Morning Coffee: The best job in the world is breaking the man who got it. A warning for bankers who would commute to Europe from London
When Mike Schroepfer joined Facebook as head of engineering in 2008 , he was stepping into an exciting if gruelling job. - The Stanford graduate's role was to manage thousands of engineers, many of whom had to be talked "off the ledge of quitting," because Facebook in those days was like, "a bus rolling downhill on fire with four flat tires" and the engineers were being asked to deal with issues at all hours. Aged 33, Schroepfer succeeded. - He more than succeeded; he scaled-up technologies, he rolled-out programming tools, he streamlined data centres. Schroepfer earned the approbation of Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, who said he had a "superpower" of managing diverse teams.
And then came another promotion.
Schroepfer was made Facebook's chief technology officer in 2013. He was asked to build a new artificial intelligence (A.I.) team with the intention of designing chatbots, improving facial recognition and upgrading ad targeting. Schroepfer and Zuckerberg went shopping at the annual NIPS conference and sought-out the best A.I. talent. It was going great. - Until November 2015.
The Paris terrorist attacks seem to have been a changing point for Schroepfer and his team. After 130 people were killed in the French capital, Facebook's focus became using A.I. to identify and remove terrorist propaganda from Facebook's network. By mid-2017, this accounted for more work than anything else. A.I. specialists who joined Facebook to design chatbots were more likely to work on systems to identify beheadings.
On some measures, Schroepfer - who now sits between Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg - has succeeded. Facebook's AI now identifies 96% of all nudity and 65% of all hate speech. But it didn't spot the livestream of the murder of 51 people in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in March 2019, and it was a nearly an hour before the video was removed from Facebook's site.
It's a huge deal for Schroepfer, who has watched the Christchurch video over and over to work out how it got missed. When the New York Times asked about Christchurch, Schroepfer was overcome with emotion. He admitted that coming to work has sometimes become a struggle, and a former colleague said he's been known to cry in the office. "What a burden. What a responsibility,” said another of Schroepfer's role.
The NYT's weekend interview with Schroepfer is a reminder that all that glitters is not gold. - That the sorts of technology and data jobs at Facebook that most technology professionals in finance aspire to, can come with a visceral emotional price. Facebook's appeal to top computer science talent at U.S. universities is already waning. The next time that Facebook tries picking-up top talent at NIPS, data science students might choose Two Sigma or Point72 instead.
Separately (and also rather gloomily), James O’Shea, the chief auditor at MUFG has a very cautionary tale for any London bankers who are thinking of commuting in and out of Europe after Brexit.
In 2016, O'Shea's family were living in Ireland and he was working in London. He'd fly home for the weekend at get up at 3.30am on Monday morning to come into work. Left to his own devices O'Shea regularly worked long days, starting at 7.30am and continuing past midnight. He didn't eat properly. He didn't sleep.
And then came the breakdown. Whilst in Tokyo for a meeting in 2016, O'Shea found himself unable to face the world. He wrote an email of resignation and flew back to Ireland to address his mental health.
In fact, O'Shea only took two months off and then his wife and children moved back to London to be nearer him. But there's a lesson here - it's not easy doing a demanding job in finance; it's even harder when you're doing it alone and commuting to your family in your spare time.
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