A little more than two years ago, Facebook management decided to do in New York City what it had done in Seattle: build a huge office and scoop up talent outside of Silicon Valley.
"A week later, we were at a podium with the mayor, making an announcement," says Serkan Piantino, the young engineering manager who was suddenly tapped to lead Facebook's New York team. He and Sheryl Sandberg publicly announced, flanked by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Senator Charles Schumer, that they would soon be opening up the company's first engineering office outside of the West Coast.
Building Up New York
They had lunch with the mayor. Then the hard work began for Piantino.
Two years later, Facebook New York is 330 people, a number causing it to burst at the seams of its Midtown, Madison Avenue office. Piantino spoke exclusively with Inc. at the 10-year anniversary of Facebook as a company and the two-year anniversary of the company's New York City office, as his team prepares to move into a brand new, Frank Gehry-designed interior in two floors of a building planted firmly on Silicon Alley.
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Piantino, now 31, seems a little awed at all that's transpired in the past two years under his leadership. He says when he accepted the move to New York, along with five engineers, he assumed it would make his career more difficult. Instead, he has excelled and now manages the 100 Facebook engineers based in New York who are spread across half a dozen projects--including some of the most difficult technological challenges the company faces. A month before Facebook's New York team moves to its new HQ, a project Piantino has helped oversee, he is clearly ready for a victory lap. "These have been the two years I've done the most for the company," he says.
Included on Piantino's engineering staff are teams that manage Facebook Messenger and contribute to Pages (how brands and businesses manage their profiles on Facebook), and groups that work on timeline, location check-ins, and mobile product infrastructure.
Growing Up, Moving Downtown
Along the way of building out these teams, he's clearly convinced the top brass in Palo Alto, California, that New York is worth continued emphasis.
"What we are going to do in 2014 is invest heavily in New York; we have this huge footprint that we are going to grow into," he says, referring literally to the estimated 100,000 square feet at 770 Broadway the company will inhabit within two months. But he also means that figuratively: "We also want to be investing in our footprint in the city and in the community; we have a lot of ambitious goals for how much we work with the city."
Those ambitions include working with New York City to host tech events in the company's new space, to help foster technical education, and also to encourage women in engineering education and jobs.
Also, you can bet Facebook will be hiring a lot more engineers. With the new Gehry-designed digs downtown, it might be even easier for Facebook to lure top talent. It'll still have all the classic unlimited-food-and-bottled-beverage perks of a big tech company, but, according to Piantino, is going to feel slightly different from Facebook HQ in Palo Alto.
"A lot of our offices are in more suburban locations, and what they focus on is creating a sense of activity," he says. "They focus on making sure people feel there are things going on. In New York, we wanted to skew slightly toward peace. That's what people don't get enough of in the city."
He's taken to calling the vibe of the new downtown office "oasis."
A Data-Driven Plan
"Some spaces just kind of push you out when you get done with your day, and we wanted to build something that's more warm and welcoming," he says. Piantino says he conducted surveys of what employees desired for the new office, and top priorities included ease of commute and open, flexible space for collaboration.
After plotting out maps of where employees live, Astor Place in the East Village surfaced as central. And rather than spreading the company across 10 floors, he found two large floors big enough to accommodate hundreds of employees each--and still feel spacious.
"In working with Gehry and the architects, when we laid out everything, we kept everything open, kept a lot of sunlight," he says. "We built as much organic warmth as we could."
If it seems strange to see a Piantino, a Carnegie Mellon-educated computer scientist, so obsessed with "organic warmth," physical location, and building out a floor plan, consider that it might just be in his upbringing--or blood: His father is a Cooper Union-educated architect.
"My favorite thing of all time was bringing my father to the new space and him poking around on the drawings," Piantino says. "And across the street, he could see his alma mater."
Inc. has been promised a tour of the new office as soon as it opens, but for now, here are a couple of images, courtesy of Facebook, of the soon-to-be-former Facebook office on Madison Avenue.