A Conversation with Computer-Science Major and Facebook Intern, Elvis Kahoro
Bryce Wachtell | Dec. 1, 2017, 3:31 a.m.
Few summer internships are as selective and sought after as those in Silicon Valley. Even fewer companies within the tech capital of the world are as powerful and eminent as Facebook. Elvis Kahoro PO ’20 knows both of these facts well, so when he applied for an internship at the company, he didn’t have high hopes. But against his expectations, Kahoro found himself living in the Bay Area and working at the tech behemoth as a software engineer this past summer.
Kahoro, a Kenyan-born Georgia native, was nervous but excited for his time at Facebook. From the people to the campus to the culture, Kahoro reported that his experience there was wonderful.
“The company is pretty progressive in terms of work environment," he said. "The model is move fast and break things. Facebook would prefer for you to build something and – even if it’s not finished – get it out there and then constantly make changes."
The internship was the perfect fit for Kahoro given his interest in computational social sciences. The somewhat-novel field seeks to integrate computer science in the humanities to accomplish tasks or reveal patterns that reveal insightful information. “Anything that is in the humanities that can be scaled or that you can gain inferences from by using data or machine learning would fall under computational social science,” said Kahoro.
Facebook hires many computational social scientists because of the wealth of information they can gain from their millions of daily users. The fact that the company is a people-facing platform made the job opportunity even more attractive for Kahoro, too.
In middle school, Kahoro found the leaked source code of a 2D video game he liked to play. After examining the mechanics of it for hours, he realized computer science may be of interest to him, and after some high school classes in the field that suspicion was reaffirmed. He has since declared a major in computer science at Pomona.
At Facebook, Kahoro enjoyed the people he interacted with on a daily basis. His manager, he said, was especially welcoming. “It was just so surprising to see how willing my manager was to spend time helping me figure out things, in terms of both my actual project and life. He was spending all this time with me, but I knew he had to push his own code and contribute to the team that he was on.” Likewise, Kahoro went to lunch with several other interns to talk to Pomona alumni who are now full time employees at the company. He described them as welcoming of his presence and exuberant to have fellow Sagehens on campus.
“I’m not sure why I love computer science so much,” he said, “I just think tech can play such a huge role. Candy Crush, for example, was bought for almost six billion dollars. That’s more than some industries for an entire country. I think giving people access to computer science and technology will make the world a better place. And my hope is to be a part of that – providing people in the developing world with a higher standard of living.”
Kahoro wants to apply his computer science skills in two major ways: to improve general accessibility to technology, and to remedy or mitigate problems in the developing world. “I think incorporating accessibility work into computer science is important, because tech and Silicon Valley can be a pretty big bubble,” he said. “Making tech more accessible is what I’m really interested in, so I try to find teams and projects that are in that sphere.”
Kahoro’s altruistic world view commands much of what he does, both as a software engineer selecting projects to work on, and in his roles as a student leader. Though he wants to keep going back to and ultimately start his career at Facebook, Kahoro imagines working for a nonprofit or foundation at some point in his professional career.