FAAMG — Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google — are lifelong dreams for every developer. Added to the periphery are some more tech giants: Netflix, Uber, Lyft, and so on.
An average developer invests an inordinate amount of time and energy in getting into FAAMG and its ilk. And that’s not all. There is a high degree of emotional investment too. This factor easily infects the family and friends of FAAMG aspirants.
If you get into one of the most coveted companies of our time, great. Life is a celebration. But when you fail, there is a gaping abyss of rejection — a feeling of being an outcast.
Those sleepless nights make you a slightly better developer, but definitely not a satisfied one.
Here, I dissect the reasons why it’s a bad investment.
“Let your joy be in your journey — not in some distant goal.”
— Tim Cook, CEO, Apple
The prerequisite to any great journey is: You must relish the journey more than the joy of reaching the destination.
FAAMG interview preparation is difficult. It’s demanding. There is nothing against toiling when you are busy doing what you love the most: programming.
But programming challenges for FAAMG+ interviews have lately become boring. You keep preparing for mundane data structure + algorithmic challenges to save some precious processor watts — those many watts those companies struggled to save during the 90s. The world’s computing power has grown at least by a magnitude of 100. And those problems are solved a thousand times.
If you solve them, good for you. You will do well in the interviews. But it’s not as cool as it used to be, and it’s been done by a million developers before you.
The world is full of frameworks and libraries that are already using the best algorithms invented so far. For those who aren’t there yet, FAAMG+ have already open sourced a significant part of their codebases for the masses to improve.
Not convinced? Take this into account: Both Google and Facebook are advertising companies. They both have to have an active presence on mobile. As a result, they have to keep creating apps targeted to both platforms: iOS and Android.
Any surprise they both made the most popular cross-platform toolchains (React Native + Flutter), and open sourced them, leveraging free coders’ contributions?
FAAMG+ need algorithmic superbrains, but not necessarily in the magnitude that’s crazy in entering them. They aren’t quite excited that you solve the mundane challenges they present to you in the interview. They are rather enjoying the state of being in 1000x demand. If they fail to find the right talent for some truly challenging problem, they will decouple + open source it to get it for free. No cookies for candidates.
Reinventing algorithms is a computer scientist’s job — and I am sure enough researchers who aspire to be in FAAMG+ are already pursuing it.
There is no need for an average programmer to reinvent the wheel, especially when the reward isn’t a novel creation, but an unguaranteed place in a billion-dollar corporate house being run by human robots.
Max Howell, the creator of Homebrew who was rejected by Google, poignantly summed up his Google interview experience:
In a nutshell:
- If you are an addict to competitive programming that squeezes your algorithmic muscle
- If you find yourself browsing TopCoder, Leetcode, HackerRank, or Codechef without making a conscious attempt
I would say there are very few worthier challenges than pursuing FAAMG+. You should surely pursue a dream working in the most prestigious corporate houses and give your career the brightest start that one could give.
But if none of that is true, wait until there are enough lateral thinkers in those organizations that believe in making some space for non-repetitious, innovative, and creative challenges for their aspirants.
This specific point applies only to FAAMG, and not the peripheral dream companies who have only singular products, i.e., Netflix, Uber, Airbnb, and others like them.
When developers chase FAAMG, a part of them is inspired by the sheer impact of their products on the world.
FAAMG’s offerings were the coolest soon after the time they had launched or were in the growth phase. But not anymore.
Yesterday: The shopping experience was a breeze. Search results were relevant.
Today: You can’t search relevant books, despite their commanding position on the book market and millions of local bookstores already ruined. How long does it take for a developer to look into the search module and modify discoverability?
Yesterday: Google (some time ago, YouTube) was the shortest route to get any question answered.
Today: Your search feed is filled with YouTube videos that welcome you with must-watch-fully ads, in-line Google news items, or nonsensical Quora questions. Even after more than two decades, sometimes it fails to produce any results.
Yesterday: MS Office was the only alternative to do any office computing work. Error messages were funny and IE sucked, but it was ahead of the home computing requirements of the time.
Today: None of the software runs smoothly on a PC. It isn’t in Microsoft’s DNA to rely much on the web. When their desktop software integrates web content, the result is worse than IE+older Windows world.
We are waiting for Microsoft ARM — Microsoft’s answer for Apple’s M1. Not sure how long it takes.
Yesterday: iOS and Mac OS were the premium experiences, despite the old classy shapes of Apple devices. Things worked out of the box on iPod, iPhone, and iTunes. App clones were a thing, but they didn’t harm much. Reviews were mostly honest. App Store was much better, and good apps made fortunes.
- The App Store is ruined with bad (sometimes, evil) search results, scamster subscription apps, and evil clones.
- Hardware has surely improved, but software has gone downhill.
- With the increasing load of frameworks inside newer iOS versions, the basic functionality of many of the OS features is lagging. Try logging out of your Apple Id and logging back in, or enter your iTunes credentials in the app store — it takes forever, it mashes up things, and (thanks to MFA) it happens across all of your devices — a very annoying UX from a company selling aesthetics.
Yesterday: It was a place frequented to know and connect with people. The kind of things that could happen on Facebook was few in numbers, but they were effective in their purpose.
Today: The Facebook mobile app and Facebook website are constantly altered due to its partially React Native codebase. This very often screws up the layout. It also keeps adding/reducing features, as if the users are constantly subject to A/B testing.
This would have been all acceptable if their data wasn’t for sale, but….
Summing up the product quality factor:
It looks like FAAMG engineers lack some pretty basic skills of unit testing and state management.
FAAMG is chasing the future. All or most of them have their eyes on AR, VR, AI, Space exploration, robotics, and acquiring any newbie startups that aim to dethrone them in the remotest possible manner.
According to my least wild estimate, at any given moment, each one of them is developing at least a thousand software products.
But looking at their flagship products, it looks like their engineers lack some pretty basic skills of unit testing and state management. If they shipped such products in any smaller company, they would have faced consequences.
The fact that they are consistently incompetent is obviously not true. The chaos is simply because FAAMG developers are handling too many things in too little time, with little or no definite roadmap.
Whether or not if they know where they are headed, FAAMG devs are part of some universal ambition wheel. The ambition no longer belongs to themselves. Some of them realize it and quit in time. They are most vocal about quitting the glistening cages.
Others keep churning meaningless pieces of threadbare deliverables, telling themselves and friends that they are part of something that impacts the world.
FAAMG+ (now we are also counting Netflix, Uber, Airbnb, and their ilk) are publicly listed companies. As a result, everything they do is subject to public scrutiny. They are always in the news. Obviously, this gets them some unwarranted attention, too.
Since developers are the ones who turn their wheels, they are also the ones who receive a significant part of this unwarranted attention.
Google is often in the news about their handling of in-campus diversity.
Facebook employees were overstressed following the Cambridge Analytica scandal. There was a huge cover-up following the suicide of its employee in 2019.
There has been ample criticism about how Microsoft HR deals with its employees.
Apple has been quite secretive about its product lineup. Naturally, there isn’t enough to discuss here. Yet, their employees also had their (un)fair share of mental health issues.
About Amazon, the less said — the better. The company has enough bad press about its shipping workforce. In the developer world, it’s not the happiest place to be.
Amazon is driven by leadership principles with steadfast customer orientation. Most of the time, this doesn’t translate well into developer happiness. Most of the SDE’s time goes after meetings, reporting, and molding their work reports to one of the key leadership principles rather than actual development work. Naturally, such companies grow more parasite-like leaders rather than technology experts.
As a result of everyday events that affect their public image globally, employees are continually distracted. Many of them are active on Twitter, mainly to interact with fellow developers but end up being part of distracting discussions.
All companies that fall into the same bucket as FAAMG are more or less driven by founders’ + core shareholders’ ambitions, which often translates to greed.
A developer’s happiness gets restricted to free gym sessions, weekly hackathons with a few hard cash perks (often, stock options) that one can brag about to friends and family. In lieu of this, what you often end up losing is this:
- Your developer roadmap
- Your portfolio
- Your say in the team
- Your voice
A decade ago, FAAMG used to be the happiest workplaces. They still reign in some of those rankings, but it is not reflected in their workforces.
Their processes, their challenges, and their leadership lineup have saturated. They are facing challenges that any company at such a stage would face.
In addition, they are also facing the challenges of the highly digital era, where nothing can be constrained within the four walls.
FAAMG developers are living a dream. But like the movie Inception, they probably don’t know whose dream it is.
Developers who missed the FAAMG train will do better by aiming for something much higher than FAAMG. If not, at least stop regretting the missed milestone that could neither increase your speed nor make you more comfortable during the travel.
Programming is a key that could open the door to the most powerful room in the world.
You better own that room (no matter how small it is), instead of renting it.