Connectivity guru Chris Marra on building the infrastructure behind the metaverse

"I think of myself more as a coordinator than as a decider. As long as we all have the same map of the world, I’m going to trust my team to make the right decisions inside of it."
August 9, 2022

Chris Marra
Job Title: Director of Product Management
Years at Meta: 10
Education: Olin College of Engineering, BS Engineering: Robotics
Hometown: Windsor, Connecticut

Tell us about your role at Meta.

Chris Marra: I lead the product management team for Meta Connectivity, overseeing our work collaborating with the telecom ecosystem to get networks ready for the metaverse and provide people with more connectivity and opportunities to use it.

These behind-the-scenes roles are interesting — not so glamorous on the surface but absolutely essential. 

CM: We want to ensure that connectivity isn’t a barrier to having the best experiences on our products and services today and in the future, and that requires a lot of behind-the-scenes work, in collaboration with our telecom ecosystem partners, that hopefully no one notices — because it just works. You want everything to be continually getting better. At the core, it’s building infrastructure and investing in the future, and making sure that people don’t experience limits with the way that they’re trying to consume the internet — whether that’s connecting with family and friends, working, going to school, gaming, and so on.

What led you to this role?

CM: I've been at Meta for 10 years. I joined in 2012, just after the company’s IPO. Early on, I worked on Instagram and on a number of our Ads products, and spent a long period on the News Feed team optimizing our products for low-end Android phones in emerging markets. That work exposed me to the broader ecosystem behind our products and services, and finding ways to ensure that people have great experiences on our apps regardless of where they live, which devices they use, or what type of network they have access to. Flash forward a couple of years — a friend and colleague of mine told me about an opportunity to become the first product manager in our Boston office, working in the Connectivity space. I immediately jumped on the opportunity.

What do you love most about your job?

CM: One of the things that appeals to me — and one of the reasons that I’ve stayed at Meta for so long — has been the opportunity to work on really scaled problems. There are very few companies in the world that get to think about solving problems for billions of people. I just get really inspired thinking about the ability to make a difference at that scale — as well as the responsibilities. 

Not many people have been at Meta as long as you have. It’s obvious what has changed. But what has remained the same? 

CM: The focus on connecting people. Everything the company invests in comes back to the idea that we’re fundamentally here to help solve problems for people and to help them connect with the people and things that are meaningful to them. It might be trying to reach out to your family on WhatsApp, or connecting with a group of, say, Disney enthusiasts on Facebook, or experiencing something in a virtual world on your Meta Quest 2. But it all comes back to solving real problems for people. I think that’s one of the cool things that’s remained very consistent in the company’s culture and approach to development over time. 

What’s the most interesting problem you’re working on right now?

CM:  The metaverse. It’s a popular term these days, but it really comes back to how we scale our infrastructure to be able to offer more and richer real-time experiences. Right now, we’re having a video call. We can see each other because we both have good bandwidth, and we’re not cutting each other off because our call has low enough latency. We want the same thing to be true when we’re in an augmented reality experience. That’s a really difficult technical problem. Increasingly, we’re thinking about how to build and scale our company’s network to serve these use cases — and partnering with the telecom industry in order to provide the best experiences to people.

What form are those partnerships taking?

CM: All these problems require the whole industry, from content providers to infrastructure vendors to service providers, to figure out solutions that will help us build the right infrastructure in the right places to give people amazing metaverse experiences. We collaborate with other companies through industry bodies like the Telecom Infra Project and the Wi-Fi Alliance to help figure out global solutions. One of the great things about the internet over time is that it’s been built on open principles and standards with many people contributing toward it. Maintaining that neutrality as we go forward and evolve networks around the world will help us arrive at the best solution for the people who depend on it to communicate every day.

Like most managers, your team is scattered across various physical locations. How do you keep people motivated and focused? 

CM: The Meta Connectivity team has always been globally distributed. So what I’ve found key is to establish a really clear direction and really clear shared frameworks that everyone can jointly use and rely on. How are we approaching this? What are the different components? How do they fit together? What’s the definition of x versus y? This clarity empowers individual teams to make decisions without coming back to leadership as often — because they’re the ones with the most context on the problems they’re working on, and I want to empower them to move quickly. I try to figure out when to have centralized moments where we create the clarity that gives people the autonomy and personal trust to execute efficiently. In terms of leadership, it means being more of a coordinator than a decider. As long as we all have the same map of the world, I’m going to trust my team to make the right decisions inside of it.

That’s a fairly enlightened approach to leadership. Did it take you a long time to get there? 

CM: When I started at Meta 10 years ago, I was a fresh college grad and was shocked at how quickly trust was given. I think I had been here four weeks and my boss said, “Hey, go put together a proposal for what you want to build here — we’re meeting with Mark [Zuckerberg] on Tuesday, and I think you should talk about it there.” And I was like, “You want me to do that?” And he said, “You’ve been spending more time on this than I have. You already have my inputs and understand the space and trade-offs better than anyone else here.” So from very early on in my career, I was told that whoever spends the most time on something is probably the one most qualified to make the decision — leadership is there to provide better maps and context.

How do you handle mistakes? 

CM: Having a faultless culture is really important. There are plenty of times when systems go down, but we never pin blame on anyone because often these systems are more complex than any one person can understand. The goal of these moments is to use them as a learning exercise, to pull together a group of people and identify real, tangible improvements that we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise — and to find ways to improve our systems and ensure that it won’t happen again. 

What makes you optimistic about the future of the industry?

CM: As an industry, we’re getting significantly better at thinking one or two orders out from an initial idea — not just saying “This would make a great product,” but saying “This would make a great product — and here’s how we’ll make sure that people have a safe experience using it.” Thinking more about safety, privacy, equity, integrity, and economic opportunities with the technologies that we build is a key part of the future in our industry. 

What advice would you give to your younger self about getting started in technology?

CM: Be willing to run into fires, to put in the difficult work when problems arise. There used to be a poster on the company walls that said, “Nothing at Facebook is somebody else’s problem.” It was my favorite, and I still wish I’d grabbed one a few years ago to keep as a reminder while working from home.

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