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We may never precisely know why Boston lost out to New York’s Long Island City and Virginia’s Crystal City in the Amazon HQ2 sweepstakes. Lack of sufficient tech workers was supposedly one reason. But even without Amazon’s mega-office, Boston seems to be doing quite well in attracting tech companies.
Amazon (AMZN) previously said it’s adding at least 2,000 workers in Boston, and could add twice that number based on real estate options in the city’s hot Seaport district. Google (GOOGL) is building an 18-story, almost 400,000-square-foot building in Cambridge near MIT. In the same neighborhood, Boeing (BA) recently leased 100,000 square feet to base its autonomous flight unit, and Microsoft (MSFT) just redesigned its digs with nearly the same total square footage.
This week, it was Facebook’s (FB) turn to highlight its Boston presence, opening a state of the art, 130,000-square-foot workspace on three floors in the same MIT neighborhood where most of the other tech companies reside. Facebook, of course, started life as TheFacebook web site based in Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room in 2004 at nearby Harvard, but famously left for California early on.
Five years ago, a handful of engineers led by Ryan Mack re-formed a Boston office, though it was a cramped space by a Dunkin Donuts in South Station. Facebook has since grown in Boston to 200 employees, who work on projects including the company’s Wi-Fi finder and safety check mobile app features. In the new office opened to the media for a tour on Wednesday, there’s room for 400 additional workers.
The company’s recent struggles and controversies seem far away at headquarters in Menlo Park. COO Sheryl Sandberg appeared at the tour only via video screen and didn’t hang around—virtually—to answer any questions. Not that many questions were being raised. “More jobs is music to everyone’s ears,” explained Damon Cox, an assistant secretary in the administration of Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who attended the event on the governor’s behalf. The kinds of hardcore programming projects related to infrastructure and connectivity done in the Boston office are also a long way from the content moderating and data sharing efforts that are at the center of the storm.
Still, even this distant outpost has many of the amenities that make non-tech workers drool, including La Spaziale espresso machines on every floor, an IT help desk on site staffed by actual humans, and free breakfast, lunch, and dinner served in the company cafeteria. The kitchen there has its own pizza oven and a smoker for smoking meats—a favorite of former trendy restauranteur and now the office’s corporate chef, Barry Maiden. It’s obviously a fun place to work, helping Facebook attract top engineering talent in the competitive Boston market.
The decor was also super techie, with programer jokes like a conference room called “Matt Daemon Never Dies” and a sculpture in the shape of Facebook’s trademark letter “F” made from old computer parts. In one oddly Mad Men design touch, a library-themed conference room had a door disguised as a book shelf. Behind the secret door was a hidden room dubbed “Smuggler’s Cove,” outfitted with comfy chairs, a hammock, and copious amounts of expensive alcohol on hand. (And it’s not like Facebook is immune from the problems of sexual harassment.)
In an homage to the local slang, some employees were wearing tee shirts with a twist on a popular Facebook motto: “Move wicked fast.” It’s an apt approach for programming, but maybe needs an overhaul with the company’s higher-ups now that they’ve moved so far beyond their dorm room origins.