The presentations also have a tendency to emphasize a company’s newness, in spirit if not in actual years. Seemingly keen to avoid coming off as a legacy organization, AirBnB tells us that each of its departments functions as a “startup within a startup.” Later in the month, a Google recruiter will assure the students crammed into Wozniak that each of them could be the “mini-CEO of your product … responsible for the experience of billions of users.” A few weeks later, an engineer from Amazon’s CloudFront team will tell the room that “we definitely get to disrupt an industry.” The Amazon presentation will conclude with two quotes from founder Jeff Bezos: “In the end, we are our choices,” and “It’s still day one for us.” (Amazon launched more than 20 years ago.)
Such sweeping rhetoric is common at these sessions, as is an emphasis on the quirkiness of a company’s culture—sometimes both at once. We learn from the AirBnB team that weekly meditation classes in the office can help us “master the feeling of being able to bring your full self to work every day.” One panelist, who begins by noting that he’s worked at “all the major San Francisco tech companies,” tells us that “AirBnB engineers don’t act like engineers at other companies”—and how could they, when one staff member is a “dude who won the U.S. National Scrabble Championship” and another is “currently speed skating in Salt Lake City?” We also hear about the company’s “search bar,” the area where the Search team stores its alcohol, and the “nerd cave,” a social space decorated by AirBnB’s engineers, complete with a disco ball.
On Monday of the following week, Facebook makes the trip up from the South Bay. This time, students head to the Sibley Auditorium, a larger venue not far from the Wozniak. Sibley was built to hold 227 people, but even the space upgrade isn’t enough to accommodate the hundreds of people who show up. Crowds spill out of the theatre and into its surrounding corridors while excited members of Facebook’s WhatsApp and Oculus teams photograph the mania from the front of the room.
Facebook’s pitch begins with a video promoting its internship program, the footage full of young people falling into blue-and-white ball pits. Once the video ends, we’re told that earlier that day, Facebook celebrated its first time being accessed by a billion people in a single day. This, the recruiter says, is “why we need you.” More platitudes are sprinkled throughout the presentation: We learn that the company’s core belief is that “the riskiest thing to do is to not take any risks at all,” and that Facebook thinks of itself as being “just as much a people company as a tech company.”
These sessions are the easy part. Once a presentation is over, students who want to apply for one of these lucrative positions (internships at some tech companies pay upwards of $7,000 per month, plus a rent stipend) will typically need to make it past a phone interview, an onsite meeting with a hiring committee, and, in some cases, a final essay. They’ll need to field questions like “How much money is spent on the Internet?” (Facebook) and “How would you design an alarm clock for the blind?” (Google).
For the most part, the presentations, with their cheery slideshows and stories of meditation and disco balls, betray little of the grueling road ahead. When each one is over—and the food has been eaten and the t-shirts have been scooped up and the resumes dropped—students will head back to their dorms, already thinking about the next one.