GVSU grad shares experiences working with Facebook and Instagram
Says undergrad projects led to his later careers
Instagram has more than 150 million users worldwide. Alex Restrepo, an alumnus of Grand Valley State University, helped get it there.
Restrepo is originally from Colombia and was an international student at GVSU. He began working for Facebook and Instagram in November 2012 and credits his experiences in school to helping him land the job.
He shared his experiences with students during the second annual Association of International Student Organizations National Conference of International Student Organizations from March 14 to March 16. This year’s theme was leadership and communication.
“(The event) is empowering international students across the United States to obtain leadership opportunities, and to encourage dialogue and union of all the different ethnic groups around the nation,” said Mohamed Azuz, president of the GVSU International Student Organization and financial chair of the AISO. “It also facilitates communication, cooperation, networking and mutual support among its member groups.”
The event featured several speakers, including Restrepo, who earned a Master’s of Science degree in computer and information systems from GVSU in 2012. While at school, Restrepo worked at the GVSU Mobile Applications and Services Lab. He helped develop the Laker Mobile application, including the real-time bus tracking information.
For his thesis project, he worked on an application called “Pocket PT.” It was designed for people in physical therapy and allows them to operate a game on an iPad. A sensor is attached to their neck, and their movements are translated into actions in the game. The project was continued by other students and went on to medical trials. GVSU is now working to create a product out of it, Restrepo said.
“School is a great place to practice,” he said. “You don’t have to wait until you’re in a professional setting. Companies really want people who have done more than the average schoolwork.”
The string of projects from his undergraduate and graduate schooling led to Facebook. He said everything is connected.
In 2007, Apple released the iPhone and in 2008 people could write their own applications for it. Restrepo and several friends began designing games and other programs.
They started by redesigning an old college project and made the quick graph application — a graphing calculator. In 2010, when Apple first released the iPad, their calculator was the first one to be compatible on the new technology.
Instagram was then acquired by Facebook in September 2012, and Restrepo joined the company two months later. At the time he was hired, there were 19 employees and 50 million users. From that time, Instagram grew to more than 150 million users and has more than 80 employees based all around the world.
“You end up working with stuff you have no idea even existed or have any experience with,” Restrepo said. “You have to look for other people who know about these things and ask for help and connect. This is how you learn new things and it goes a long way in a company. They don’t expect you to know everything, but they expect you to figure out how to go talk to someone who does.”
Restrepo encouraged students to apply for every job they have wanted. He said it’s important for people to find a job they are passionate about and can enjoy going to everyday.
“Apply everywhere,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how crazy the company is. The worst they can say is no, and at least you can say you tried.”