It’s been almost two years since my last update here. A lot has happened. I hope you all are continuing to weather the ongoing multiple global pandemics and other anthropogenic crises.
Apologies that this is so long; I didn’t have time to make it shorter.
Obviously blogs do not come with a service level agreement, but some explanation is in order for the long gap. It’s pretty simple.
- Facebook actively discourages people to blog about their work.
- Working from home during the covid pandemic was enervating.
- After thinking about programming languages for many hours a week for over 25 years, I simply didn’t have the energy and enthusiasm to write much on the subject.
Blogging was an easy thing to drop in favor of pursuits that got me away from sitting in front of a screen in my home office. I’ve been spending my leisure time in the last couple years working on improving my nature photography skills and learning to scuba dive. Turns out you cannot catch covid when below 15 metres of seawater. And there are weird slugs in the Puget Sound!
Photos of the author and a golden dirona nudibranch by Amber, who convinced me to take up diving.
Today is the tenth anniversary of moving my blog to ericlippert.com on my last day at Microsoft, the fiftieth anniversary of my birth, and my last day at Facebook-now-Meta.
My team — Probabilistic Programming Languages — and indeed entire “Probability” division were laid off a couple weeks ago; the last three years of my work will be permanently abandoned.
The mission of the Probability division was to create small teams that applied the latest academic research to real-world at-scale problems, in order to improve other groups’ decision-making and lower their costs. New sub-teams were constantly formed; if they didn’t show results quickly then they were failed-fast; if they did show results then they were reorganized into whatever division they could most effectively lower costs.
We were very successful at this. The PPL team in particular was at the point where we were regularly putting models into production that on net reduced costs by millions of dollars a year over the cost of the work. We were almost ready to be spun off.
We foolishly thought that we would naturally be protected from any layoffs, being a team that reduced costs of any team we partnered with. In retrospect, that was a little naive. A team that reduces costs of other teams is not on anyone’s critical path.
The whole Probability division was laid off as a cost-cutting measure. I have no explanation for how this was justified and I note that if the company were actually serious about cost-cutting, they would have grown our team, not destroyed it.
Speaking of cutting costs, the company is still pouring multiple billions of dollars into vaporware called “the metaverse”. News flash: no one wants to wear VR goggles to spend any time in a digital heaven where the role of God is played by Mark Zuckerberg and you can do anything you can imagine, including “work” and “shop”.
I would be happy to be shown to be wrong, wrong, wrong. Maybe there is a useful, engaging, fun, just, equitable, democratic, sustainable, novel VR experience where the avatars have legs, but Meta is $20 billion in and aside from the legs I don’t see any evidence that any of the above is forthcoming.
Yes, I am a little vexed.
I have a great many people to thank for my time at Facebook: Erik Meijer for recruiting me and finding seven years worth of interesting problems for me to dig into. Peter Hallam, with whom I have now worked with on three compiler teams at three companies, for encouraging me to take that offer. Walid Taha, Michael Tingley, John Myles White, Joe Pamer and Satish Chandra for their leadership and mentorship. And to many, many coworkers too numerous to mention here. The quality of the people I worked with at Facebook was amazing. Everyone was kind, smart, dedicated, thoughtful, generous with their time and knowledge, and a genuine pleasure to work with. I learned so much from all of them. Leaving those teammates is the hardest part.
Lots of people have asked how they can help me and my team. I am so grateful and appreciative. Friends, colleagues, strangers on Twitter, just about everyone has been sympathetic and helpful. Most of my team has found other positions and I am hopeful that the rest will soon.
I am not looking for another position at this time.
I know I don’t look it, but I’m beginning to feel it in my heart. I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread. I need a holiday. A very long holiday. And I don’t expect I shall return. In fact I mean not to.
I am very fortunate to have spent the pandemic thus far working safely from home, for a supportive team and for excellent pay. But after >26 years of thinking about programming languages for corporations, and the last three years of my work being thrown away, I need a good long corporate detox before I go looking again.
Coming up next on FAIC:
The work we did on Bean Machine, our embedded Python DSL for Bayesian inference, is quite interesting. In coming episodes I’ll explain what it is, how it works, and what we learned. No one else is ever going to do this post-mortem analysis, so I might as well!