Tell us about your role at Meta.
Jason Kalich: Production engineering focuses on the scale, reliability, efficiency, and security of the services that we run in production globally. We’re a software engineering team that works across the organization, and it's the largest cross-functional organization at the company. We’re centrally organized but locally embedded, so while I support the entire group of 1,600 people, a lot of the teams are locally embedded with their SWE partners.
Before joining Meta in 2018, you held leadership positions at a number of iconic tech companies — Microsoft, Expedia, GoDaddy. What’s different about this place?
JK: Every company says it has a bottom-up culture. But every company I’ve worked with has had the kind of organizational hierarchy where decisions are made closer to the top. Meta is the only company I’ve worked at that has been exactly the opposite for most things. Managers tend to have an “influence without authority” role, rather than an “influence with authority role.” And that creates more of a meritocracy. We have a combination of ideas that flow top-down and bottom-up. I just love that, because we’re not obsessed with titles.
I think about my first project when I came out of bootcamp. It's a project that's now called Supernova, and it involves the way that we take down content across the world. But it started with just me and another person developing something. Some senior engineers came and said, “Hey, I heard you’re working on this stuff — can I come work on it?” And I said, “Yeah, that’d be great. Go talk to your manager.” And they said, “I don’t need to talk to my manager.”
I realized I’m somewhere very different now.
You can see how the “influence without authority” model of management would be attractive in terms of stoking the creativity of engineers. But what about actually getting the work done? How do you meet deadlines in that kind of environment?
JK: That’s a great question. What I’ve learned is that the currency at Meta is trust and relationships. Trust includes credibility, reliability, authenticity, and an index toward the team. We also have this overarching performance program that allows feedback to flow transparently. Based on that feedback, either good or constructive, reality tends to hit the table, which eliminates some of the politics and hoarding or fiefdoms that you see in other organizations.
Our model encourages helping teammates and helping others achieve a bigger impact. Around here, it’s better to be helpful to many than it is to be right for yourself — because if I help somebody on another team, or if an engineer on another team does something great for our project, it’s going to show up in the way their feedback comes in through the performance review process or just in the normal course of conversations. That tends to float all boats. And there’s an inverse of that: If you’re being political, or not helping, that also will come out.
What are you most excited about in your current role?
JK: The ability to accomplish high-impact things that have a low probability of happening.
You didn’t go to college, which is probably something you don’t typically find among vice presidents at major tech companies.
JK: I definitely have an unconventional background. When I was 10, my father passed away. I was the oldest of five kids. My mother was an accountant — she bought a computer and it broke within three months. I just wanted to help my mom, so I read the manual cover to cover, tried a bunch of stuff, and it worked. I just figured it out. It was the first time I ever did anything with computers. After that, I wanted to help even more, so I started reading computer-accounting books and operating-system books and studying basic programming. I ended up computerizing my mom’s business, and it became a very successful firm. I realized that if I could do that for her, I could probably do it for others. And that grew into doing some large contracts for big-name companies. I went through a bunch of certificate programs and grew my own consulting business. That was my learning path.
I have a somewhat flippant joke that I was too busy learning to go to school.
I was bought out of my consulting business and arrived at Microsoft, where my training continued, surrounded by some of the best engineers and leaders in the world at the time. That learning trend continued at each company I have worked for. My path was very different. I don't recommend it to people, but for me it's been very rewarding, and I’ve never stopped learning.
Does your experience make you more open to hiring people with nonconventional backgrounds?
JK: Absolutely. There are a lot of components to being successful.
What do you think people with different backgrounds or unusual journeys bring to an organization?
JK: I think they have more resilience. If you look at people with nontraditional backgrounds trying to get into traditional spaces, it’s fraught with failure and disappointments and being told no. Those hardships — and the ability to endure them — tend to be foundational. And you need to have that grit in an environment such as ours.
I understand that you’re big into the martial arts.
JK: I practiced Tang Soo Do for decades, which is what Chuck Norris does, and Escrima, Filipino stick fighting. Friday nights were always fight nights. I’ve been doing it a long time, but there’s always someone better. You might get beat up a little bit, but you learn. We call it “getting your humbles.” I think about that in ideation meetings. You’re so proud of your big idea, but then some really great engineer comes in and just knocks you around. We’re surrounded by amazing people. I’m not always right — I always have something to learn from others. Failure is part of life. Martial arts have taught me that you can ignore it or you can lean into it, learn from it, improve from it. It doesn't have to define you. I get my humbles from the great people around me all the time, and I like to believe we’re all a little better for it.
What are the most important qualities for a leader to possess?
JK: I think leaders are afraid to be authentic and transparent because they’re worried about what other people think. But when you’re transparent, when you’re for real, it makes a big difference. When you’re approachable, the tribe you create around you becomes helpful, learned, and successful. For many years, I was an egotistical, control-oriented leader. When I gave up on that — when I decided that it’s not about me anymore — that’s when I became more successful. I think this is the pattern of many leaders when they’re honest with themselves.
Looking forward, what in the tech world are you most excited about? And conversely, what concerns you the most?
JK: I think about the technical and social challenges we face — security leaks, issues around elections, hate speech. There are people who look at these things and say, “How dare you? I don’t want to be part of this.” And there are people who say, “These are really hard technical problems to solve at scale. I’d like to try and solve them.” Just because a problem is present doesn't mean the problem will always be present. I’d love to be able to look back on my career and say, “I meaningfully helped solve problems with an amazing set of people.” Now, that’s on the challenge side of things. When I look at the opportunity side, this is already a miracle business. Socially connecting people all over the world to the tune of over 3.5 billion users? Scaling that to make it happen, using more powerful AI to make it more meaningful for our community — being part of all of this is amazing. A lot of the vision around the metaverse is very, very promising. I’m excited about the things that we can accomplish in 2D and 3D spaces. And not to be too contrived, but that’s more meaningful to me today than my personal professional goals. I just want to be a part of it.