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Saturday, Nov 05, 2016 - 23:12 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

The Final Stretch

The choice is obvious.

And the TRUMP kick, right on schedule. The GOD-EMPEROR is now level or ahead in the polls, as the shadow of an imminent FBI indictment hangs over Crooked Hillary. It seems that there's no wresting the narrative back now, with the Democrats' pathetic attempt at typing TRUMP to Russia instantly pooh-poohed by the same agency. With disaffected Republicans coming home in droves, ex-Berniebros seeing the light, and African-Americans staying home (and who can blame them?), it's set up for the TRUMP SWEEP.

Holding Ohio? Pah. GOD-EMPERORs don't play defense, people. TRUMP is making inroads into Pennsylvania, into Michigan, into Maine, and winning New Hampshire bigly; Hillary going for Texas? It's more likely that TRUMP takes New York, actually. How ironic that the libs are pinning their hopes on a so-called "firewall" (it isn't), when only one candidate is going to build the real thing (and, he's got Tesla and other prominent scientists backing him on this)

It won't be long now...

Chaos Monkeys (A Short Review, Part II)

"Nobody can work harder than me. Nobody is willing to put in the hours that I will put in. I am insane."

- Jared Dillian, in Street Freak
(relevance deferred)

Might as well tie this one up.

When we left off a couple of weeks back, Martínez had just split with his AdGrok buddies, and left for Facebook; this was about mid-2011, so it was no longer the salad days when spray-painting graffiti on the walls could cop one north of US$200 million, but it was still a lucrative enough gig. As a product manager, he copped a deal for an upfront sign-on bonus in shares valued at US$190000, a US$175000 base annual salary, about US$17500 in annual bonuses... and a total of 70000 additional shares, vesting over four years. At the IPO valuation of US$38 a share, it was almost a round million in gross annual income, or just over half a million take-home after taxes. Still San Fran middle-class.

Note: Facebook shares just closed at approximately US$120, or about 300% growth in four years.

And what did a product manager do? Well, Martínez notes that the same role exists under various titles - "program manager" at Microsoft, or "product navigator" at Palantir (under visionary TRUMP supporter Peter Thiel) - but the basics are the same: obtain or propose a project, somehow persuade the software engineers nominally under oneself to work on it, and push it to the higher-ups. Martínez himself started out on a semantic categorization project codenamed Kitten (not to be confused with the internal Facebook practice of using kitten photos to stand in for naughty pictures in developing their filters, because... TRUMP grabby grabby)

As to what Martínez would champion in his time there: it would be arguably a riff off what he had been working on, an ad exchange. It appears that Facebook's ad system and monetization then was pretty crappy (but still substantial, because "a billion times any number is still a big f**king number"). Long story short, it turned out that the head honchos at Facebook didn't like that the exchange (named FBX) would allow outsiders full control over optimization and targeting of their ads, instead of retaining Facebook as a go-between. Indeed, it seems to be dead in the water as of now.

Which leads into the most illuminating observations from the book. There are many fairly in-depth descriptions and explanations on the ads targeting field (a small and insular world, Martínez notes), for the more technically-inclined, but it's perhaps the dissection of Facebook culture - and its contradictions - that was the most eye-opening.

On one hand, there's the "cool face" that the company wears. Hoodies and jeans, an ethos of selfless collaboration with credit-seeking discouraged, mottos such as "move fast and break things" and "good is better than perfect", and a general underlying spirit of "subversive hackery": get shit done reasonably well and quickly, and nobody much cared about official credentials or rank (or, as it so seems, code reviews). Indeed, Facebook made it a point to hire from startups ostensibly to re-seed the firm with new "rebel blood", lest it dwindle into conformant meekness (Zuck left some Sun Microsystems logos around after taking over their campus, as a reminder to avoid their dire fate)

Look upon my backside, ye likey, and despair!
(Source: businessinsider.sg)

On the other hand, Martínez also quickly realised how similar Facebook and Goldman Sachs - which, remember, was his first job out of grad school - were. First off, FBX was only too reminiscent of high-frequency trading, but with media instead of equities and derivatives. Secondly, as with Wall Street, Facebook measured the value of everything by a single unit - though it was users, rather than cash (then again, they were getting onto that too, with internal revenue dashboards). And, last but not least, he recognized that Facebook was unavoidably stagnating, despite all the precautions taken. Growth had to stall due to the realities of the global population, and innovation was making way for cashing in.

This is not to say that all of Facebook had become money-oriented, though. Martínez notes that many employees were - or had been moulded into - true believers in Zuck/Facebook's ultimate mission: to dominate the world (and not as a mere social network, as the head of product explained during the onboarding session, but as a personal newspaper; if this sounds vaguely Big Brother-ish, it is; The Hand of Zuck itself had to step in just a couple of weeks back, to undo Facebook's [silent] censorship of conservative voices. That said, Martínez feels that when it comes to collecting personal info, even Facebook pales when compared to a plethora of marketing firms that most people have never even heard of)

They do take their calling seriously, all said; when Google tried to intrude on their turf with (the unloved) Google Plus, it was all but greeted with a declaration of war: Google delenda est. Like countries (which Duterte for one is doubling down on), Martínez describes Facebook as having no perpetual friends or enemies, just interests... and not even real partnerships either, and especially not with the handful of true alpha tech giants (of which Bezos' Amazon was singled out for mention; indeed, Amazon are getting a toehold on Southeast Asia, though Singapore; good for consumers, but more doom for the already-tottering bricks-and-mortar retail sector?)

[N.B. An aside: after trying to procure first a replacement pair of white canvas slip-ons, and then some sports pants with pockets, I'd not mourn the loss. Trips to Vivocity recently and Decathlon previously had turned up neither respectively, while a few clicks online had them on my doorstep in a few days. Did at least manage to farm up some Magikarps at Vivo then, so it wasn't a completely wasted trip.]

And as to how it ended: seeing the writing on the (Facebook) wall, Martínez waited his second year out for his annual stock allocation to vest, and bailed to join his old buddies at Twitter. Apparently, he managed to come out financially behind, having implied that he sold off his Facebook stock at a low, while not actually retaining any ownership of AdGrok by the time that was acquired (and they may yet be shipping out again soon, with Twitter now a prime target). And, as a number of reviewers on Amazon pointed out, he also managed to leave behind two single mums and three kids, almost as an afterthought (he did claim to be spending time with all of his children, though, so there's that)

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