The University of Massachusetts Amherst
HFA - College of Humanities & Fine Arts view HFA submenu
Section Menu

Profiles

Brian Gesiak

Brian Gesiak '2008

Brian Gesiak completed a BA in Japanese Language and Literature in 2008. After graduating, he joined the JET Program, working as a Coordinator of International Relations (CIR) in Saga, Japan. In 2010, he began working at an online stock brokerage in Tokyo, where he discovered a passion for computer programming. Eager to pursue this passion further, in 2011 he joined GREE, Inc., a social gaming company in Tokyo, where he coded the company's iPhone and iPad applications. He returned to U.S. in 2012, working at various software companies before joining Facebook in 2014. Brian currently works on programming tools at Facebook in New York.

I'm grateful for this opportunity to write about what I've done since graduating UMass Amherst with a BA in Japanese. It’s funny to find myself writing about it, especially considering how apprehensive I was of life after graduation.

I tend to obsess over things. At UMass, learning Japanese was pretty much the only thing I cared about, and I spent nights and weekends memorizing kanji. But I hadn't done any internships, and didn't have any job offers after graduation. In that context, I found it easy to apply for the JET Program. All my friends were applying, and it provided me with a visa and a plane ticket to go to Japan, where I could continue learning the language.

But participating in the JET Program had drawbacks. In Japanese corporate culture, students that are about to graduate ("shinsotsu") are valued highly. Companies hire them, regardless of their major in college, then train them. But since I had spent a year out of college in JET, I was no longer a "shinsotsu," and yet didn't have the experience necessary to be considered as an "experienced hire" either.

Many months passed before I finally found a company that agreed to hire me as a new graduate. This company encouraged its employees to learn computer programming, which quickly became my new obsession. I learned the basics by studying before and after work, for months. I wanted to get paid to learn, so I put "programming" under the "Skills" section of my LinkedIn profile. A recruiter reached out to me shortly after, asking if I'd ever programmed iPhone applications before. I hadn't. But instead of saying "no," I bought a book on beginner iPhone programming and replied "yes." By the time we met a few weeks later, my reply was perfectly accurate, and I got the job.

I’ve continued this process -- agreeing to do something I’m probably not qualified to do, then frantically learning how to do it -- for several years. It’s challenged me to become much better at what I do. Now, at Facebook, I am writing code that’s used by one in seven people on Earth.

I had a rough few years after graduating. If I could give any advice to new graduates, regardless of their major, I would say this: Swallow your fear of rejection and apply to many, many more jobs, regardless of the posted job requirements.