A job at Facebook sounds pretty plum. The interns make around $8,000 a month and an entry-level software engineer makes about $140,000 a year. The food is free. There’s a walking trail with indigenous plants and a juice bar.
But the tone among highly sought-after computer scientists about the social network is changing. On a recent night at the University of California, Berkeley, as a group of young engineers gathered to show off their tech skills, many said they would avoid taking jobs at the social network.
“I’ve heard a lot of employees who work there don’t even use it,” said Niky Arora, 19, an engineering student, who was recently invited to a Facebook recruiting event at the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park. “I just don’t believe in the product because like, Facebook, the baseline of everything they do is desire to show people more ads.”
Emily Zhong, 20, a computer science major, piped up. “Surprisingly, a lot of my friends now are like, ‘I don’t really want to work for Facebook,’” she said, citing “privacy stuff, fake news, personal data, all of it.”
“Before it was this glorious, magical thing to work there,” said Jazz Singh, 18, and also studying computer science. “Now it’s like, just because it does what you want doesn’t mean it’s doing good.”
As Facebook has been rocked by scandal after scandal, some young engineers are souring on the company. Many are still taking jobs there but those who do are doing it a little more quietly, telling their friends they will work to change it from within or that they have carved out more ethical work at a company whose reputation has turned toxic.
Facebook, which employs more than 30,000 full-time workers around the world, said, “In 2018, we’ve hired more engineers than ever before.” The company added, “We continue to see strong engagement and excitement within the engineering community at the prospect of joining our company.”
The changing attitudes are happening beyond Facebook. Across Silicon Valley, tech recruiters said job applicants in general are now asking more hard questions during interviews, wanting to know specifically what they would be asked to do at the company. Career coaches said they have tech employees reaching out to get tips on handling moral quandaries. The questions include, “how do I avoid a project I disagree with?” and “how do I remind my bosses of the company mission statement?”
“Employees are wising up to the fact that you can have a mission statement on your website, but when you’re looking at how the company creates new products or makes decisions, the correlation between the two is not so tightly aligned,” said David Chie, the head of Palo Alto Staffing, a tech job placement service in Silicon Valley. “Everyone’s having this conversation.”
When engineers apply for jobs, they are also doing it differently.
“They do a lot more due diligence,” said Heather Johnston, Bay Area district president for the tech job staffing agency Robert Half. “Before, candidates were like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to do team interviews, I want a one-and-done.’”
Now, she said, job candidates “want to meet the team. They’re not just going to blindly take a company because of the name any more.”
Yet while many of the big tech companies have been hit by a change in public perception, Facebook seems uniquely tarred among young workers.
“I’ve had a couple of clients recently say they’re not as enthusiastic about Facebook because they’re frustrated with what they see happening politically or socially,” said Paul Freiberger, president of Shimmering Careers, a career counselling group based in San Mateo. “It’s privacy and political news, and concern that it’s going to be hard to correct these things from inside.”
Chad Herst, a leadership and career coach based in San Francisco since 2008, said now, for the first time, he has clients who want to avoid working for big social media companies like Facebook or Twitter.
“They’re concerned about where democracy is going, that social media polarizes us, and they don’t want to be building it,” Herst said. “People really have been thinking about the mission of the company and what the companies are trying to achieve a little more.”
He said one client, a midlevel executive at Facebook, wanted advice on how to shift her group’s work to encourage users to connect offline as well. But she found resistance internally to her efforts.
“She was trying to figure out, ‘How do I politic this? How do I language this?’” Herst said. “And I was telling her to bring up some of Mark Zuckerberg’s past statements about connecting people.”
On the recent evening at the University of California, Berkeley, around 2,200 engineering students from around the country gathered for Cal Hacks 5.0 — a competition to build the best apps. The event spanned a weekend, so teenage competitors dragged pillows around with them. The hosts handed out 2,000 burritos as students registered.
It was also a hiring event. Recruiters from Facebook and Alphabet set up booths (free sunglasses from Facebook; $200 in credit to the Google Cloud platform from Alphabet).
In the auditorium, the head of the startup incubator and investment firm, Y Combinator, gave opening remarks, recommending that young people avoid jobs in big tech.
“You get to program your life on a totally different scale,” said Michael Seibel, who leads Y Combinator. “The worst thing that can happen to you is you get a job at Google.” He called those jobs “$100,000 a year welfare” — meaning, he said, that workers can get tethered to the paycheque and avoid taking risks.
The event then segued to a word from the sponsor, Microsoft. Justin Garrett, a Microsoft recruiter who on his LinkedIn profile calls himself a senior technical evangelist, stepped on stage, laughing a little.
“So, Michael’s a tough guy to follow, especially when you work for one of those big companies,” Garrett said. “He called it welfare. I like to call it tremendous opportunity.”
Then students flooded into the stadium, which was filled with long tables of computers where they would stay and compete. In the middle of the scrum, three friends joked around. Caleb Thomas, 21, was gently made fun of because he had accepted an internship at Facebook.
“Come on, guys,” Thomas said.
“These are the realities of how the business works,” said Samuel Resendez, 20, a computer science student at the University of Southern California.
It turned out Resendez had interned at Facebook in the summer. Olivia Brown, 20, head of Stanford’s Computer Science and Social Good club and an iOS intern at Mozilla, called him out on it. “But you still worked at Facebook, too,” she said.
“Well, at least I signed before Cambridge Analytica,” Resendez said, a little bashful about the data privacy and election manipulation scandal that rocked the company earlier this year. “Ninety-five per cent of what Facebook is doing is delivering memes.”
Brown said a lot of students criticize Facebook and talk about how they would not work there, but ultimately join. “Everyone cares about ethics in tech before they get a contract,” she said.
Brown said she thinks that could change soon, though, as the social stigma of working for Facebook begins outweighing the financial benefits.
“Defense companies have had this reputation for a long time,” she said. “Social networks are just getting that.”