Katherine Losse started at Facebook in 2005–before the NewsFeed, before the arrival of Sheryl Sandberg, and long before the Zuck quite mastered proper corporate executive behavior. Things were so fast and loose that, during orientation for her user-support gig, she was given a master password allowing her to access any user’s profile and personal information. Nor was there anyone handling potential HR crises like a male employee who apparently went around proposing threesomes to women in the office.
Ms. Losse details these antics in her new book, The Boy Kings, about her time at the social network. Curious to hear more, we reached out for an interview. She didn’t seem too keen to dish on Zuck beyond what she’d already included in the book (more’s the pity), but she did have some stuff to say about where social networking is headed, why Facebook was so damn fratty, and what it was like being a humanities girl in a programmer’s castle.
What was the most challenging part of your role as Mark’s personal writer?
Writing a blog post as another person is a really interesting thing, or sending an email. You really have to just figure out, how do they write, how do they communicate, what is it that they want to communicate, and [then] really stay in that voice, which is an interesting task for a writer.
There’s a certain public perception of Mark, involving the idea that he’s not terribly communicative. How much of that’s true, and to what extent was it a challenge for you?
He’s definitely someone who listens and observes, especially in meetings and so forth. That’s kind of his mode. Then he’ll formulate a decision after listening and observing other peoples’ points and arguments. And I think, to some degree I think that’s true, and I think I probably brought a little more of a humanist perspective. Like, I’m a literary person, so I was kind of filling in a little bit for that distance, probably, when I was writing.
Now that you’ve been out of Facebook and away from Palo Alto for a while, are there particular conversations you’re having with people about the company?
I think everybody who’s using social media and Facebook has this question about, how much do I want to put my life online? And that’s a question I think about or I thought about while working there and also in writing this book, and I think that the answer is that we all want to be online. We all want to connect with each other. We all want to be able to communicate really quickly. And Facebook makes that really possible. I think that’s why it’s been really successful.
But I think there’s a natural question everyone has–how far is this going to go, and are eventually the vast majority of our experiences going to happen online? How do we feel about that?
I think that’s just this this question that everyone has, that I think is one of the biggest questions for our current time.
What do you think the answer is?
That’s the thing–the reason I wrote the book was to start having a conversation about it. I don’t think there is one answer, and I definitely don’t think the answer is we’re going to go back to the days of only speaking to people face-to-face and completely rejecting social media technology. I think what may happen is social media is going to have to become ever more nuanced and able to capture our real-life relationships, and we’re probably just at he first stage of that.
Do you think Facebook is capable of being the company that does that?
I think it definitely has a shot at it. Facebook is the biggest social media company and has the most users, so that makes the groundwork to really take social media to the next level.
I think it’s really going to be a challenge for any company, because it really is this question of how you replicate all of our relationships and all of our communication, how do you do that online in a way that’s really satisfying.
One of the aspects of your book that’s getting a lot of attention are these anecdotes about the company’s early, fratty culture. Could you talk about that a bit?
This speaks to this question that I’m glad is being talked about, which is why is Silicon Valley so male dominated and how do you change that? Because I think the anecdotes in the book are really just trying to say, when you’ve got an environment that is so male dominated, some things are going to happen that are going to make women uncomfortable, because they’re so in the minority. So, if you had more gender parity in Silicon Valley and in tech, I think you’d start to see less of this kind of stuff.
That’s what I’m really hoping is going to happen. I think it’s going to take some time. That was another reason for me to write the book was to say that I was a woman in this environment. It wasn’t the easiest thing but it was also really fun at times. So I wanted to start providing some kind of model for how you can get through this kind of environment and to say that it can be really rewarding and fun.
My real sense of things, it’s not that Facebook was trying to be sexist. It’s that it wasn’t a top priority, and if something isn’t prioritized, then it doesn’t happen. so especially in a place where there are so many male programmers and not so many women, you have to make an effort to hire women and bring about a gender balance.
You talk a lot about your position as the company’s resident humanities person, someone with a literary background. How much of a place for that is there in Silicon Valley?
I think so far, there hasn’t been much. I think, all the emphasis being on scaling, which is an engineering issue, that’s the real thing that drives a lot of the Valley, and so we just don’t think about the way in which a literary perspective, a social perspective even could be really valuable to especially social media companies. I think that might be a little bit of a holdover from when the Valley really was about hardware and less social products, but as technology becomes more about social products, I think this is just absolutely something that if I were funding a startup, in addition to engineering I’d want to have people who were really thinking about it from the human side.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.