Katherine Losse is the author of The Boy Kings: A Journey Into The Heart Of The Social Network (Free Press, $26). She worked at Facebook between 2005 and 2010, at one point as Mark Zuckerberg's personal ghostwriter. Here, she exclusively reveals one time when their fabled in-office stunts went a little too far.
Silicon Valley is known for its boyish workplaces: since the 1990s dotcom boom, working at a web startup instantly invokes images of ping pong tables, casual clothing, and lots of video games. Facebook is no different, but like everything else the company did, they took the casual atmosphere typically associated with startups to a new level.
In addition to video game rooms and toga parties, the Facebook office in 2008 was arranged something like a roller rink or racetrack, with employees, usually guys, skating perpetually in an oval, breezing past my desk at all hours. They even held races at night and kept score on the whiteboards used for math equations and programming notes.
Some might have taken issue with this X-Games-like aspect of Facebook culture, but it didn't bother me. In fact, one day I asked my engineering director if I could go to the skateshop down the street and buy a practice skateramp for employees to do tricks on at the office. Why not? Being bold and taking risks were company values.
Besides, it would provide entertainment while I did my job of managing site internationalization. He said sure, and so I bought a ramp and placed it on the floor of the office. Soon guys were flying off the ramp in various modes of transport, from ripstik to Aeron chairs. I thought it was hilarious. The most mature member of the engineering managerial staff did not think it was so fun or funny, however. "This is going too far," he said. "I am worried one of you are going to fly out the window," he said to us by way of apology, as the ramp was carted away by several service workers, never to appear again.
As I looked out the floor-length window to the Palo Alto street five floors below, I supposed that he had a point. In this world where engineers were told they could do whatever they wanted and a core company value was to move fast and break things, it was always possible, still, to go a step too far.