Q&A with Alejandro Perez Munoz and Kun Huang from RAISE, a new way to enter the field of AI

March 18, 2022

This is the first of a three-part series that spotlights software engineers participating in Meta AI’s Rotational AI Science and Engineering (RAISE) program, which aims to give participants from diverse backgrounds an opportunity to start their AI journey full-time at Meta.

“I’ve always been a sucker for learning new things, and the first rotation was like drinking water from a hose. This is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had.” That’s how Alejandro Perez Munoz, a 20-year tech-industry veteran, described his first six months in Meta’s Rotational AI Science and Engineering (RAISE) program. Launched in 2021, RAISE is an 18-month journey through the AI landscape for software engineers who want to kick-start a career in the field but lack professional AI experience. The program offers a panorama of AI research at Meta while also zooming in on key avenues of exploration.

Participants — called RAISErs — rotate through three of our world-class research and engineering teams, where they get hands-on experience collaborating with some of the field’s foremost innovators on real-world projects. Depending on their preferences, RAISErs might, for example, build and test approaches to emerging challenges as part of our Responsible AI team, develop cutting-edge tools with our platform specialists, or apply advanced research to bring state-of-the-art models through to deployment in augmented reality products. RAISErs work closely with a domain expert in each area and receive personal guidance and encouragement from an assigned mentor.

RAISErs are hired as full-time software engineers. After completing the program, they can leverage their experience to identify a permanent Meta AI team to join. With hiring now underway for 2022, we sat down with Alejandro Perez Munoz and Kun Huang, RAISErs from the inaugural cohort, to learn about their experience in the program so far. Perez Munoz joined RAISE after building expertise in testing and developer experience at several major tech companies. Huang previously worked on Google Shopping’s image search monetization.

In the first of three blog posts in this year’s RAISE Q&A series, Perez Munoz and Huang explain how they learned about RAISE, how they found themselves at Meta, what they’re currently working on, and where they see themselves after the program.

Want to learn more about RAISE? RSVP here for the upcoming virtual panel and info session on March 31, 2022.

Applications for the 2022 RAISE program will close on April 15, 2022. For more information and to apply, visit our program page.

Tell us a bit about your career path.

Alejandro Perez Munoz I was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico. I studied at Monterrey Tech for my bachelor’s in electronics engineering and my master’s in software engineering. Then Microsoft offered me an internship — that was a big break! After Microsoft, I worked full-time for Hotmail (I’ve dated myself now!), then Intuit, and then Google.

I’ve always worked on testing and developer tools, which Google is famous for. But after six years there, I was ready for new challenges. I admired Meta’s open source libraries, so I applied here. During the interview process, someone told me about the RAISE program, and I got really excited about the opportunity to grow in an entirely new direction.

Kun Huang: I majored in optical engineering at Zhejiang University, in China. I came to the United States for graduate study in electrical engineering at Caltech. I decided to pursue a career in computer science when I was taking a course there called “The Ideas Behind Our Networked World.” The professor brought his profound industry experience to the class, and I got the chance to implement what we learned with projects that had actual industry impact. That was pivotal.

My first job was at Oracle Cloud, where I worked on mobile applications for corporate clients. Then I joined Google Ads (called Adwords at the time). Google was my dream company. I worked with world-class engineers on a large-scope project, and I learned high-quality design and coding. After two years, I moved over to Google Shopping and found my passion for improving the user shopping experience. In 2021, I decided to focus on using AI to improve the commerce experience, and that brought me to RAISE.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in AI?

APM: For the past 20 years, we’ve continuously heard promises of new languages or tooling that would make coding so easy that anyone could do it. All of them failed. But the way ML is used now in speech recognition, vision, and particularly personalization, we really are all programming — without even trying. ML allows us to teach computers our preferences and needs, and that is a form of programming. AI has delivered technologies that seemed impossible a few years ago: take great speech recognition, for example. It will solve even bigger problems as more and more smart people get involved in the field. That got me really excited.

KH: I worked closely with the team that builds the AI behind Google Shopping. I am always amazed by the seemingly magical power of AI models to improve the shopping experience. I wanted to be a wizard myself, so I strove to learn and contribute.

What drew you to the RAISE program?

APM: Most companies say they hire people based on their potential, but as you grow in your career, they mostly hire you for what you already know. With RAISE, Meta really is banking on my potential to grow in an entirely new field. They’ve bet on me, so I’ll bet on them.

With RAISE, Meta really is banking on my potential to grow in an entirely new field. They’ve bet on me, so I’ll bet on them.

Alejandro Perez Munoz

KH: When I interviewed with Meta, I was offered two options: general software development or RAISE. What attracted me to RAISE was the opportunity to immerse myself in a variety of areas. Then I can make a wiser decision about which domain to focus on.

Now that you’ve completed your first rotation, how would you describe your experience?

APM: There was a lot to learn — about Meta, the internal tools, my first team’s product, my first project — and I had to do it fast. Ramping up in this field, which is changing so quickly, requires time and a lot of prioritization. But I wasn’t in it alone. My manager, my project mentor, and my RAISE cohort were there to help.

KH: Meta is famous for moving fast, and I’ve learned so much in a short time. I jumped into a new company culture and a new field at once, which doubled my excitement — and my confusion and uncertainty. It’s been a challenge, but the learning and growth are totally worth it.

My mentor and team members have given me the greatest support. They really set aside time and helped me stand on my feet. My manager, Tamara Berg, is the director of AI Commerce. Working with Tamara has been a gift. She’s the perfect role model, with her calm, can-do attitude. Whenever we discussed a challenge, she reminded me that even if there isn’t a solution, there is always a path forward.

What are you working on?

APM: Because I had previous experience in testing and release engineering, my first rotation was on the AI Infra team, trying to improve the performance of tests and to diagnose breakages faster. My second rotation is higher-level. I’m working with the AI platform on a tool to re-create previous runs. One of the most important things I’ve learned is the “code as data and data as code” approach to AI models.

KH: I joined the AI Commerce team for my first rotation. I got firsthand experience training a model, building the infrastructure, and working as a tech lead to support client applications in my first half. I’ve benefited a lot from my previous experience in shopping and commerce — it feels great to be able to offer the team a new perspective. I’ll keep working on an extension of my first project with the AI Commerce team in my second rotation. We’re aiming to launch the results on Instagram and Facebook.

What are your plans after RAISE?

APM: I tend to take opportunities when they show up — that’s how I got involved with RAISE. I don’t know what opportunities will come next, but there are a few areas in AI that I find really exciting, including responsible AI, speech, and vision.

KH: It’s probably rare to find the perfect team in your first rotation, but I did. I hope to join AI Commerce and continue to contribute to their projects.

What advice would you give someone thinking of applying to RAISE?

APM: The network of people you will interact with is big and constantly growing. You can take advantage of that, but you must be very organized to keep track of everything. Also, identify your project’s stakeholders quickly, and keep in constant contact with them to make sure you are spending your time on the right tasks. The RAISE program is a huge commitment, but opportunities for substantial change in your career are few and far between. If you want to delve into a new, thrilling area of software development, this is it.

KH: RAISE lets you explore different branches of AI in an industry environment, so it will help you decide where to steer your career. If you want to discover your potential and dig deeper into AI, RAISE is the way to go.