You’re a bit of a legend around here: As an undergrad at Stanford, you wrote your thesis about Facebook. After graduating in 2005, talked your way into a job here and are now one of the longest-serving employees, aside from Mark Zuckerberg. Back then, social media was a brand new phenomenon. Today, the company is setting off into the metaverse, which is similarly uncharted territory. Do you see any similarities between then and now?
Naomi Gleit: Definitely. When I started here, I worked on thefacebook.com — a website. There were fewer than a million people using Facebook and they were all college students. In fact, one of my first projects was actually to reach out to high school students and invite them to use Facebook (it really bummed out all of the college students to have their younger brothers and sisters on the site!) Now, I’m excited about AR, VR, and applying a lot of the learnings and the work that we’ve done in the world of desktop and the mobile ecosystem. How do we adapt that to the next platform? Back then, we were taking a product for college students and figuring out how to make it something that more people could use. When different people start using your products, it isn't as intuitive to them; for example, how could we explain to our grandparents how to use Facebook? So I built an onboarding flow that explained how to create a profile, upload a profile picture, connect with friends, and set up your News Feed. I think similarly we're at the early adoption curve of a new technology. All different kinds of people are using Quest 2 and Ray-Ban Stories for the first time, myself included. I think we need to think through how to make this intuitive and easy for people to use.
Tell us about your current role at Meta.
N.G.: I am head of product, responsible for managing the project-management function. I also lead several teams that build products and tools across our entire family of apps and the new platforms. We build infrastructure for the entire company so we don’t need to reinvent the wheel each time. My teams focus on building the products and tools to empower people to do good and keep people safe on our technologies. We want to build the best possible experience for people across our products and technologies by removing the barriers to people using our products.
What excites you most about your role?
N.G.: Seeing our products being used to empower people to have a positive impact in the world.
I helped launch our social-impact work, which has raised $6 billion for causes all over the world. The tools we build help people do more good, such as our donation and community help tools. Our teams also work to remove barriers that are preventing people from joining and using our products. That could be a language barrier — we have translated our products into over 100 languages. It could be the barrier of having access to a smartphone — a lot of people around the world use older phones with poor connectivity, so we have built experiences that are optimized for those devices. Then there are the safety and security systems — how we keep your account protected and make sure that our content standards are enforced on all of our products.
It is all of those things. Every day I’m just so inspired.
Speaking of inspiration, you’ve become somewhat notorious for your “Naomi-isms.” What’s the story behind that?
N.G.: For years, I have been giving advice to different people across different projects and people at work started calling them “Naomi-isms.” They consist of different frameworks, processes and advice on how to be a great project manager — and more generally get things done at work. I put them on paper to share internally and finally decided that this was advice that I’d like to share to a broader audience. You can read them at naomi.com. I hope that people find them useful.
Do you have a favorite Naomi-ism?
N.G.: “Extreme Clarity.” Extreme Clarity is when everyone is on the same page. It does not mean that everyone agrees about what to do — it means that everyone shares the same understanding of the facts. Once you have that shared understanding, you can focus all our energy on solving the actual problem, which is hard enough on its own.
As you look back over your career, what is an important risk that you took?
N.G.: Coming to Facebook was a risk. It was 2005. It wasn't clear that this was anything more than just a college website. Social media was really nascent at that time. But Sheryl Sandberg has this saying: “If you're getting on a rocket ship, don't ask what seat.” My hunch was that this was going to be very important. But the decision to pursue a job here was extremely counterintuitive — especially to my mom.
Is she OK with it now?
N.G.: I think she’s still disappointed that I’m not a doctor.
Between the various teams you lead, you’re responsible for thousands of people. How do you manage and keep people motivated at such a scale?
N.G.: The most basic answer is people and process. I have the most amazing leaders and we create a culture and an environment and a process on our teams that hopefully helps people thrive.
I think of leaders like Guy Rosen, our head of integrity. Of all the teams that I work with, that is by far one of the most difficult to work on. It's an adversarial space and you get a lot of criticism, which can make the work challenging. As a leader, Guy is someone that people look up to and believe in because everyone knows that he is operating from a place of wanting to do the right thing. So he has people that have worked with him for years.
How do you create a deep bench of leaders that you trust? What do you look for when you're hiring someone?
N.G.: Three things. One is you want someone who is mission-first. We have this new value called “Meta, Metamates, Me,” that speaks to being able to put your teammates first and put what is best for the company above what's best for you and your career. Two is that they're a simplifier. One thing I talk a lot about is that notion of extreme clarity I was just describing. I think a lot of the conflict and disagreement that I see actually results from misunderstandings. So if we have extreme clarity, we can focus on our actual real disagreements, rather than disagreements that spawn from misunderstandings. Finally, I look for people who can hire great people. I always say, “You want to put yourself out of a job.” Trust me: there's another job to take on.
So those are qualities you look for. Now, let's flip the coin: What are some red flags that make you think a particular individual is not going to work out?
N.G.: I think everyone needs a growth mindset attitude. My mentor who hired me at Facebook actually, Matt Cohler, used to say that it's really important to be a learn-it-all, not a know-it-all. So that's how I approach every day — as a learn-it-all. There is a lot that I know, and there is a lot that I don't know. That attitude is what differentiates the people that are successful here.
How has the pandemic changed the way we work?
N.G.: It's a really good question. I've been here for so long that I was able to draft off of the existing relationships when it comes to working remotely. But I can imagine that it’s been really difficult for people just joining the company and not having met any of their co-workers in person. But that being said, one of our new values as a company is “Live in the Future.” This is the way that work is trending and we want to give people the flexibility to work remotely. So what do we need? I think we need the technology that we're building. So much of the past two years on Zoom in 2D was really exhausting. I've started doing more meetings in Horizon Workrooms. And even though it's an avatar, I feel like I'm in the same space as my coworkers, that we’re sitting together around a table.
What have you learned about crisis management during your time here?
Any big, important company is going to face crises. One thing that Guy Rosen and I say is that criticism is the gift we get for being relevant. I’d much rather work on something that is having a big impact, than not. So criticism makes us better. We welcome it. I also would say that things are never as good as they say or as bad as they are portrayed. In terms of managing my own emotions, I try not to over-rotate in one direction. Remember there were times when we were a unicorn and we were the best new startup. And there will be times when it's the opposite.
What advice would you give to your younger self — or to any young person who's getting started in tech right now?
N.G.: It's OK to break the mold. It's OK to live differently or approach things differently. It’s OK if you don't have the “normal” background or you don't look like everybody else in the field, or you have a slightly different experience. I studied science, technology, and society — that is, the anthropology of science. It’s not a technical field and it’s not a traditional background for someone going into product management, but I think that non-technical people can absolutely work as product managers. Being a PM was always my dream job. Now I actually lead the entire PM function at Meta — despite my totally non-traditional background and history.