“Move fast and break things” is quite possibly the last thing someone is inclined to do upon walking into the headquarters of a Fortune 500 company. But at Facebook, the fastest company to ever make the Fortune 500 list, to “move fast and break things” is a guiding philosophy, manifested in everything from the mural that greets visitors all the way up to the outlook of its CEO.
When I met Mo Safdari (WCAS ’10), my host for a day that was arranged through Northwestern’s NEXT program, he relayed to me how the corporate cultures of the area’s two biggest companies are usually characterized: “Google is like business school,” he explained, “and Facebook is like undergrad, which is great, because after Northwestern, I thought it was all downhill for me from there.” As we embarked on our tour of the office park, I quickly began to see why. “We’re getting a jumbotron, apparently,” said Mo, casually motioning to two electricians who were installing a piece of technology that seemed better equipped for Candlestick Park than an office. Seconds later Mo pointed out the gaudy neon lights that were recently added to make the outdoor dining options look more like restaurants. “It doesn’t really make sense,” he said, “because all of the food is free.”
The absurdity continued when we entered the offices themselves. Everything is set up to encourage creativity and collaboration, almost to a fault. If my mom were there, for example, she would likely have had to resist the urge to pick up all of the “play things” and organize the place a little bit. One room features national flags from around the world, while another is fitted with a full-scale retro arcade. The walls are adorned with Bansky-esque paintings, and it seems like you can’t walk anywhere without seeing a chess set or a stack of board games. Then there are the vending machines. In addition to the conventional ones packed with snacks and sodas (which, again, were all free), others are fully stocked with keyboards, headphones, and other computer accessories. I had entered a hacker’s dreamland, where money, at least for the time being, appeared to be of little consequence.
Facebook moved into its current Menlo Park location in August of 2011. The company’s new home is a huge facility, one that it is still growing into. When we stumbled across a vacant room, Mo, who joined the company in December, mentioned the fact that his team had hired three more people just the day before. Although the room won’t be vacant for much longer, those who ultimately occupy it shouldn’t get too settled. Facebook recently commissioned world-renowned architect Frank Gehry to build a 400,000 square foot building to complement the existing campus, with construction slated to begin later this year.
For a long time, the million-square-foot space was home to Sun Microsystems, the computer vendor that also developed the Java programming language before being acquired by Oracle in 2010. The transition is emblematic of a greater shift in Silicon Valley. Out are the iconic acronyms like HP and IBM, and in are companies with young founders built on technology that intimately informs people’s lives. “Silicon Valley,” Safdari confided in me, “has a bias towards young people. The best way to win an argument here is by doing something.”
Mo’s official title is Project Manager of new launches, where he works as apart of the User Operations team. His days involve evaluating the user experience for Facebook’s various new products and engaging with the Engineering department in order to improve it. He’s traveled, already to the company’s offices in Austin, Dublin, and Hyderabad, and relishes the fact that the company has retained its start-up sense of community even in the face of its rapid growth. For example, he told me how “Zuck” is fond of bringing in a meal from McDonald’s for the late night sessions that typically anticipate new product launches. On one of the nights leading up to the launch of Poke, Facebook’s response to SnapChat, Mo had the pleasure of having some of the $13.3 billion man’s fries. Then there’s the fact that “at other jobs, you work on a project and your manager might pack you on the back. At Facebook, what you work on one day can impact 1 billion people the next.”
Before coming to Facebook, Safdari spent two years teaching science at an alternative school in Dallas with Teach For America. That experience has given him the ability to put his current work in a certain context. “At the end of the day, if people don’t like Poke, people don’t like Poke,” he said, shrugging his shoulders and laughing. It’s the exact situation that moving fast and breaking things is equipped to handle.
Photo Credit : Robert Scoble