Ten Years

Julie Zhuo
May 9, 2016 · 7 min read

Today is my ten year Faceversary.

To me this means a number of momentous things: hanging out with my mom and daughter for brunch (well, that was for a different celebratory occasion, but still very nice); being able to add the line …With over a decade of experience in the industry… to my LinkedIn resume; and earning the privilege to wax nostalgic about how we used to in the good ol’ days walk (<1) miles to the office uphill both ways (where “uphill both ways” meant attempting to Ripstik on the streets of downtown Palo Alto which was probably just as energy-sapping cuz those things weren’t made for sidewalks).

Exhibit A: Ripstik

When people learn how long I’ve been at Facebook, they’ll say something like, “wow, that’s some foresight!” or “must have been a wild ride!” and then I’ll wish I could tell a cool story about how when I was considering Facebook, a wise mentor said to me, “When there’s a rocketship, you don’t worry about which seat you’re assigned, you just get on!” except that that would be stealing Sheryl Sandberg’s story, not to mention be a complete fabrication in my case.

The truth of the matter is, I joined Facebook for three reasons: a) my friend Wayne Chang who worked there said it was great b) it was a product I and all my friends obsessed over in crafting our college identity c) it technically counted as a “startup” at the time and I was taking a course about startups at school so of course I had drunk the kool-aid that startups were much cooler than big companies.

Meanwhile, here is the list of things I most certainly did not know about or consider at the time while making my decision:

  • whether the company had a mission
  • whether the mission was something I believed in
  • what “design” was
  • what “a stock” was
  • what the company culture was like
  • who my manager or team would be
  • who the company leaders were
  • what kind of career I wanted

So to say I was quite clueless about what I was getting into would be an understatement. (Then again, to be fair, there was some cluelessness on the other side as well: I was hired as an engineer after going through a full 5 interviews without being asked to write a single line of code!)

I suppose if I did happen to be on a rocketship, then the way I ended up at Facebook was through a crash-landing (where I biased the crash towards smaller planets as they seemed more exotic and interesting than bigger ones), and then sneaking through the gates of the city because the guards weren’t monitoring things too closely and thus ultimately finding myself at Disneyland. I was very, very lucky.

Rocketship at Disneyland

Invariably, after this long-winded explanation, the next question I’d get (and this comes up about once a week) is: “So… why are you still at Facebook?” This question I understand 100% because many moons ago, when I did a summer internship at Microsoft, I remember attending a team All-Hands where people stood up and were awarded a lovely plaque for having been at the company for 10, 12, 14 years. And my 19-year-old reaction at the time was, “Pssshh, that’ll never be me. My cutting-edge mind simply cannot compute staying at a single place for that long.”

So this question makes sense. 10 years is a long time by Silicon Valley standards, when the average employee tenure at a company is something like 2 to 3 years. Innovation and start-ups are the lifeblood of this community, and there’s always this Game of Thrones-y vibe where the chatter revolves around who is winning and who is losing and who the attractive new characters are who seem to spring up overnight, all sly winks and promises to change the world (remember Oberyn?) Certainly, being at any fast-growing company for 4+ years affords one many options. I could explore some other parts of Westeros, switch alliances to some other great house (Highgarden seems lovely), or simply get out of the Game altogether and sail to Braavos.

To this question of “Why are you still here?” I have two answers. They’ve stayed pretty much consistent for a while now. The first is that I think what we do really matters. Facebook cares about people and making the world more open and connected. I believe this as much as I believe anything.

Certainly, it’s easy to say that, and the term “mission-driven” is as easy to bandy around as “unicorn” or “bots” these days. But from the perspective I’ve had through the past decade, it is much, much harder to live these values. There are a thousand decisions every week where a leader can choose what is in many cases a more conventional, safe or rational path — bowing to outside recommendations, focusing on short-term wins, building a moment of buzz or glory — or he or she can take a risk in the interest of providing greater long-term value for the community. I’ve seen this play out enough times to trust that this is a company that more often than not chooses the latter.

A culture like that can only come directly from the top. Mark, as well as Sheryl, Chris Cox, Mike Schroepfer and the other leaders at Facebook live and breathe these values of openness, transparency, and care for people. It’s hard not to be inspired by these foundational principles. The people you build for matter the most. Though the culture of the Valley often highlights the overnight successes, great companies in history — the Apples and Disneys of the world — do not come and go in two years or four or even ten. They earn the label of great over twenty, thirty, a hundred years. That’s the kind of company I aspire to be a part of.

The second reason I’ve stayed is because this place has consistently been brought me enormous learning and personal growth. I’ve felt myself growing up with the company, a seedling in a winter field that the rain gods smiled upon. As everything around me grew, so did I. Here was the place where I learned design was a real profession; here was the place where I learned what “a stock” was, where I could quietly connect the javascript of our friends’ typeahead logic to how the search box worked during a hackathon, where I could build an app about cute pets on top of a platform I designed, where I learned the ins-and-outs of managing a team and had people teach me and inspire me, where I saw our products succeed and fail in spectacular color, where I learned just how important good relationships are to getting things done. Here was where I learned to appreciate marketing, analytics, good communication, operations, sales and research. In the past year alone, here was where I learned about mindset, and how to hire, and how to admit that I didn’t always have the answers.

I am surrounded by some of the best of the best in this industry. I walk into work every day admiring how courageous and creative and articulate and kind my coworkers are. Some of these people have gone on to do other wonderful things beyond Facebook, but every month the caliber of new folks I continue to meet simply boggles the mind. Every year, my job has felt like it’s changed 90 degrees, where what was once comfortable is now new and different and Oh shit, I’m not sure I know what I’m doing anymore. At this very moment, I can identify a hundred things I still have yet to learn from the people who surround me. So even today, I do not think I have learned nearly all that there is to learn at Facebook.

No place is perfect. No relationship is without its tensions, mistakes, and disappointments. We could all do better work and be better people. But I am an optimist, and the journey is only 1% finished.

Thank you to all my mentors, friends, and colleagues past and present for making these past ten years what they were for me, and for making Friday such a memorable one where I teared up in front of dozens of people while being broadcast live. I think the best is yet to come.

I joked that this was more people than were present at my wedding

(Big shoutout as well to my fellow 10-year-twin, Jeffrey Wieland!)

(Also relevant, a wonderful article by my friend and colleague Margaret Stewart on a framework for finding job fulfillment.)

The Year of the Looking Glass

A collection of essays by Julie Zhuo on design, building products, and observing life.

Julie Zhuo

Written by

Product design VP @ Facebook. Author of The Making of a Manager https://amzn.to/2PRwCyW. Find me @joulee. I love people, words, and food.

The Year of the Looking Glass

A collection of essays by Julie Zhuo on design, building products, and observing life.

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