I don't know why Phil Rochester, who was engineering royalty in the valley and had been installed by venture capitalists to help with scaling up the tiny Facebook team, selected my resume from what must have been many that appeared in his inbox. I suspect that his choosing me had to do with the fact that Johns Hopkins featured prominently on my resume. He was a Vanderbilt alum, and I had learned in Baltimore that upper-crust southern elitism, conscious or not, runs deep. When I left Johns Hopkins, despite all its academic drama, my matriculation there faded immediately into a simple signifier of the elite. This is what an American private university is, not an education so much as a pedigree, a mark of distinction.
When Rochester called me he was at Costco buying tires, multitasking with his BlackBerry in typical Silicon Valley fashion. He couldn't be bothered to conduct a proper interview. He assumed, efficiently, that as an English major from an elite school I was capable of answering user-support emails. "Come in Tuesday," he said. "You can try it for a few days. If you don't like it, you can leave. It pays twenty dollars an hour. That's pretty good, right?" he asked. "Uh, okay," I said. Neither the job nor the pay being offered was very good, but short of learning how to program, I knew couldn't compete for a real job in Silicon Valley. My only choice, if I was going to try to make my fortune there with all the others, was to find a way to make my lack of technical skill my strength.
Driving my scuffed white 1994 Camry into Palo Alto for the first time in early September 2005, I noticed instantly how perfectly bland and ordered the town was. The sidewalks off the main street were nearly as clean and prim as at Disneyland, or maybe, more aptly, The Truman Show. I had trouble finding the Facebook office first ("It's up the stairs, at Emerson and University," Rochester had told me) and walked up the wrong set of stairs into a halfway house that operated in an old motel left over from the city's preboom days. That encounter with seediness would be my last in Palo Alto (the halfway house closed soon after and is now most likely a startup office).
"I don't even know what a quail looks like. . . . Facebook is hiring" was scrawled in chalk on a sandwich board at the foot of the stairs of the building next door, as if this was someone's boardwalk pizza parlor hiring for summer employees. I didn't know why they were talking about quails (I never did quite understand the reverence for quails or the fact that they showed up everywhere, on custom Facebook T-shirts and office whiteboards, except that this was a private club and like any club it needed in-jokes), but the sign's irreverence was a relief: I might fit in here, I thought, in a way that I never had done in the humorless atmosphere of graduate school, which regarded all jokes as a suspect diversion from criticism.
As I entered through the office's glass doors I looked around for Mark Zuckerberg, whose name I knew only from the bottom of Facebook's pages, all of which read "A Mark Zuckerberg production." I imagined someone ghostly, dark haired, not unlike the half-blurry figure with mussed hair in the first Facebook logo (which turned out, disappointingly, to be a slightly modified piece of Microsoft clip art). He had to be dark to make something like this, I assumed. Facebook had too much gravitas already as a useful but slightly unnerving social experiment not to be created by someone with a streak of darkness.
It turned out that Mark preferred to work at night, I was told, when businesspeople used to keeping regular daytime hours. I was surprised and not a little disappointed to find out when Mark finally came into the office later that day, preoccupied as always with taking calls and holding meetings behind the glass door of the video game room, that he was sandy blond, and not particularly tall. I imagined someone reedier, wilder looking, more dark genius in the basement than light-haired goofball in shorts and a Harvard hoodie, shuffling around in athletic shorts and Adidas sandals. We didn't actually meet on my first day: He reserved his hearty welcomes for the engineers, prodigal sons prized for their ability to convert life into lines of code. Customer support was barely on Mark's radar.
When I was finally introduced to Mark the following week, he smiled, seeming to like me well enough, although he soon moved brusquely to something else. He always seemed to be on a different plane when talking to nontechnical employees, distant and detached, reserving his attention for those who were directly important to him: VCs or his fellow founders, and then, gradually, the engineers that he took a liking to. It would take years for one of those people to be me. By then, people assumed that we were friends and had known each other forever. And I guess whether or not we were in fact lifelong friends was irrelevant, because, in the world we were making, all it took to establish a friendship was a few lines of code and a click of the friend button. I received a friend request from Mark a few days after our first meeting, and I clicked accept, though nothing particularly friendly had thus far transpired between us. But I was started to see that, here, it didn't matter: The world of relationships, as far as Facebook is concerned, is simple.
From The Boy Kings: A Journey into the Heart of the Social Network by Katherine Losse. Copyright 2012 by Katherine Losse. Excerpted by permission of Free Press.