We’re extremely spoilt in our little city here,” he says.
“And I get to work with some of the best nerds in the world doing things that no other company in the world does – I really like being able to provide that service to the world.
“The mantra or motto of Facebook is ‘make the world more open and connected’ and I agree with that – it’s always fun to help make that happen.”
Lees says it was UOW that really set him up to take on the world - and Facebook. Although at the time he says he didn’t understand the emphasis on some of the technical skills during his undergraduate degree, he now knows there was method to the madness.
“At Facebook there is a big emphasis on the scripting and coding. Due to the sheer scale of the things we work on it’s best to let the machine help you get the work done. My degree actually laid the foundations of how modern operating systems, programming and computers work,” he says.
“I always thought I didn’t need to learn coding to the level I did but I’m glad that I did and was pushed into by my lecturers. The ability to write code, to get it to do something for you, especially with repetitive tasks, to automate it for you, is a skill you need in this environment.
“Classes with the ever-famous Associate Professor Daniel Saffioti, and the pizza nights I still believe he holds, helped drive me to do things that I had never done before.”
Lees is adamant that if he can find a job at Facebook, anyone can and it’s a message he pushes throughout the world, helping to demystify the corporate giant’s image and trying to attract those with a passion for computers to the job.
“I’m Wollongong through and through. I was born in Wollongong Hospital, went to Bellambi Public School – I’m pretty sure I’m the only person here at Facebook that went to Bellambi Public School. Then went to Holy Spirit College for high school and to the University of Wollongong,” he says.
“If I can get here, other graduates can. You just have to do what you like doing, become really good at it. There is such a wide range of things you can do in IT, and as much as you may hate things like coding, it’s important to do it.
“We get videos sent in as feedback all the time telling us how we have helped people achieve something, to fundraise, or help a community. That is inspiring and lets me know that what I do – the behind the scenes things – helps the world and makes our service even better.”