I am perpetually amazed at the flood of reverent articles about the wonderful big software companies that are inflicted on us. How great are their leaders! How wonderful it is to work there! Everyone should emulate their business practices! Their products are awesome!
The reason why the sycophantic flood continues is based in simple economics, but why most people appear to buy the b.s. is beyond me. You don't have to be a hardened cynic to see past the image.
This subject is worth a book or two. I've contributed just a couple blog posts. This post is another one on the wonderful Facebook, which (supposedly) does so much to demonstrate software excellence and contribute to our betterment.
Why Facebook is Wonderful
An article has just appeared about the wonderfulness of Facebook. The article is an interview by John Battelle with Lori Goler, who is "VP of People" at Facebook, leading the company's growth from 500 employees to 15,000. Here she is:
She sounds like a really nice person. I've worked with the interviewer, John Battelle, at one of his prior ventures, and he's a great guy.
The whole article is worth scanning. But the subhead gives you the idea: Facebook is "the world's most admired employer." Here are a couple quotes from Ms. Goler:
We are really looking for builders...What goes along with that is a learning mindset.
Being a strengths-based organization is a place where you are really looking to put people in roles where they are doing work they enjoy that plays to their strengths. ... It’s where you get the best teamwork. It’s where the people are able to do the best work of their lives.
For us, the mission is, “To make the world more open and connected,” so it makes sense that our culture is open and connected. Then internally, we reflect that culture.
What we find is that what it really means is that people have all the context they need to be able to work with great autonomy in the organization, which of course leads to greater innovation and greater impact. It’s been a virtuous cycle for us.
According to the article, Facebook is a great place with a socially uplifting mission, populated by great people who are always learning and in roles where their strengths are tapped and their work has impact is fulfilling, in a completely open and supportive environment. Wow. Who wouldn't want to work there?
Another view of Facebook
For a contrasting view of Facebook, I recommend reading this book:
Warning: I had to force myself to get through the book; the author's self-described behavior was distasteful, to put it mildly. But it made the rest of his descriptions the more credible, and he said nothing that contradicted my inside knowledge.
The book has gotten lots of attention. It's been reviewed by major media, for example the New York Times:
And by tech journals, for example Tech Crunch, which declared it was the "year's best non-business book about business"
The book is #1 in several categories at Amazon. The top-rated review is telling:
Perhaps you can see that there is a contrast, shall we say, between the wonderfulness of Facebook as presented by its leaders and the reality. But this makes sense. What was the job of the VP People before getting that job? Marketing! In other words, telling stories to get you to buy stuff. She is continuing to do her job well, i.e., selling Facebook as a great place to work.
Well, maybe it isn't such a great place to work in spite of all the propaganda, but at least those 15,000 people turn out a great, high-quality product, right?
Here's a post about software quality issues with a section on Facebook, and here are details about the inability of those 15,000 engineers to turn out a product that has reasonable quality, even after many attempts -- as judged by their own users.
It's not just Facebook. It's Google and the rest. Think about this: with such wonderful employees and huge cash reserves, why can't they make their own products work, much less innovate? If they're so innovative, why does so much of what they "innovate" come from acquisitions? See this for details.
You might ask, if their software quality is so awful, how did they become so big and valuable? Good question. Zuckerberg made some world-class smart business strategy moves to get it going. See here for details.
Why this matters
These observations about image and reality at the big famous software companies have huge practical implications for small companies, managers and programmers.
I have often observed that when board members want to hire a top executive, or when managers want to fill an important software position, they often value highly a candidate's having done a stint at one of these famous giants. They'll think something like "Facebook has a product that nearly everyone uses; I want to build a product that nearly everyone uses; therefore, I'll hire people from Facebook, and I'll get a product that everyone uses."
Of course rarely will someone come out and say something like that, but the Facebook (or Google or whatever) aura is so strong, people often act as though they believe it. On the other hand, if you really get the perspective about the inept software giants described here and confirmed widely, you will tend to avoid hiring people from Facebook (or wherever) because you know you're likely to drag down your company to its abysmal level!
Lots more detail on this and related subjects is in my book on Software People. Or for an illustration from a whole different direction, consider the incompetent doctor and nurse in the PBS civil war hospital drama Mercy Street.
Nothing is going to change. Major corporations of all kinds, even more so the big tech ones, will beat the drums of self-promotion, selling themselves to customers and potential employees. It's in the interest of groups that hunger for money and attention from the big companies to make nice, and trumpet the self-congratulations. The big companies will continue to be unable to innovate, and will instead buy innovative companies. Sometimes the contrast between the image that is widely promoted and the reality gets to me. At minimum, my hope is that you're working at a place that's far better than Facebook, and that you avoid error of attribution I have described here.