23 April 2019

Dave Craig: An Inside Look at Facebook HQ

Let me set the scene.

Southern California. My birthplace. Population 23,800,000. That’s roughly five times the population of New Zealand.

The average height of a male on Earth is 5 foot 9. In the US, 5 foot 10. I’m 6 foot 7.

A Double Gulp (one very large glass of fizzy) from 7-Eleven is 128 ounces, or 3,785 ml.

A New York pizza, what we call a pie, is roughly 18 inches in diameter, or 45 cm. That equates to 8 slices, or 8 dinners!

What I am trying to land is that I know BIG (or at least I think I do). The US is big. In everything they do. From pop (that’s American for fizzy drink) to cars, food to IKEA, when you come from the US, you take for granted what scale looks like.

Insert my most recent trip to the US, San Francisco. It was my wife’s first time to the States so I picked one of my favourite cities in the world. San Francisco has a lot of personal memories for me plus my college best mate lives in San Jose. It reminds me of beautiful Wellington (my favourite city on Earth), just bigger.

After doing what most visitors do, bike the Golden Gate, ride a trolley car, shop in the Financial District, visit Scoma’s, listen to jazz at a whiskey bar and last but certainly not least, visit Alcatraz, we headed south, to The Valley, the home of tech giants Apple, EBay, and Facebook plus a slew of others like Adobe, Cisco and Netflix. All nestled in an area that has rebuilt the way the world communicates. And a private tour of Facebook was on the agenda.

We hummed and hawed about going. Questions arose. For days. It sounded something like this – “Hey, if we do go does that show NZ that we are supportive of Facebook?” “Do you really think Facebook had an active role in what happened?” “What happens if we go and our friends find out or become angry? Do we really want to have those conversations?”

In the end, we made the decision to go. For a multitude of reasons. But for me, the main point was to talk to the company that so many were and still are angry towards. Ask them what they were doing. What they were going to do. And most importantly how they would limit their involvement in anything similar moving forward.

We met our tour guide in one of the hundreds of car parks in Menlo Park, just off their main entrance, 1 Hacker Way. We jumped on a white bus, strictly for staff, that ferried us through the main gates and into Facebook’s main campus.

After a very robust and friendly process, we were given our guest lanyards (which I tried to bring home but couldn’t) and we were in. Off to the “cafeteria” for lunch and a conversation about

Facebook, our guide’s role and I wanted to pick his brain about what it was like to work for literally one of the biggest companies in the world.

A few key stats that I learned at lunch:

  • 20,000 employees worked on campus
  • Average wage is $120,000 US, but with benefits, it topps $155,000
  • $25,000 cash bonus, real estate fees paid for if you moved within 10 miles of the campus (within their free bus network)
  • Employees were served 3 meals a day (60,000 daily, must be the largest restaurant in California)
  • No need to go anywhere off campus – everything you’d want is there. Massage, barber, hair stylists, sweet shops…it’s literally like Disneyland for adults

Our tour guide, was upbeat. Happy that we were there. Happy to show us what Facebook life was like.

The cafeteria looked like Westpac stadium. On our day, the theme was Indian food. But you could have whatever you wanted. From a gourmet, build your own salad from a salad bar the length of Highway 1 to roasts, sandwiches, meatballs and of course curries, choices were limitless. And good. I went with the favourite of the day, a beautiful Indian curry with naan.

While we were eating, I quizzed our on Facebook and brought up Christchurch relatively quickly. Here’s what he told me:

  • Facebook has 1,200 full time staff whose main job is to look for dodgy content (porn, death, etc.) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Those jobs are training Facebook’s AI to better identify that content and shut it down quicker
  • The video from the Christchurch event was viewed just over 170 times on Facebook. During those views, it was screen-recorded, re-named and re-populated on other sites like 4-chan, Reddit, YouTube and reviewed over 1.5 million times
  • Facebook’s staff, including his team, were disgusted by what happened but also very aware that they provide a platform and at the end of the day, can’t be 100% responsible for the end-user.

Now, let’s put this into perspective.

Facebook’s live streaming platform broadcasts just over 3.2 million feeds a day. Since the live feeds began in 2016, there have been over 3.1 billion feeds broadcasted.

YouTube, on the other hand, have over 5 billion videos viewed every day. Let me say that again. A different way. YouTube has more views daily than Facebook has had since its live

feed started 3 years ago. Yet Facebook seems to be the only social media criminal when it comes to the terrible massacre in New Zealand.

Hmmm.

I quizzed him about “what’s next?” What did he think Facebook was going to do about limiting or stopping live feeds. His personal thoughts were something that made my ears perk up.

Facebook can’t stop live feeds, they can’t even put in a delay. Most of the live feeds were used for gaming so imagine playing a game “live” with a 10 second delay. It just wouldn’t work. But what Facebook could do, and probably were doing as we were visiting the campus, would be to limit the “live” feed (in effect shutting it down to the rest of the world but making the perpetrator believe the feed was still “live”) and then send GPS coordinates to first responders showing exactly where the perp was located.

Imagine how that would work in other areas of life. Facebook effectively becoming a partner with police, fire and ambulance services (to name a few) helping our heroes mitigate and shut down risks faster than ever before. The possibilities are endless and inspiring.

After lunch, we headed to the sweet shop. Our guide said it’s the best part of meals at Facebook and I can’t argue. From gluten-free doughnuts to a vast selection of ice cream, the choice was mine and I jumped in! A few scoops of peanut butter chocolate ice cream and a delicious chocolate chip cookie topped off a great lunch and gave me a bit of energy for what was next, the remaining part of our tour and the Facebook foxes.



We left the old HQ, jumped on a white bus and travelled to Buildings 20-24, 4 main hubs joined together by a rooftop forest approximately 1.6km long. The journey over was non-eventful, other than having to go under the main road in Menlo Park. Zuckerberg’s team was tired of paying a tax to local authorities for each Facebook vehicle travelling between the 2 campuses, so he tunneled underneath the main road. Genius.

We entered Building 21, again to smiling faces and big welcomes. The facility was massive. Incredibly tall ceilings, desk after desk after desk of coders, meeting rooms and toilets complete with toothbrushes, mouthwash and lotion. If you needed a caffeine fix, there were multiple cafes where you could either make your own coffee (Americans like drip coffee) or have a barista make your favourite brew. Plus, there is always a sweet shop close.

I asked someone I bumped into where they went if they wanted out of the traditional open plan scheme (more like open plan ocean – the floor in Building 21 literally went as far as the eye could see). He asked, “Have you been upstairs?” I looked up. The only upstairs I saw was a ceiling. He smiled. “Go upstairs.”

After a lengthy walk through Building 21, we headed upstairs. As the elevator doors opened, we were literally standing in a forest, complete with 40 foot (13 meters) red wood trees. (Let’s put that in perspective – an average costal red wood tree grows 12-24 inches per year. Building 21 has been there just over 1 year yet the trees growing on the “ceiling” are over 20 years old!)

There were heaps of breakout spaces, a dirt path that measured 3.2km in circumference, picnic tables, bean bags, bbq’s, covered areas and the famous Facebook foxes! Yep, real, live foxes that are part of the staff and fabric of Facebook.

The weather turned a bit but we were able to catch a few photos of the new facility. Here’s a look from their new campus back across to the old campus.




A look at one of their outdoor areas from the roof park!


We headed back downstairs and through Building 21 on our way back to the bus. I asked our guide a few more questions –

Me – “What about hardware? If you need a new laptop or phone, what do you do?”

Guide – “When you need something new, you log-in to the Facebook system, order what you need and it arrives on your desk the next day, ready and waiting. In other words, if you need a new laptop, you pick what you want and the IT team loads all the necessary software and login credentials and its ready the next day. But, the best is over here…”. Our guide pointed to a vending machine. I walked over and had a peek. Everything from AirPods to USB sticks, if you needed anything, you simply swiped your employee card, selected the numbers coinciding with the product you wanted and out they come. No questions asked although he did tell me that a staff member was let go after they found out he was selling the products to people outside Facebook!

Me – “How often do you have external activities with your team at Facebook?”

Guide – “There’s usually a few events/activities a week. Last week, my boss had a catch-up after work and the theme was beers of the world. When I got there, I was surprised to see so many different beers from all over the world. They don’t scrimp.”

Me – “Do you find it difficult to balance life and work?”

Guide – “Facebook is really geared towards young people or university grads. The expectation is that you work hard and don’t need to leave the campus. Plus, all the events and activities outside of work make it hard to say no. But, I say no. I have a family and my manager knows that and is 100% supportive.”

Back on the bus and back to the old campus. And out of the 20,000 employees on campus, we bumped into our guide’s boss! The interaction went like this –

Guide – “Hey guys, this is my boss.”

Boss – “Hi guys. I’m not your boss (with a smile on his face). I support you just as you support me.”

A good way to end our tour. We thanked our guide, boarded our bus back to our car and headed home.

Some parting thoughts:

  • Facebook employees 20,000 staff (just under ⅓ of the people that live in the city I reside in in New Zealand).
  • Facebook is purchasing land and building facilities as fast as they can. They can’t keep up. Once a new data center is built and full, they need another building.
  • If anyone thinks Facebook is going anywhere anytime soon, think again. Sure, they will need to be agile, but I think there is proof in the pudding that they have been that way since they were founded back in 2004.
  • Facebook makes some darn good food.
  • The culture I saw on campus while I was there was insanely positive. Some comments –
    • This is the best place I have ever worked. (Ex-Apple engineer)
    • The people I work with are all on the same page
    • I have never been around a group of people that know what empathy truly is
    • We are all working towards the same goal – our connected community is now a protected community

My time at Facebook was something I will never forget. Sure, Facebook has a lot to answer to. Facebook has a lot to work on. But all in all, I believe Facebook is working towards making their software systems better, safer and quicker to respond to events like what happened in Christchurch. A company that employs 20,000 staff and doesn’t have a product to sell yet yields $16 billion dollars a quarter in revenue has the ability to make change and make change

fast so hopefully they will. And let’s not forget that WE are the source of content so rather than pointing blame let’s help Facebook become that “protected community” they are aspiring to be.

One more thing and I’m done. This is directed towards all those that I know and that use Facebook for their business to generate income. I’m assuming that by banning Facebook from your ad budget, you aren’t going home and posting pictures of little Jack and his shiny new trophy on your personal Facebook page, are you?

Oh, and by the way, I don’t have a Facebook account. Cheerio,

Dave

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