A clear highlight of the 2015 Startup Catalyst Mission was a trip to Facebook in Palo Alto.
The team arrived at the airy Facebook campus’s lobby, lining up to sign in with none other than their own Facebook account. The team was greeted by Joel Pobar, an ex-Brisbanite now Engineering Director of Performance, who hosted us for the tour. During the extended visit, the team rubbed shoulders with some of the great minds of Facebook, all of whom spoke candidly of Facebook’s culture, challenges and way or work, always leaving the team in shock and awe.
The cohort first heard from Keith Adams, an incredibly smart and charming man who shared his learnings and work with Artificial Intelligence, specifically machine learning. A handful of us were particularly interested in the domain, so Keith’s session drove relevance by sharing why machine learning was so important to the future of Facebook and by extension the tech industry, along with some cool demos of unreleased Facebook ML products.
After Keith, we had the incredible opportunity to hear from Chuck Rossi, Facebook’s Director of Release Engineering, i.e. responsible for ensuring Facebook doesn’t go down with each commit/update, which is of paramount importance and complexity when embracing Continuous Integration practices at this scale. Chuck immediately connected with us via his entertaining candour – he lifted the kimono on a myriad of Facebook’s challenges and culture (a lot of which we can’t share online), which gave us incredibly valuable and rare insight into running a Tech startup at this scale as well as the competitive environment.
Keith and Joel then showed us around the campus, which can only be described as a Disney Land for developers, full of flashy signs, free food and free perks (including a hairdresser!). While we were not able to take pictures inside the campus, we were allowed to take some snaps outside at the main Facebook sign – here is the crew:
The Startup Catalyst 2015 Cohort infront of the Facebook Sign
It was confronting to find on the opposite side of the sign a decaying ‘Sun Microsystems’ logo. Joel explained Facebook chose to keep this there as a humbling reminder to not get too comfortable; while we might be heroes today we could be dust tomorrow at the pace Technology moves, so you gotta keep moving forward.
It was getting late, however Joel was incredible generous with his time and took us across the road to the new Facebook building. The Tech giant has been growing exponentially, with 48% growth in 2014 – Joel explained last year they were forced to utilise valet parking services to double-park cars as there was a complete overflow of employees exhausting the previous buildings. As a result, Facebook recently erected a monolithic, art gallery-esque building by renown architect Frank Gehry. The 430,000 square-foot space housed 2,800 employees over two floors, each with 20m-high ceilings, giving the office a majestic feel. The rooftop had been converted into a gorgeous open-plan garden, complete with undulating hills, hammocks and comfortable places to relax. An employee we bumped into said she got lost here all the time.
A Model of Facebook’s Monolithic New Building
As the sun was setting, Joel swept us into a conference room and presented an enlightening workshop on what it takes to become a fantastic manager. He alluded that ‘people didn’t leave companies, they left managers’, and taught us his own methodologies, tips and tricks of creating high-performing teams and cultures. A key take-away for me personally was that consciously or unconsciously, we are always signalling to those around us, so it is important to become aware and harness it to ensure we are sending the right messages to our team members.
At 8:30pm we said goodbye to Joel who had given up most of his day to enlighten us. The bus trip back to the city was abuzz with conversations unpacking the key learnings from the day at Facebook. A group of us actually took the learnings from Joel’s session and used it as the foundation for their Startup Weekend project.
It was unanimous that Joel and Facebook had by far exceeded our expectations.