“When I was in high school, I walked into my ‘Intro to Programming’ class in my cheerleading uniform—and my teacher laughed. They said they’d never seen a cheerleader take programming before.” At that moment, Sophia C., now an engineering director at Meta, doubted whether she really belonged in that class. And those doubts relentlessly persisted throughout high school, college, and the beginning of her career.
“The way you carry yourself is largely shaped by how others treat you and how you see yourself in the world.”
“After I got into MIT and one of the smartest boys in my high school didn’t, he commented that I only got in because I was a girl,” she remembers. “I doubted whether I was admitted to MIT on my own merits.”
Sophia in high school, where she studied programming and was a member of the cheerleading team.
Staying in her comfort zone
Despite attending a top school and getting a software engineering internship at a well-known tech company, Sophia still played it safe in her early career, mostly staying quiet instead of pushing the limits of what she was capable of.
“At the end of my first summer internship, I was offered a return internship offer. I accepted on the spot,” she explains. The company continued offering her return internships—and she continued accepting them, interning at the same company for four summers in a row. “I didn’t do the same internship four times because I loved working there.” Sophia hesitates, then admits, “I did it because it felt safe.”
Sophia says this was her biggest career regret. “I wish I would have had the confidence to apply to different companies, live in different places, and learn new technologies rather than staying in one place out of fear of the unknown. Only by exploring do you figure out what you really want to do with your career,” she reveals.
When she took a role in gaming, she was the only woman among nearly 100 engineers. “It wasn’t uncommon for me to hear about project decisions that were made in the men’s bathroom or at the gym,” Sophia recalls. Like so many other women, she accepted not being a part of the “inner circle” with her colleagues. And rather than trying to inject herself in discussions, she spent the next few years heads down, building what she was told. “Each of these experiences contributed to feeling like I didn’t truly belong and in turn, affected my confidence,” Sophia shares. “And without self-confidence, I wasn't empowered to take risks and be bold in my early career.”
Fighting imposter syndrome with support
By immersing herself in her work early in her career, Sophia quickly honed her engineering prowess—and was recognized for her efforts. But behind her skills was a crippling case of imposter syndrome—even after she started at Meta in 2012. “Even though the attention from Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg was a big factor in my decision to join, it also made me feel like there was a giant spotlight on me to be a rockstar engineer,” Sophia explains. “I didn’t speak up much, but it wasn’t because I didn’t have ideas or opinions. It was because I still didn't have the confidence.”
“I didn’t speak up much, but it wasn’t because I didn’t have ideas or opinions. It was because I still didn't have the confidence.”
Sophia quickly realized her playbook of a heads-down, quiet engineer might not be the best path to continued success on a team that expected her to have a voice and contribute to strategy. Her supportive teammates saw her potential and believed in her ability to grow her confidence and make an impact. “When I look at the feedback I received early on,” she remembers, “I see a consistent theme. My colleagues wanted me to voice my opinions and become more involved in setting direction.”
Going from cheerleader to engineering leader
Over the course of her nearly decade-long career at Meta, Sophia went from being a quiet engineer who never spoke in meetings to giving keynotes to crowds of over 700 people. In fact, people who meet her now are often surprised to hear her say she lacked confidence early in her career. “The change didn’t happen overnight,” Sophia shares. “But I slowly learned how to speak up for myself through the relentless support of advocates and allies here. Meta feels like the place where I grew up. I went from feeling complacent as a junior engineer to managing up to ensure my path to a director.”
Now an engineering director for the Community Incubator, which includes Facebook Dating, Local Communities and College Communities, Sophia has worked on a range of products during her time here, including Developer Tools, Open Graph, AR/VR and Profile.
But her path hasn’t always been linear. Sophia has transitioned between being a people manager and an individual contributor twice. Along the way, she uncovered passions for investing in people and creating a community focused on diversity and inclusion. She’s led a team of over 100 engineers across three sites—and bootstrapped a new team in New York City. She also gave the keynote at the company’s Women in Engineering Day in 2019.
Sophia delivered the keynote speech at Women in Engineering Day in 2019.
Uncovering her authentic self beneath layers of self-doubt
Sophia shares her gratitude for the advocates who helped her find herself underneath the layers of self-doubt, and the years of not belonging. “Women often unnecessarily credit others for their success,” she states, “so I want to be clear that the point of my story isn’t that my advocates got me to where I am. But from making a career change to management when I was three months pregnant and learning how to scale a team to pushing me to get executive coaching, my advocates’ gestures made a huge impact on my self-worth.”
Once she recognized how much the people around her believed in her, Sophia began believing in herself. “I started voicing my opinions, became more proactive, and started to be my own advocate,” she explains. “And the more authentic and confident I became, the better I did at my job. And once I finally had the opportunity to be my authentic self, I found my way to shine.”
This post, originally published on June 16, 2021, was updated on October 6, 2022, to reflect our shift to Meta and new details about team members, roles and responsibilities.