Google Is From Mars and Facebook Is From Venus

One of the notable things about the question-and-answer site Quora is the quality of answers that are posted to interesting questions. One recent example is the in-depth response posted to the question: “Which is better to work for, Google or Facebook?” The answer comes from David Braginsky, who worked as a developer at Google (s goog) for four years, then moved to Facebook, where he’s worked for three years. His take? The search company is like graduate school, filled with big brains working on complicated problems, while the social network doesn’t think as much about the deep implications of things; it just does them.

Braginsky says when it comes to culture, Google is more technically focused, in that staffers there “value working on hard problems, and doing them right… things are often done because they are technically hard or impressive [and] on most projects, the engineers make the calls.” He adds that when projects are undertaken at the search company, “the code is usually solid, and the systems are designed for scale from the very beginning. There are many experts around and review processes set up for systems designs.”

At Facebook, however, the attitude is “something needs to be done, and people do it. Most of the time they don’t read the literature on the subject, or consult experts about the ‘right way’ to do it, they just sit down, write the code, and make things work.” This can cause problems at times when things are rushed into production, he says: “Sometimes the way they do it is naive, and a lot of time it may cause bugs or break as it goes into production. And when that happens, they fix their problems… and (in most cases) move on to the next thing.” Although he’s talking about programming, this seat-of-the-pants approach could help explain some of Facebook’s backtracking on privacy features and other elements of the service.

While engineers and technical specs rule the day at Google, Braginsky says, “Facebook values products and user experience, and designers tend to have a much larger impact. Zuck [CEO Mark Zuckerberg] spends a lot of time looking at product mocks, and is involved pretty deeply with the site’s look and feel.” Another interesting aspect of the developer’s take on the two companies is the way he describes how Google’s size has affected its culture and processes:

Google is really big. There are multiple teams doing the same thing and don’t know about each other. There are teams that strongly believe that other teams should not exist. There are giant sections of Google that have been described as “non-Google” because of culture drift and acquisitions.

It’s odd to think that parts of the web giant might be seen by others at the company as “non-Google,” but not surprising, given the rate at which the company has grown and the number of acquisitions it has made (something it has stepped up even further in the past year). Meanwhile, Braginsky says that at Facebook “there is sometimes duplication of work, but it is almost always intentional.” And from a developer’s point of view, he says that working at a giant technology company like Google has benefits because it does world-class research in computer science, which can pay off “if you are good enough to convince the Google management structure to not place you into one of the many critical but not very interesting teams.”

There are some other interesting observations in Braginsky’s answer, including the fact that Google employs “a noticeable number of people that should have never been hired, and the company seems reluctant (or unable) to remedy that” (although he says that’s based more on reports from friends at Google than personal experience). Facebook, he says, “is much more willing to fire people,” so the overall average quality of engineers is higher. While there are people at Google who’ve made the computer industry into what it is today, Braginsky says, “it is very unlikely that you will work with, or interact with, those people.”

While the engineer’s answer is just one person’s perspective on working at Google and Facebook, it is interesting to see the contrasts and similarities — and possibly a glimpse of the kinds of size-related problems that Facebook might wind up dealing with if it continues to grow at the pace it has been. If you have any experience working at either place, feel free to share your impressions in the comments.

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Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user bfishadow