Whoa! Shocking news, guys. An engineer left Google for Facebook. The great Lars Rasmussen, creator of Google Maps and Google Wave, quit Google Thursday to join Facebook. This has, admittedly, happened before. In June, Matthew Papakipos defected from Google’s Chrome team. In May, it was mobile guru Erick Tseng. Even Facebook’s chef, Josef Desimone, was recruited from Google.
In fact, someone over at Google must feel like the coach of Cuba’s national baseball team. Of the 2,174 current Facebook employees with a LinkedIn profile, 378 cited Google in their work history, or nearly 1 in 5. What’s remarkable about their decision isn’t the aplomb of Facebook recruiting, but the lack of imagination of Facebook’s Google recruits.
What’s the point of leaving one unassailable Internet platform where all your friends work for another unassailable Internet platform where all your friends work? It’s like getting a divorce to marry your wife’s sister.
I know, because I’ve been the wife in that situation before. When a colleague at a startup joined a competitor, my old partner Kirill Sheynkman had a very different reaction from mine. The colleague’s defection seemed shockingly traitorous to me but to Kirill, it was much worse: it was boring.
“You spend years working on database query tools, only to say ‘I’m sick of it, I quit’ and join a database query tools company,” Kirill said. “Where’s the imagination?” Forget the banality of evil, what galled Kirill was the evil of banality.
To someone at Google, perhaps the choice doesn’t seem banal because the two companies seem different: Google has its own dance studio, whereas Facebook only washes employee’s clothes. Google wants to become a dominant social network, and Facebook already is a dominant social network. But to someone at a true startup, the two kind of look the same. Both will succeed without you.
Of course, Facebook is one of the few truly great Internet companies, and it’s easy to understand why anyone would want to work there. But if you’re going to leave the security of the world’s greatest software company, why not leave to try something hard, something raw, something completely different? A successful run at Google is the Silicon Valley equivalent of diplomatic immunity in Lethal Weapon 2: every venture capitalist wants to give you money and any startup wants to hire you.
You could help someone who actually needs it, you could do something that hasn’t been done before. If you fail, you won’t be poor, and you won’t be unemployed long. I’ve heard Facebook is hiring.
(Update: some folks at Facebook have taken me to task for the tongue-in-cheek headline calling out their creativity. I’m sorry. I hadn’t meant that seriously. The people moving between Google and Facebook are obviously the gods of Silicon Valley, people who belong on bubble-gum trading cards. And just judging by its product you can tell that Facebook is a stunningly creative company.
I really, really love Facebook, and love Google, too. I just always hope that the best engineers at both places, when it’s their time to leave, do so to work at a tiny startup or to start their own company. Deciding otherwise is understandable of course: the pay at a newer company is speculative, the hours are maybe worse than Facebook’s, but it’s a different kind of fun, feeling like the whole place would keel over if you didn’t do your part.)