Are aspiring tech workers swearing off Facebook? It’s complicated.

‘Not everyone has the privilege to turn down a good job’

A collection of leaked documents called the “Facebook Papers” have revealed a side of the company too dark for many tech workers to stomach. Graduating college students say recruiting them may now be a harder sell.

“I don’t think I would ever, ever want to work for Facebook, no matter the benefits, pay, or anything,” said Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student Jin Choi. “That kind of reputation with employees is going to impact a lot of people’s decisions as to whether they would want to apply there.”

The trove of internal documents from Facebook, now called Meta, included internal research studies, discussion threads, and memos demonstrating how the company has often forsaken public good to protect profits and grow its user base. The documents showed Meta closely examined many real-world harms exacerbated by its platforms, such as the proliferation of misinformation about the 2020 election, human traffickers’ use of Facebook to recruit victims, and how poor content moderation fueled ethnic violence in Ethiopia and Myanmar. In each case, the company did little to change course.

Choi may be an outlier in swearing off ever working for Meta, but The Examiner spoke with a group of graduating students who all said the Facebook Papers made them less willing to apply to work there. However, they also said negative news reports at several other companies had made them think twice about applying elsewhere, too. In their view, they’re entering an industry where they see many major companies taking turns in the negative media hot seat, and question just how much worse Facebook is than the rest of Big Tech.

There are many factors that encourage them to look past company reputation, including salary, location, size of team, the tech they’re working with, and, in some cases, whether a job offer comes with visa sponsorship. Most students are prepared to compromise. And, even if they don’t, they don’t judge their peers who do.

“People aren’t going to let (a company’s reputation) be a deal breaker,” said UC Berkeley student Arjun Sripathy.

Said another Cal student, Mark Selden: “Not everyone has the privilege to turn down a good job because they disagree with the company culture.”

That ethical flexibility has partly to do with the fact that students didn’t appear to be surprised by the contents of the Facebook Papers. Rather, this story had resonance because it came from one of the company’s own employees — not a hacker, or a muckraking journalist. The fact that the papers themselves include quotes from dozens of other concerned employees at Meta doesn’t help the company’s case.

For the same reasons, stories describing toxic workplace culture were the most off-putting among students when it came to their own job search. Pay disparities between Black women and their counterparts at Pinterest, sexual harassment of female engineers at Uber, and the dismissal of Black women’s research at Google were all were raised in interviews as top concerns. Damning reports about individual products created by a company were less concerning, so long as the student wasn’t applying to the very team building them.

“The culture, especially surrounding any issues of diversity and inclusion, would definitely make me more reserved about a company,” said recent Berkeley grad Phoebe Yin. “But working for companies that in one area show they will do evil things — that’s a big turn off, but at the same time I want to consider a company holistically.”

Zuhayeer Musa, co-founder of the startup levels.fyi, said he sees this pattern of concerns in his own data. The company provides online tools for job seekers to compare roles at major tech companies by compensation package and level of expertise.

After major workplace culture stories, and especially those that refer to unfair employee compensation, searches for that company spike on levels.fyi, Musa said. And he’s fairly certain graduating students make up a large portion of their users because they can see how many people are accessing the website from IP addresses at university campuses.

“Traffic goes up when news piques people’s interest and curiosity — they check out compensation figures for unfairness in a company, to check for disparities,” said Musa.

There’s another reason why these aspiring tech workers are willing to look past a few scandals, too — and it goes far beyond tech work. Young people, across the country, don’t aspire to be a “company man.” Instead, they see themselves pivoting every couple of years, developing a blend of unique skills that work well under varying job titles.

“I see my friends shifting between fields so quickly, left and right, that making a plan five to 10 years from now almost feels like it would be blind to all the changes and innovations happening around me,” said Yin. According to IBM’s Institute for Business Value, one-third of the 20% of people who switched jobs last year identified as Gen Z.

This lowers the stakes a bit. Students look beyond a company’s larger reputation and instead focus on the impact of their specific role. “I’m looking for an opportunity to study change,” said Berkeley student Fischer Heimburger. “I don’t necessarily see my role as the end-all of everything.”

“I won’t stay at one place forever,” said Yin. “That’s a relief.”

virwin@sfexaminer.com

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