Tom Occhino has tagged you in a post
UB alumnus applies his dream to Facebook
Published: Thursday, October 4, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
“If you had a million dollars and you didn’t have to work, what would you do?”
It is an admittedly cliché philosophy that UB alumnus Tom Occhino has based his life on: get paid to do something you love doing. It’s just an extra perk that he works for one of the best tech employers in the world: Facebook.
Yet Occhino almost didn’t accept Facebook’s job offer. He said he was making good money doing freelance web development in Buffalo.
“I was like, ‘Why would I give that up to go work for some company that probably won’t be around in a few years?’” he said. “And as it worked out, it was the greatest decision I ever made in my life.”
Occhino is a Facebook engineering manager. His team builds the tools the company uses to create the actual website. In his three years there, Occhino built the search bar’s auto-completion functionality and the software that allows users to tag friends in posts.
He found there are two keys to success: ambition and opportunity. Occhino has been lucky enough to come across both.
It has not happened quite as one would imagine.
Although the trip from Buffalo to Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. appears to be a straight line, but for those who have aspirations of working with technology, Occhino found it was a curvy path.
He initially told Facebook recruiters it would take a huge offer to uproot him from his native Buffalo.
“It would take a lot to move me out to California,” Occhino said. “I don’t want to leave all my family and my friends and my life. A lot of people are excited about that, but I actually really enjoyed being in Buffalo.”
Occhino was known as an outstanding student at UB. He particularly enjoyed his software classes, as they helped him dabble in programming, which he would be able to use in web design.
He fondly remembers classes from Michael Buckley and Carl Alphonce – two UB computer science professors.
“It wasn’t just Tom's technical abilities – which were off the scale – but his desire to build systems with a people component,” Buckley said in an email. “I'm not surprised he went to Facebook and not surprised at all that he’s doing well.”
Alphonce had similar kind words for his former student, mentioning his engagement in lecture with insightful questions and one particular team-based project that Occhino continued to work on even after the semester was over.
Occhino is from Orchard Park, and his web design roots start in Buffalo. He began building websites for the Student Association, where he was paid practically nothing. He did it because he loved creating sleek user interfaces that weren’t bulky and allowed users to seamlessly interact with the Internet.
As a member of the web team, Occhino overhauled a website that informed the student body about SA events including movie nights, concerts and Spring and Fall Fests.
Occhino chose to major in computer engineering because it combines hardware and software design. After four years on campus, he found himself more intrigued with the software and programming side of computers, particularly web design.
One of the other MooTools users had been invited to speak at a web design seminar in Amsterdam but because he was shy, he asked Occhino to go in his place.
Occhino, who was just out of college and eager for opportunities, figured it would be a good chance to travel the world and learn more about web design.
The slides Occhino made for the conference caught Facebook’s attention.
A Facebook recruiter called him when he got home from the conference. The recruiter wanted Occhino to talk about his slides to a Facebook engineer.
He planned on saying no.
“I was intrigued, but I had no intention at all, whatsoever, of leaving Buffalo to move to California,” Occhino said. “It was this website that we all kind of knew about, but it wasn’t that big of a deal.”
Two interviews and a trip to the Facebook campus in California later, Occhino was hooked.
“I was still skeptical, basically until I walked into the building,” Occhino said. “As soon as I walked in, my whole opinion of the place and everything changed. The environment was so unbelievably exciting for me that I kind of got a feeling that I really, really wanted to be there.”
Energetic people riding on ripsticks and playing four-person competitive chess created the environment that changed Occhino’s mind.
By the time he returned to Buffalo, he had a job offer from Facebook waiting for him.
Without the combination of his passion and excitement for web design, Occhino never would have had the opportunities at SA, freelancing in Buffalo and now Facebook.
Occhino’s life would not have been the same. Neither would Facebook.