(thoughts are my own and not representative of those of my employer)
Lots of people have described this topic more eloquently than I can. Nothing in this post will merit a NYT article and nothing, really, will be groundbreaking. But a recent blog post by a friend about why he left gave me pause – why do I stay here instead of finding the next great thing? If my resume is any indication, I’m not afraid to jump ship when a big opportunity presents itself; I have wondered time and again if I’m flakey or distractable or if I just don’t have the grit to stick it out through hard things. But here I am three years later and still enamored with my work.
I was hired by Facebook (now Meta) in 2019 as a Production Engineer to build software systems that are reliable, scalable, secure, and efficient. I’ve been here for almost three years and I’m not planning on leaving soon, despite that many would probably start looking at new opportunities by now. The company offers me what I need to stick around.
Every place I’ve worked has offered different things, but for me, Meta is special. Why?
the people are incredible
The people at this company actually believe in the mission of bringing the world closer together. They recognize and embrace the huge responsibility it puts on us.
Working previously on AR/VR and now in Privacy, I have seen people at various levels of the company fight for the interests and safety of the billions of people who use our services, do the right thing at the cost of their reputation and the ever-pervasive (and powerful!) “move fast” culture, and build meaningful products that peoples’ livelihoods are based on. My anecdotal experience is limited, but I’m pretty sure these things are rare.
The nature of my work lets me ride the coattails of some of the best engineering leaders in the world. Listening to Michael Abrash’s vision for the future of augmented and virtual reality gave me a deeper respect for the Xerox PARC folks who invented personal computing. Seeing people embrace that vision gave me confidence that the world will reinvent it again. My immediate and skip-level managers know how to build teams that get stuff done. The engineers on my teams have serious experience running distributed systems. Working with these people is exciting!
I’ve been at the company longer than almost 70% of people, and we successfully keep hiring people like this!
I do miss meeting in person. I have been “in office” on and off throughought the pandemic due to needing physical access on my first team and opting into it on my second team. Some of my team is in the office during the week, so I appreciate the time together. The “aura of magic” that used to permeate the Menlo Park campus that once belonged to Sun Microsystems is just beginning to return though. The tens of thousands of people who joined the company since the pandemic started probably don’t feel that magic in the same way I did as a wide-eyed intern in 2018. I’m still crossing my fingers that it returns to its full glory, but time (and COVID) will tell.
the scale is unimaginable
The work I do matters and affects peoples’ lives around the world. My work is specifically focused on scalability, so it’s nice that I get to work at a place where the scale reaches heights that really are unprecedented. With billions of people using our services, many many owned servers, and 19 data centers in service or planned, I am a part of an operational marvel.
The work my team does now to protect privacy takes a holistic approach to the entire lifecycle of data people trust Meta with. Businesses run entirely on Facebook and Instagram, and they rely on us to protect their privacy. Private conversations between people on WhatsApp or Messenger are expected to remain private. Embracing the metaverse will introduce new dimensions of identity- and spatial-privacy that society (and Meta) will need to grapple with too. Big power, big responsibility. It’s a serious challenge that excites me.
the combination of autonomy and comfort is unmatched
In my experience, traditional engineering companies get bogged down with process and bureaucracy. They may offer limited autonomy but don’t value their employees in the way large tech companies do and definitely aren’t bottom-up driven like Meta. Engineers identify, scope, prioritize, and choose our own projects. I haven’t heard of a more traditional company that does something like this.
Non-tech companies may offer a high level of comfort (rest-and-vest, probably minus the vest) to get you to join but growth may be stunted by zero commitment to engineering development. I am especially skeptical of companies that are not historically technical reframing their business to be seen as a tech company – realizing a change like that requires revolutionizing your business and probably making people unhappy, so I assume almost always it’s a surface-level marketing ploy to get better talent. I don’t trust it.
Startups offer unprecedented levels of autonomy, often even expecting you to wear new hats each week. But it can come at the cost of significant risk to the future of your career and higher-than-acceptable stress levels. The organization depends on you, so you must perform to keep it afloat. There is nothing wrong with taking this on if you are invested, but from my perspective you better own a big chunk of the company if you’re putting in as much time as the executive-level employees.
On the other hand, Meta offers me a balance of autonomy and comfort. My work is driven by me and supported by my managers. The impact I make wholly depends on prioritization and effort, but I am not expected to make myself unhealthy in service of someone else’s expectations. I am able to push myself out of my comfort zone and continually grow. There is a clear path for me to grow as an engineer and in my career. Plus, the company offers all of the regular established-corporation things like a 401k with matching, health insurance, and regular, reliable pay.
the company treats me like a rockstar
High pay, free food, endless perks, business travel, free gear, extravagant parties and events. I really feel like a rockstar here.
Going to company events with my friends and family was something I really looked forward to. Things toned down during the pandemic a bit but they are beginning to return, hopefully better than ever!
On a more somber note, my work fertility benefit and health insurance took on more than the lion’s share of our costs for fertility treatment, IVF, and post-delivery treatment and surgery. That, plus the four months of parental leave have been an immeasurable benefit for us along our bumpy journey into parenthood.
reasons I could leave
The company is facing real scrutiny right now. It takes resolve to work hard through it, but I know my work does good for people who rely on us to be good stewards of their data.
It’s not cool to work at Meta anymore? The systems I work on impact real people. I get to work on hard problems. That’s cool enough for me.
Other opportunities could probably pay me more, especially in today’s job market. But things like the IVF benefit and the mission-focused and bottom-up driven culture – combined with the balance I have found between my life at home and my life at work – are hard to match.
when will I leave?
Who knows! I’m not in a rush to go anywhere else quick.
I am exploring public policy by serving on the Menlo Park Clean Streets Commission and helping the City Council make informed decisions regarding local car, bike, and pedestrian transporation. I’m always contemplating ideas that would be worth building my own business around too. I could see myself leaving to found or lead an early company someday, but nothing else is pulling me away right now.
For now, Meta gets to keep me around.