Inside Figma: a Q&A with our 2021 interns and new grads

Today, 2022 intern and new grad roles went live on our careers page. We know that deciding how to take the first step in your career can be complicated, so we wanted to share a framework, directly from Figmates in the early stages of their career. Here, intern Beez Africa sits down with interns and new grads to get their advice, learnings, and reflections on joining Figma.

Last summer, I had a tough decision to make: go back to school or take a year off to work and wait out the pandemic. At the time, I was a Fellow working on Figma for Education, a program that offers free use of Figma for students and educators. Knowing that I must not be the only student grappling with my next step, my team and I published a series of conversations exploring how to think about a gap year.

As I approach my senior year once again, I find myself in a similar position—wondering what I’m going to do after I graduate. Navigating these questions alone is difficult. When it comes to big decisions, my usual approach is to seek outside wisdom. This year, I was lucky to have an awesome community at Figma to draw from. I recently spoke with Emily Jia, Langston Dziko, Daniela Velez, and Jago Pang, all of whom are on different teams and at different stages in their career. I definitely found a few gems of advice, and hope you will too.

What were you looking for in an internship or new grad role?

Emily: There’s a lot of variety in data science roles, so I focused on those that fit my skillset and goals well. I have a fairly technical background but I was interested in a fast-paced and product-focused role, so I focused on early-stage data teams at rapidly growing startups. I was also looking for an empathetic culture, which is a personal choice—I’m always thinking about how to connect and communicate with others and want to be surrounded by people who are the same.

Daniela: I was searching for authenticity in culture and in people. At Figma, Figmates come to work with an intention to build real community—it’s actually one of our cultural values! I also wanted to work with people who care deeply about Figma's mission and users. Figmates are all super excited about making design more accessible.

Langston: The biggest one for me was career growth. I wanted a good idea of how companies focused on helping engineers progress. How do young engineers feel? Do they have ownership over their project? Are they making an impact on any of the company’s larger goals? I also like to ask engineers if the company is a place they could stay long term, because it hints at whether they feel like that their career is stagnant at this company or if there’s opportunity for career growth.

Were there any tools or resources that helped you figure out what you wanted in an early career role?

Emily: I prioritized exploring multiple companies and roles as an undergraduate through summer and off-cycle internships. Conversations with alumni and interviewers during my senior year also brought to light less obvious tradeoffs between early career choices. Beyond hearing about their day-to-day, I found it helpful to hear how they’d grown in the role and think, “do I want this for myself?”

Langston: I mainly discovered what I wanted through internships, where you quickly realize what you do and don’t enjoy working on. During the job search process, I tried to speak to as many engineers as I could and ask their advice. A lot of them said the same thing: finding a supportive team and manager who helps you grow is just as important as what you’re working on.

What drew you to Figma?

Emily: Prior to interviewing, I came across this blog post by Josh Shi, a software engineering new grad on the design systems team. I really appreciated his perspective, and thought it was telling that Figma gave him a platform to share it. Once I started interviewing, I learned that the data team was at an inflection point in terms of growth and influence, making its first new grad hires, and being really thoughtful about team culture. That was (and still is) really exciting to me!

Langston: I spoke with quite a few Figma engineers before joining the company. The thing that really stood out to me was their excitement around Figma’s products. It quickly became clear to me that I would get the opportunity to own innovative projects that would help me grow as an engineer, which was ultimately the deciding factor for me.

Daniela: I became familiar with Figma while working on a side project—one of my friends uses Figma avidly and she worked on that project with me. I would get so excited to see her designs, jam on potential changes, and add feedback. Not only was I super in love with the product, I also really appreciate Figma's culture of celebrating individuality and building community.

Jago: Figma kickstarted my career in design helped me learn what great design means. I wanted to help contribute to the mission of democratizing design—with programs like Figma for Education, I knew I could do that on the Figma Community team.

How did you prepare for interviews at Figma?

Daniela: I did some interview prep to make sure I was familiar with all the basic data structures and algorithms, and I practiced problems that I generally have a harder time with, like dynamic programming and recursion problems. was a helpful refresher on general interview topics and LeetCode was helpful as practice. Cracking the Coding Interview is also a useful book when I need a refresher about a specific data structure or concept and I want to learn it again from the start!

Jago: Knowing that the interview was going to be a portfolio presentation, I created a deck and practiced presenting it several times with friends, family, and other designers. To know what to put in the presentation and how to format it, I attended several workshops with Design Buddies, looked at Cofolios, and learned from my peers around me. I also used mentoring resources such as ADPlist and LinkedIn for interview tips and wisdom on what hiring managers wanted to see in the case studies.

Langston: Interviewing is hard and it’s easy to get stressed! To practice, I’d run through 10-20 practice interviews with a group of friends, switching between asking and answering questions. It’s not as boring as it sounds and you’re able to learn a lot by watching others interview and answer questions yourself. For the behavioral interviews, I would recommend spending some time looking at Figma’s engineering blog posts. Reading through them really helped me get a sense of what Figma values in an engineer.

What advice would you give others starting out their career as they seek intern and new grad opportunities, both at Figma and elsewhere?

Emily: Be gentle with yourself. Interviewing is really hard and it’s easy to get wrapped up in needing to land the perfect role right after graduation. In reality, many people I know got experience in a few different roles in those first couple of years. Remember that your worth is not defined by any one job—the version of you with the job is just as worthy as the person you are right now, when you’re still looking for it!

Langston: My best advice would be to spend time practicing interview questions. In my experience, interviewing has been a skill that is greatly improved through repetition. I would also suggest listing out what’s important to you in a position, and then make sure you ask your interviewers about those things, which will help with decision-making.

Daniela: Rather than building deep knowledge on specific coding languages, I'd suggest gaining breadth by picking up new languages and frameworks. I use personal and team coding projects—even non-technical ones—to build important collaboration skills, like navigating team conflict. And let yourself gravitate towards what you find interesting and fun! If possible, your projects should be a reflection of what excites you and brings you energy.

Jago: Never be afraid to ask for help at work. As designers, we tend to only show our best work, but ask early for visual craft questions, ideas and run throughs! Comfort when asking for help will come in handy in design critiques. You can ask for help before a crit and run through your work with a buddy to make sure you aren’t leaving any gaps, as well as during crit, where other designers can weigh in with ideas and comments.

What have you been working on since you joined?

Emily: I spent my first six months on rotation with a few different product teams, running experiments and developing insights to inform product direction, before landing on the Feedback team. Recently, I collaborated with the Growth team to test the hypothesis that providing context about FigJam use cases could add clarity to FigJam users’ experiences. I ran an experiment that displayed FigJam templates alongside a more prominent FigJam entry point in the Figma File Browser, and our new design triggered a significant increase in collaborative FigJam file creation.

Langston: My team’s year-long project is to migrate our data to a horizontally sharded model. Horizontally scaling the database is critical to keeping Figma up and running as our user base grows. What’s cool is that, as a new grad, I've been able to quickly jump into this project and to contribute to my team's goals.

Daniela: In addition to the other work I’m doing for Figma for Education, I got to improve the account creation process and Figma’s overall signup process with new styled components. Both of these have resulted in better experiences for Figma's users!

Jago: I’m rethinking the publishing flows for resources to the Figma Community by making publishing easier and more accessible. Initially, the project was more limited in scope, but I had the opportunity to ask questions that broadened the project's reach and impact. I also got the chance to edit the project to make it more specific and valuable to Figma’s users. It’s a large-scale but meaningful project, and the whole experience has taught me a lot about taking ownership and running with it.

How have you grown since coming to Figma?

Jago: My mentors have enabled me to push my designs further, be confident in my work, and be proactive about what I do in my time here. During mid-point feedback, my mentor encouraged me to be more visible with my work and not to be shy to post more often in Slack channels, ask for help or to jam on something, and send updates on my feature. This changed my perspective on the internship—I was part of more conversations and ended up being more proactive in taking on necessary projects that no one asked me to take. Even the smallest comments on the file let me understand where I could make the most impact!

Daniela: I flourished in Figma's culture of loving your craft. So many Figmates are actually makers themselves in different ways and have the coolest creative side hobbies, from photography to art.

I also really appreciate my team's culture of frequent reflection. Every week we go through positive and negative reflections as a team, both about our personal growth and our thoughts on how the team works together. We discuss and create action items at the end. We also use a framework called “deliberate practice," in which we write short term and long term goals for ourselves and check in on those gradually to make sure we're growing in the way we want to be growing.

Special thanks to Beez, Emily, Daniela, Jago, and Langston for sharing their experiences and advice. If you’re interested in learning more about early career opportunities at Figma, check out our careers page and follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.