Exclusive pictures from Facebook’s Palo Alto headquarters and my full report from visiting this peculiar company.
There’s nothing worse than being scheduled for a meeting at Facebook’s headquarters and ending up being an hour late. I was supposed to be there at noon, but a series of unfortunate events slowed me down a bit.
First off, the train taking me from San Francisco to Palo Alto, where Mark Zuckerberg resides, was delayed by 20 minutes. Then, a cab driver misunderstood my “Facebook” direction and drove me in the opposite direction to a random bookstore. To make things even worse, the bumpy ride ended with my bright pants being stained by about half a Red Bull can. Right on the crotch, too. As far as unpleasant events, though, that was it. Everything afterwards was perfect.
1601 CALIFORNIA AVE.
I didn’t even manage to make three steps forward before having a one page document being shoved into my face. Signing it, I was agreeing not to do everything I wanted to do. Unless I wanted to pay a fine, go to prison and be subjected to a public flogging. Got a camera? Put it back into your pocket. What’s that, a phone? Back in the pocket. Pacemaker? Turn it off. The only thing you’re allowed to do, when you’re visiting the company premises, is breathe. Through your nose. After I signed the pact with the devil – which I didn’t even bother to read, because I wouldn’t be able to change anything anyway – I was handed a name tag and then I was asked to sit down in a chair.
Angela came to meet me after a few minutes. She was supposed to be my spiritual guide, mentor, comforter and advisor in times of crisis. And that’s exactly what she was. If you ever get the chance to visit Facebook’s offices and manage not to get shot within the first few minutes, you’d be lucky to run into Angela. This charming and warm individual makes such an incredible first impression that I was on the verge of proposing to her after 20 minutes. I almost broke down crying when we parted ways. I promised to write her every single day.
Angela’s day job is overlooking and developing Facebook’s European market. I asked her how many hours a day she had to waste on meeting with bush-league bloggers like myself. The answer was quite surprising, as she told me that the multitude of her duties does not allow her to meet with more than two people per week. And just like that, for the first time in my life, I felt special.
A NORMAL WORKING DAY AT FACEBOOK
You start working when you arrive, you finish working when you leave the office. Just don’t come in too late and leave too early. There are no predefined working hours. Most people are at their desks at around 9 a.m. and spend their time deciding what else there is to ruin. They leave work in the late afternoon.
‘This week, the earliest I got home back from work was 8 p.m. One time, I didn’t get back until 2 a.m. That just comes with this job, but it’s the kind of job we like.’
Pretty much everybody working there is an IT guy or gal. Their monitors display endless rows of code which are completely alien to an average mortal like me.
‘The building has two floors‘, Angela told me as we found ourself in a desk-filled room. ‘All of us work in an open-space environment. Even Mark doesn’t have his own office, just a desk like the rest of us. We don’t create artificial divisions between our employees, we don’t have a ‘superiors vs. underlings’ system. It’s very friendly around here.’ You’d notice it yourself. Walking around the company I noticed that people who were on a break were rarely alone. They wouldn’t sit in a corner by themselves and do nothing or re-think their life decisions. They spent time with other employees who were also taking a break at that moment. I didn’t sense any fakeness in their relationships.
We left the open-space to go to the cantina, which at 2 p.m. was about half-full. Once again, I noticed that the employees are very in sync with each other. They prefered to sit at a crowded table than to go to an empty table, eat their fill and be happy that nobody’s bothering them. The room itself was very minimalistic. About a dozen of tables connected into long rows. That’s it.
‘Are the meals free?‘ I asked.
‘Sure,’ she said, ‘whatever you desire. We’ve got a wide variety of different dishes to choose from. You’ll see for yourself in a bit. Food and drinks on the house.’
If I knew about that beforehand, I would have brought an empty suitcase with me. What’s interesting, Mark organizes company meetings in the cantina, during which current affairs are discussed. This happens every Friday.
It’s right next to the cantina, in the southern wing of the building. You can come here to shoot hoops or just relax under an umbrella. I noticed that nobody smoked over there. Usually, the entrance to any company is crowded by dozens of employees smoking cigarettes. Here, I didn’t spot a single smoker. The playground is also a place where various employee get-togethers are held. Barbecues, parties, dances, you name it. Every big corporation has stuff like that. You need to teach people to like each other, ‘cause it’s not like they can figure that one out themselves. Sometimes, the employees go out to the movies together.
There’s been a lot of fables surrounding Mark Zuckerberg’s opinion of the biographical The Social Network, both the production and the final product. I decided to verify what I had heard.
‘Has Mark seen the movie?‘ I asked. ‘What did he think?’
‘We’ve all seen it!” she responded. “Last Friday, he took the entire company to see the premiere. We bought a ton of popcorn and watched The Social Network together’.
‘Did he like it?’
‘Sure. He found it amusing. It’s not like he was against it, he wasn’t angry or offended. He was very chill about the whole thing, we all had some laughs. He’s not a man that could be fazed by something like that.’
‘Is the movie an accurate depiction of him?’
‘You know… It’s a movie. You cannot look at it as a biography. Some elements were based on fact, but others were completely fictional and we know it. But it’s no big deal. If people enjoy it, good.’
WHAT’S MARK REALLY LIKE?
‘It’s hard to describe him with a single trait. He’s very focused on his work and the goals he set for himself. He’s very thorough and precise, so he expects the same from his employees. When it’s time to relax, we all have fun, but when we’re working, we need to be fully concentrated.’
‘What are his biggest flaws?’
‘He expects a lot from us. He’s very ambitious and he wants his employees to be the same. Working here is a huge responsibility, because Facebook is used by hundreds of millions of people, which we need keep in mind. A tiny mistake can have dire consequences, and I’m not talking about us and the company; I’m talking about people who rely on our services.’
‘Does he enjoy screaming at his employees when things go wrong? Does he throw stuff around?’
‘Absolutely not. He’s a normal guy, he doesn’t look down on people and show them who’s boss. He doesn’t want his employees to fear him, because that would be counterproductive. He doesn’t even have his own office, he sits with us and works just like we all do. He arrives in the morning and leaves in the evening.’
‘What are you currently focusing on? What’s the main objective in Facebook’s development?’
‘We are expanding to new markets, however we do not have an established system of doing it, because each country is different. Every nation has different internet habits, the competition we need to face is varies from country to country, just like Facebook’s market share. Additionally, we are implementing the ‘Places’ feature.’
‘Personally, I’m not a fan of the feature, though I realize that it’s the future of social networks. I’m still very attached to my privacy and I don’t want everybody to know that I’m currently sitting in a public restroom, for example. Knowing myself, however, I’ll probably change that opinion in no time.’
‘‘Places’ is one of our current priorities. Other than that, Facebook’s development is simple to predict. We are not working on anything extraordinary. We want more people to use our services and we want more people to be in touch with their friends, share their knowledge and experiences. Simple as that.’
Facebook guards its secrets very carefully. Guests are not allowed to take pictures of desks, monitors or whiteboards. Which is why my visual documentation of this visit is so modest. Just like the work conditions which comes as a surprise when you think about the company’s value. There’s not much there except for large open-space areas filled with computers and a cantina, though that was probably the idea. Visually, the whole experience is pretty disappointing for an outside observer such as myself, but it was very interesting to witness the overall good mood of the employees. The mood is casual, people dress as they wish, nobody’s running, panicking, screaming. Nobody’s in a hurry. Bizarrely, it seemed like your average small business.