In early June, Vanity Fair ran a lengthy excerpt of Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley, a purported tell-all from Antonio Garcia Martinez, a former Facebook employee who was fired after two years at the company. The book was finally released on June 28th, and there’s a fair heap of dirt to be found amongst Martinez’s 528 pages chronicling his time at Facebook and his broader experience of working in Silicon Valley.
Before we launch into it, however, an important note: Martinez delights in describing the bad behavior and questionable conduct of places like Facebook, but he’s guilty of exactly the same kind of dickishness. His treatment of women is particularly awful—he describes women in the Bay Area as “soft and weak” with “self-regarding entitlement feminism”—and the book is peppered with casual homophobia and misogyny. (A nice example from page 33: “Whether it be a Breathalyzer or a banana, you can’t make eye contact with a man while going down on something. It’s too weird.”) It’s also worth pointing out that the book isn’t solely devoted to Martinez’s time at Facebook—a good chunk deals with his tenure at other assorted Silicon Valley entities.
With that in mind—as well as the normal caveat that the following anecdotes are coming from a single person’s memory and experience—here are the most cringe-worthy parts of Martinez’s sordid tale.
After ordering Facebook employees to draw on the walls of the company’s new digs, Mark Zuckerberg was—shall we say—dismayed at the product.
That weekend Zuck sent another to-all email (or maybe it was posted in the general Facebook internal group to which everyone belonged), the gist being: I trusted you to create art, and what you fuckers did was vandalize the place. This was of course true. The place looked like an alleyway in the Mission now, not the offices of the world’s most promising tech startup.
By his own report, Zuck had spent two days walking the entire FB campus, marking everything that was to be taken down. Indeed, come Monday, there was a thick band of blue masking tape marking every badly conceived attempt, or bit of joyful vandalism. Zuck must have gone through ten rolls of the stuff.
Martinez says one portion of the on-boarding process involved HR reps telling female employees not to wear clothing that “distracted” coworkers. Nice!
Next was a warning to the womenfolk. Our male HR authority, with occasional backup from his female counterpart, launched into a speech about avoiding clothing that “distracted” coworkers. I’d later learn that managers did in fact occasionally pull aside female employees and read them the riot act. One such example happened in Ads, with an intern who looked about sixteen coming in regularly in booty shorts. It was almost laughably inappropriate, but such was our disinhibited age.
Martinez describes a Facebook page meant to pay homage to “brogrammers,” which was apparently removed after it was determined that the page might be “sexist and unwelcoming.” Let us note here that Martinez himself was disappointed—his wording—that the “curious cultural artifact” was deleted.
The tech ecosystem and its chroniclers like TechCrunch, forever agonizing about the deplorable state of women in tech, started howling about the corrosive effects of such a culture. (Some internal wags helpfully suggested starting a page for the female version of the brogrammer, “hogrammers” as they were known, or, more politely, “brogrammettes.”)
After an employee leaked news of a product launch to the press, Zuckerberg was apparently less than pleased.
Like Jesus speaking to his apostles, Facebook often imparted nuggets of its culture in the form of parables. The parable here concerned a misguided Facebook employee who leaked news of a soon-to-be-launched product to the tech press. Zuck reacted via a to-all email with the subject like “Please resign,” an alarming presence in anybody’s inbox. The email, which was projected onto the screen in Pong [a room] and read line by line, encouraged whoever had leaked to resign immediately, and excoriated the perpetrator for his or her base moral nature, highlighting how he or she had betrayed the team. The moral of this story, a parable of the prodigal son but with an unforgiving father, was clear: fuck with Facebook and security guards would be hustling you out the door like a rowdy drunk at the late-night Taco Bell.
This isn’t juicy, per se, but it is illuminating.
This was one of those culture-defining inside-Facebook jokes. If you were so foolish as to leave your laptop unlocked or unguarded among that loutish lot, then anyone had full right to open your browser (which had at least two to three tabs open to Facebook) and post a status update involving a mundane gastrointestinal task (“Jell-O,” for whatever reason, was the slightly more tasteful alternative.)
During a presentation on content filtering by Dan Rubinstein, a product manager, photos of kittens were used in place of obscene photos. Sandberg wanted to know why.
Suddenly Sheryl interrupted: “So, what’s with all the kittens?” Dan, a bit startled, peered at Sheryl, clearly confused. “Why are all the bad photos kittens?” Dan flatly replied, “We use kittens as the bad photos in demos, because the real bad photos are...you know...kind of obscene.”
“Right,” said Sheryl, “but why kittens and not something else?”
Dan looked up at the screen as if noticing the kitten pics for the first time, and then turned to Sheryl and answered, almost under his breath: “Well...for demo purposes we don’t show really bad photos...so the engineers use kittens instead. Because, you know...kittens and cats are like, pu—”
He stopped right there, but he almost said “pussy” in front of the Queen of Lean, Sheryl Sandberg.
“Got it!” she expectorated. After sucking in a lungful of air, as if loading for a verbal barrage, she continued. “If there were women on that team, they’d NEVER, EVER choose those photos as demo pics. I think you should change that immediately!”
Jokes aside, good on you, Sheryl.
One of Facebook’s security teams supposedly had a hall of fame for the messed up stuff they found.
Our social shadow warriors did have one showcase: there was an internal Facebook group with the provocative name of “Scalps@Facebook.” It was essentially an online trophy case of taxidermied delinquents, the sexual predators, stalkers, and wife-beaters whom the FB security team, in conjunction with law enforcement, had managed to catch [...] Facebook employees would randomly see in their feed the guilty face of depraved desire: some guy in the Philippines or Arkansas, and his rap sheet about trying to induce fourteen-year-old girls to meet him, along with a line or two indicating he had been summarily dispatched into the maw of the legal system.
This snippet appeared in the Vanity Fair excerpt, but it’s worth reading again.
When someone left Facebook (usually around when the balloons said 4 or 5), everyone would treat it as a death, as if you were leaving the current plane of existence and going to another one (though it wasn’t assumed this next plane would be better than the current one). The tombstone of your Facebook death was a photo posted on Facebook of your weathered and worn corporate ID. It was customary to include a weepy suicide note/self-written epitaph, and the post would garner hundreds of likes and comments inside a minute.
Of all the book’s statements, this is perhaps the most unbelievable one.
Even in a culture brimming with irreverent disdain, I never heard anyone utter a word of cynical trollery about Facebook and its values, either at on-boarding or during my years of work there. As with Americans and “our troops,” motherhood, and the Constitution, certain things were enshrined, and nobody dared ridicule them.
When reached for comment about the book and its claims, Facebook declined to comment on the record.