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A Facebook engineer who quit after attacking its 'intolerant' culture wrote a 1,000-word memo revealing some of the biggest challenges facing the business (FB)

facebook ceo mark zuckerberg

  • Brian Amerige, a Facebook engineer who sparked a firestorm by criticising the company's "intolerant" liberal culture, is leaving.
  • He wrote a 1,000-word memo for his colleagues to say goodbye, which has been obtained by Business Insider.
  • In the memo, Amerige candidly lays out the challenges facing Facebook — including a slowdown in sharing and a weak product culture.
  • He also praises the company's scrappiness, and the way it assigns team roles.

A Facebook engineer who sparked an internal firestorm by attacking what he described as the company's "intolerant" liberal culture is leaving — and he penned a 1,000-word memo laying out the company's struggles on his way out the door.

Brian Amerige, an engineering manager of product usability at the social networking giant, provoked passionate debates in Facebook in August 2018, when he wrote a memo decrying what he viewed as the company's "political monoculture" that is intolerant of conservative and dissenting views.

His document came as Silicon Valley grappled with allegations of bias and liberal slant, and after engineer James Damore made headlines of his own with a memo criticizing diversity initiatives at Google. Amerige's actions led to the formation of an internal employee group, FB'ers for Political Diversity, that now has more than 750 members. 

brian amerigeAmerige, who describes himself as an objectivist, recently announced internally that he was leaving Facebook, as Business Insider first reported, and he wrote an extensive new memo to his colleagues explaining why — as well as problems Facebook is facing, from team structure to the decline in sharing on Facebook.

The document provides a rare window into how Facebook employees view its key challenges internally.

"My departure isn't because I think these issues are intractable. These problems can be solved — just not by me, nor anymore, at least," Amerige wrote. "I care too deeply about our role in supporting free expression and intellectual diversity to even whole-heartedly attempt the product stuff anymore, and that's how I know it's time to go."

Facebook is battling a slowdown in sharing

While Amerige has made headlines over his criticism of Facebook's politics and culture, many of the issues he raises in the memo aren't political in nature. Instead, it candidly addresses the challenges Facebook is confronting, and what he believes needs to be done to tackle them — including cultivating a stronger culture around building products.

"Our product is also at a crossroads (and has been for years) as sharing in the Facebook app continues to dwindle. The pivot to Stories will hopefully help, but I'm disappointed by how reactive our future appears to be. Ultimately, I've spent the bulk of my time at Facebook trying to build a stronger product culture," he wrote.

The scale and details of the decline in Facebook sharing that Amerige references are not entirely clear. But there have been various indications of the trend in recent years, including a 2016 report in The Information which claimed that personal updates among users were down 21%.

Facebook's problems with privacy and fake news also led to the company's first-ever decline in monthly active users, albeit a modest decline limited to Europe, in the second quarter of 2018.  And CEO Mark Zuckerberg has launched an effort to promote "time well spent" on the social network, rather than incentivizing the passive sharing of news articles. 

Still, the insider comments that sharing "continues to dwindle" is likely to be a big topic that investors and analysts home in on when Facebook holds its quarterly earnings conference call on October 30.

brian amerige facebookAnd Amerige's pessimistic perspective on Facebook's product direction are also likely to provoke debate. Amerige joined Facebook in 2012, and was the technology lead on Paper, a newsreading app built by Facebook in 2014. He subsequently started the Core App UI (User Interface) team at Facebook, and also worked on Facebook Groups.

"From tech leading Paper, to starting and leading the team that built our UI foundation (FIG, now FDS), I wanted Facebook to be a place where people with great product sense, focus, intuition and a little obsessiveness about quality were attracted, belonged, and were rewarded. I think we made progress, but the headwinds have been and continue to be strong, and it shows in our future-looking product strategy and the relative rarity of strong product

Facebook's good parts: Scrappiness and effective teams

Later, Amerige talks about the parts of Facebook he most highly values — the company's scrappiness, and how it assigns team roles.

On scrappiness, the engineer wrote:

"I've always understood 'move fast' to really mean 'be scrappy,' and what a pleasure it's been to watch how +28,000 employees haven't substantially changed that. I don't think "move fast" applies to product direction, design standards, or engineering quality. It's about process. As the company continues to grow, you will increasingly find that most people in any given room are new and don't necessarily know that it's ok to say 'sorry, I don't understand any of what you just said' or that they're supposed to ask 'Do we really need to wait for the monthly review?' These kinds of questions are our secret weapon against becoming a bureaucracy where innovative people don't want to work. So keep asking 'why?' about everything related to how we work."

And here's what he wrote about "roles and responsibility":

"The way we think about team roles is better than anywhere else I've seen. We let ICs ["Individual Contributors" — engineers not in management roles] truly lead, we incentivize transitions to and from management for the right reasons, and we let teams figure out who does what with deference to strengths instead of functional titles. We could still do better (particularly around how senior ICs integrate with director+ level decisions), but this way of thinking is the industry leading and has made Facebook a very special place for me, as something of a hybrid between engineering, product and design."

'We've refused to defend ourselves in the press'

Other parts of Amerige's memo are more explicitly critical of Facebook's politics, arguing that it is "difficult to have meaningful conversations" about issues like freedom of speech and government regulation at Facebook, and that he is "burnt out on Facebook, our strategy and our culture."

"Strategically, we've taken a stance on how to balance offensive and hateful speech with free expression. We've accepted the inevitability of government regulation. And we've refused to defend ourselves in the press," he wrote. "Our policy strategy is pragmatism — not clear, implementable long-term principles — and our PR strategy is appeasement — not morally earned pride and self defense."

The conservative engineer suggested that some change might be coming — teasing that "I'm pleased to say that senior company leadership does take this seriously (as you will hopefully soon see)" — but decided that "I disagree too strongly with we're we're heading on these issues to watch what happens next."

Read Brian Amerige's full memo here »

Do you work at Facebook? Contact this reporter via Signal or WhatsApp at +1 (650) 636-6268 using a non-work phone, email at rprice@businessinsider.com, WeChat at robaeprice, or Twitter DM at @robaeprice. (PR pitches by email only, please.) You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.

SEE ALSO: There’s a history of clashes hidden behind the Instagram and Facebook success story that led to Monday’s bombshell breakup

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