I recently left Facebook after working as a Production Engineer for 1.5 years plus a 3-month internship.
During my internship, Facebook felt like a company I would like to stay at for a long, long time. When I originally took their offer, I planned to work there at least 5 years.
What changed? Why did I leave so soon?
While I love my new job at Replit, there are a few things Facebook could have done differently that would have likely caused me to never start looking around in the first place.
I came into the job with a few expectations:
- I would get to hang out with some of the smartest hackers in the industry
- All my friends would think it was really cool that I was working at Facebook
- Since I was working closely with hardware technicians, I would get to travel to data centers often
- Since most of my team was in Menlo Park, CA and Dublin, Ireland – I was based out of the Austin, TX office – I would get to travel to those offices a few times per year
- I would make a ton of money
- I would be promoted quickly
The last two expectations were mostly met, with caveats that I’ll mention below.
However, none of the first four expectations were ever true.
I did work alongside impressive, talented geniuses, truly giants among men, but here’s the catch – I never actually got to sit down and have lunch with any of them. We never got to just chill and hang out. What’s the point of having smart coworkers if you just write code and Zoom all the time?
Travel was never allowed, and even my teammates who lived in the same city didn’t meet up in person. I had a lot of video calls with them, but it wasn’t the same.
A few of my friends thought it was cool I worked there at first, but Facebook’s reputation has only gone further and further downhill to the point where no one bats an eye anymore. My family and friends – conservative, liberal, and libertarian alike – all knew that I was smart for landing the job, but didn’t think I was a more interesting person because of it.
(I since care a lot less about status, hence taking a job at a relatively unknown startup. There are certain Twitter circles where Replit is cool, but that’s it. That’s fine by me.)
I never got to see the inside of Facebook’s legendary data centers, and never got to travel to any of the amazing offices around the world. Seriously, they are an incredible perk. The Menlo Park campus was designed by the same people who created Disneyland. The happiest place on earth. Come on, that’s pretty cool.
These expectations were high but not unreasonable. If they had been met, I would have been content enough to fend off distracting job opportunities.
Usually when people leave a job, and you ask them why, they give some laundry list of things they disliked about it. Maybe they used C# but you prefer Java, or React Native instead of Flutter, or they never got past jQuery.
Those reasons are generally bullshit. People don’t leave jobs over stuff like that. They leave because of specific, strategic, tactical reasons.
Here are a few of those tactical ways that Facebook lost me, listed in order of impact.
Note that none of these are things my manager, who I loved, could have fixed. This is all VP-grade or above.
1. Let me travel to data centers and offices
This was by far the biggest influence on my attrition.
Facebook was way too cautious about COVID for way too long. I never developed any real chemistry with any of my coworkers, never got to stand wide-eyed at the big halls of blinking lights where code runs, never got to meet any of the hardware techs whose actions I guided remotely through automation.
Sure I like working from home, but I’m not a robot. If they had let me travel even just once or twice a year for a team offsite or a DC tour, I would have stayed.
Sure, I could have waited it out. But I didn’t want to. I wasn’t willing to bet another year or two of my valuable time to see if travel would open up again.
2. Don’t force me to come in as a different role
This gets a little complicated, so bear with me.
My internship was for the role Production Engineer. My first return offer to California was for the role Production Engineer. I was unwilling to raise a family in California, so I asked if I could work out of the Austin, TX office. They said yes, but only if I took a different role (System Engineer). The catch: roles that aren’t “Production Engineer” or “Software Engineer” pay at most 25% less.
This was a pretty big screw-up given that the actual work System Engineers and Production Engineers do is essentially identical.
Before leaving the internship, I met with the man who would be my manager on the System Engineer team and he told me that he would be able to switch my role back to Production Engineer after I joined.
My manager delivered on his promise within one month of my start date. Facebook bumped my base salary back up to the Production Engineer level with a 5% CoL adjustment, but my initial equity grant, which had been slashed 50%, was not increased.
When I told him a year later that this was a potential retention factor, he heroically promised to fight for me to get more equity at the next performance cycle. It’s rare for anyone below the staff level to get more than the standard refresher, but I still believed my manager could get it done.
For me, however, it was too late. If Facebook had re-issued my initial equity grant when I switched to Production Engineer, I probably would have stayed. We’re talking about roughly $100k here, a tiny amount for a megacorp but a huge sum for a new grad.
3. Don’t let employee morale get so low
When I left Facebook, there was significant and widespread burnout across the entire company. Everyone felt demoralized about the things Facebook was doing and the way those things were coming across in public perception.
Most of this was about misinformation and FB’s supposedly devastating effects on hot button issues like democracy, racial tension, and mental health.
To be clear, I don’t personally have an issue with anything Facebook has done, with the possible exception of child exploitation, although even that argument is a bit weak.
However, the broad perception of Facebook as evil, and the extent to which that was believed internally, affected me deeply. Being told that what you’re doing is bad and wrong, and seeing your teammates grapple with these demons over and over, is too much to bear even if you don’t see things the same way in your own mind.
If Facebook had won the PR campaigns waged against it for years by the media and governments, and/or if the vast majority of my coworkers didn’t agree with these claims, I might have stayed.
In today’s environment, retaining existing employees is both more important and harder than hiring new ones. Corporate employers should consider the effects of their policies on the rank and file, and guard their allegiance more jealously.
At any given company, something like 0.2% of the people have the power to actually change any of the things I’ve listed above. I suspect there are about 100 people (out of 50,000) at Facebook that could have caused me to stay.
It is because of them that I left. If you’re one of the few who have influence on people and business operations, use your power wisely! Don’t lose people over things you could have done differently. The engineering managers will thank you.