Computer science student 'broke' Facebook during her internship

Fail Better: Grace Egbo

Grace Egbo, who is studying computer science, shares how she “broke Facebook.” (Video: Tom Malkowicz/Washington University)

Grace Egbo, a computer science student at Washington University in St. Louis, learned a lot about Facebook during her first summer there as an intern.

Grace Egbo

Mark Zuckerberg really does wear gray hoodies. The free cafeteria serves killer nachos. And “move fast and break things” is not just the company motto; it’s a mode of operation.

“During orientation, they told us to test new ideas and take risks,” said Egbo, now a junior at the School of Engineering & Applied Science. “On the day I broke Facebook, I realized they meant it.”

To be clear, Egbo didn’t actually break the globe’s largest social networking platform. Facebook’s roughly 2 billion users could still post, like and share. But Egbo’s experiment crashed the company’s employee site for more than an hour.

“I knew it was bad when my friend in the New York office called and said, ‘Were you the one who broke Facebook?’ And I was like, ‘Oh my goodness! It went national,’” Egbo recalled.

Fellow employees jumped in to help Egbo, and the site was back up in an hour. Still, Egbo feared her boss would chastise her for her mistake.

“The exact opposite happened,” Egbo said. “He said, ‘Hey, how are you? Heard you broke Facebook. Did you learn anything?’ I came away understanding it really is OK to break things. It’s OK to fail at things, as long as you don’t settle into that and feel like a failure. What mattered is that you tried something new.”

That was the summer before Egbo’s junior year. But Facebook has invited her back for another summer, this time in the company’s London offices. Egbo has a particular passion for Android app development but is eager to tackle any challenge Facebook throws her way.

“I’m excited,” Egbo said. “I love being at a place where I can go for the hard stuff.”