One in Five Facebook Employees Has No Imagination Whatsoever

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.)


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  • AustinShmaustin

    they are imagining more money, in the form of stock options in a pre ipo company. where's your imagination?

    • bigmovingstock


      • simonth


    • GlennKelman

      I thought Michael Arrington's response was a good one, about the lure of being a pirate…

      • Wilson Usman

        I saw that too, thought it was a great post.

    • ebpp

      yeah, the ipo $ is what they are going for

      • seo agencies

        always a good reason

    • Mar

      I call it sheep effect..

  • 23

    very badly crafted article…


    They are leaving for more money, more stock, more opportunities, resume boost, etc. Seems like a no brainer to me

    • Max Countryman

      Unless ofc you leave for the Next Great Thing, which invariably will not be the “safe” choice of Google or Facebook.

    • GlennKelman

      Good point but I don't think people are leaving just for money. I think the allure is being able to build great products that reach millions quickly.

      Sometimes I just wish the folks leaving would try something really different and riskier. Google has great DNA, and I love to see it spread to other, smaller startups.

      • Daniel Howard

        Maybe they want to just try their idea in a more “green field” environment with probably less bureaucracy, without leaving a familiar Ivy League-Google environment. They're looking to give a little more room for their creativity, in hopes of one day gaining greater confidence in their imagination.

        And, yeah, the pre-IPO shares. The “safe” bet is to stick with the comforts of a large company.

        As for loyalty . . . this is an “at-will employment” industry. Those of us who have been laid off a few times find it difficult to shed tears over ditching an existing employer for a better gig. Imagination is an important asset for one's long-term career success: you can picture yourself refining and expending your skills somewhere else, if need be, even if that somewhere else may be a baby-step change.


      • Wilson Usman

        Agree! Why is it that some people just think people do things just for money. We're not all from Hollywood.

  • Rm

    Brett Taylor left Google for FriendFeed, and then got bought by Facebook. Your numbers are off :)

    • GlennKelman

      Definitely! Let's give credit where it's due! I love FriendFeed!

  • jamiequint

    This is an awesome post and I completely agree. I think the only argument against this is that – at least until recently – Facebook was basically handing out $0.5M-$1M+ in stock to new hires, that's hard to turn down when comparing against the expected value of doing startup. FB is really a unique opportunity to get in on pre-ipo, doesn't come around often and I think people can sense that (and know that their older friends who joined Google pre-ipo all got rich). Even if you can go to Facebook if you fail options grants are only decreasing from here on out.

  • David Haddad

    You don't know what you're talking about. The companies are very different: culture and product. As for Lars Rasmussen, he can probably continue working on breakthrough HTML5 applications after Wave got axed as well as make a ton of money through stock options.

    • GlennKelman

      The companies are different in many ways, some that are evident even to an outsider like me, but my point was that neither is really a risk is it?

  • Andy Sack

    You argue that leaving 1 thing to do the same thing at another company lacks creativity….you may be right. However, employees are individuals may be motivated by wealth creation and social circumstances. It's a common strategy for companies at midsize companies to leave company A and go to Company B in the hopes of creating more personal wealth. It's a decent enough strategy for the individual.
    That said, I feel your pain — it doesn't really help the true startups in a region….and it help the employee acquire new skills.
    One question for you — after you're done at redfin, does this post mean your going to take up your true calling as a member of the liberal media — perhaps as a radio show host?

    • GlennKelman

      No, I'd never want to be a member of any media. I like creating things. You make an excellent point about the money Andy. I've heard breathtaking numbers…

  • Justin Rudd

    I went from Amazon to Microsoft, and at the time I would have said they are night and day different. And on some things they are. But for me (and only me), looking back on them they are incredibly the same. You always hear the stories “my group isn't like that”. And I hope yours isn't. But to me they were.

    I left Microsoft a year ago (even interviewed at redfin :)) and work for a small ISV in AZ (working from home in WA), and it was the best decision I made. The technical stuff is challenging, but the amount of involvement I have in marketing, sales, etc. Is awesome. Amazon, Microsoft were so hard to get your ideas heard. Of course, I'm sure your Amazon,Micrsoft readers will tell me how wrong I am :)

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  • BenHill123

    lol whatever facebook will develop as a new app, google can duplicate in a few days and vice versa. Crap.

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  • Darwin Ling

    Looks like the author is just jealous :) Not sure if he ever got recruited by either Facebook or Google

    • GlennKelman

      I have been recruited by Google, but not by Facebook.

      • White Bear Lake Homes for Sale

        Ha ha! I love the challenge you put forth in this article, Glenn. Funny thing though as we mature (i.e. age), we all tend to become more risk adverse. So although their would be some awesome potential in the start-up environments, these brilliant minds may want a little more piece of mind as they tuck their kids into bed at night. Great article!

  • Guest

    Google is NOT the worlds greatest software company. Sheesh.

    • BenHill123

      which one is?

      • Motmaitre


        • John

          For some people, the truth hurts.

  • DavidAFenton

    I'd like to see some of these engineers putting some energy into AI and Robotics. Developing Web services must get boring after a while

  • Dave McClure

    hahaha. awesome post Glenn… I can almost feel the RED BOLD FONT coming thru :)

  • Richard Kain

    Apples to apples though perhaps it's the ex-Microsoft types (etc) who first go to Google (827 of 10k on LinkedIn) who in turn go to Facebook. Engineering costs may have dropped but great engineers still want access to great amounts of capital. I think the natural preference is for small orgs, but one of the unintended consequences of Sarbanes-Oxley is to more heavily concentrate it in large organizations, since the closed pipe of IPOs has ripple effects down the capital food chain. It gives favor to those of critical size (LinkedIn, Zynga, Facebook) likely able to overcome the hurdle. Pre-Sarbox you saw the reverse effect where vested engineers would go to smaller organizations since this window was still open.

  • Greg

    I've been doing a lot of thinking about the huge company I'm at and my not-really-making-a-difference role, missing the startup life I used to live, and an opportunity that's likely on the horizon. The final line was a true moment of clarity: “…but it’s a different kind of fun, feeling like the whole place would keel over if you didn’t do your part.”

    That sums up in one line the missing part of my work life that I've been trying to define now for weeks. Thanks for that. I think you've helped me make up my mind.

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  • Mark Essel

    Different levels of comfortable risk. Some incredibly talented producers prefer employment to founding. Early employees get small equity at small chances of a big outcome.

    What you're getting at is motivation. If you're purely motivated by wealth and want to get to a position where you have the most freedom in the future, moving laterally from Google to Facebook is an attractive switch. More power to their boring decisions.

    Maybe fresh startups are the ones to blame. Maybe we're not bending what can be done far enough to attract great minds to our cause.

    • Rick Bullotta

      Amen, Mark. The “lean startup” term is a euphemism for “shallow, unambitious startup”. The best and brightest oughta be working on bigger challenges (for bigger reward) – just need an investment climate/culture that has more than a 24 month ADHD attention span…

      • Mark Essel

        Quick update: I found this topic catchy enough for today's blog post, BigCo vs Pre IPO Gangbuster. Your reply smacks of truth Rick, we got big problems, and require big solutions although they can and probably should start out small.

  • bobfet1

    Shouldn't the title be “AT LEAST 1 in 5 Facebook employees…”

  • Dan Shapiro

    Glenn: I have a friend who's mildly obsessed with ketchup. He loves it, and no matter what he's eating, he can't help but think that it would be better if it had ketchup on it. When he cooks at home, ketchup is an ingredient or condiment to every meal. It's not really my thing, but it sure does make him happy.

    People like us are like that with startups. I see a VC-backed spinoff from a big company and think, “What a waste. That money could have gone to back a real entrepreneur.” I see an acquisition of a company that lost all its founders long ago and is staffed by professional management and think, “Such a shame. That could have been somebody's big exit.”

    And then I remember that entrepreneurs are my ketchup, and I'm just being silly.

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  • Dave Zatz

    So I shouldn't leave Burger King for McDonalds?

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  • Rick Bullotta

    Theory #2 – Google hired all of these bright and expensive people over the past couple years to keep their profit margins *DOWN* slightly, just enough to not raise the ire of those anti-capitalists but not too much so as to piss off shareholders. Unfortunately, there just wasn't enough “busy work” to keep them all engaged, and the stock value has plateau-ed, so now it's time to move on… What Google needs is a few more “not so smart” people that can actually provide real customer support for the consumer-oriented products they bring to market (anyone ever try to get tech support for a Nexus One?).

    • John

      Raise the ire of anti-capitalists??? Are you joking?

  • David Semeria

    Some people don't like roller coasters, they prefer the kiddie train trundling around the perimeter.

    Great insight Glenn.

  • Marrington

    yawn. what a waste of typing

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  • Michael Coxe

    > Of the 2,174 current Facebook employees with a LinkedIn profile,
    > 378 cited Google in their work history, or nearly 1 in 5.

    Agreed. Also, the percentage claimed is much closer to 1 in 6.

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  • Hal O'Brien

    “And just judging by its product you can tell that Facebook is a stunningly creative company.”

    Say… This is tongue-in-cheek. Talk about damning with faint praise.

    • John


  • Buurz

    One of the reasons these engineers aren't joining startups is simply money. For someone working for Google for a while, working their ass off at some startup for (if it doesn't fail) a few mil is simply not all that inviting.
    For these people its either creating their own startup or joining another big company or very late stage startup. If startups ever start giving out more equity to engineers, this might change, but I doubt this will happen anytime soon.

  • Guest

    Why is the

  • Simon

    In Lars Rasmussen's case, the guy's been working on Google Wave for the past few years here in Sydney. and since google pulled the plug on google wave, the first thing you want to do when u loose your baby is move on.
    and he did so…

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  • Mauibilly

    Mission accomplished Glenn. Lots of buzz. :-)

  • Clare

    Just watched Bloomberg's ChangeMakers about Google's history and founders. SPEED was their primary focus. Wish we could bottle a little of it for home owners to get them into action. It was only after I went into high gear and sold my house in 32 days did I stop and put together a book on howt I'd done it.Even a BIG win and other coaching successes doesn't seem to be enough to set a fire under many home sellers.

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  • sgkri

    There is an underlying assumption in your post that every one, or most, of those brilliant engineers is an entrepreneur by nature, and hence should do something entrepreneurial when they leave. This assumption is wrong. I would say most people who have moved from Google to Facebook are risk averse individuals, and a big reason for the move is the expectation of a post-IPO pay day.

  • hyperlexic

    I have no idea what these individuals' motivations were to Google for Facebook, but those who left for 'money' (i don't care how much) are not the type of people I'd want in my company anyway. If you got into this internet world simply to 'get rich', what is going to motivate you to fight like hell when you DO get rich? After the IPO, are you just going to flounder since you now have your 'F-U' money?

    Google isn't exactly DONE innovating, and the war with Apple is going to be really interesting. Way more interesting than Apple's war with Microsoft, because I think Google is smarter than Microsoft while Apple is 1000 times bigger and tougher today. Google and Apple are developing platforms for mobile devices and now TVs that are really – really – going to change things. What is Facebook's 'big long-term picture'? They are decades behind Google. If Google beats Apple to the TV and continues to grow Android adoption, that's it. Game over. They will connect people into the biggest 'social network' in history through the two most common and ubiquitous household objects on Earth – the TV and the Phone.

    I dunno, I'm not trying to sound like a hater, although I'm sure that's how it's coming through. hey – those guys are obviously awesome at what they do, since two of the most relevant and important companies in the world fought for them. And each had their own reasons; I'm only commenting on anyone that's chasing the next IPO. That's not a real soldier. Steve Jobs could have retired long ago, but he's fighting with more ruthless abandoned than the early years – and really kicking ass on a scale few imagined was possible. Is he doing it for more billions? I don't think so. Those are the people you want in your company – people that actually have more than just a dream to make billions and quit.

    • John

      “Fight like hell”?? Wow, there really are some morons on this site.

  • Wilson Usman

    what matters is the point he's trying to make.

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  • Hockeyhero40

    You dont know jack, why wouldnt someone at google jump at a chance to work for facebook? Besides the 80% profit margine. Facebook has the highest rating for employee satisfaction. And they get paid loads of money for practically no work at all. Facebook is a much better place to work and you shouldnt voice your opinion without any facts. Your like a south african trying to pick the president of the US. Its not right

  • Homeinspectionfranchisesite

    It is easy to say that they lack imagination but to them it was a leap that they could take imagining that their lives would be better than the previous one. People have reasons even if it hurts others.

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  • Wednesday

    Nine employees out of ten in the “real world” have no imagination. And who is shocked and dismayed by this? Google and Facebook are corporations. Corporations have no imagination. Their CEOs and managers have only excessive greed. So boring.

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  • joeflyde

    This was a great article. The chance to join FB pre ipo had to be very inviting. Those guys are making history and changing the world.

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