The meta-language of corporate campuses

In the last two days I did whirlwind tour of both the Google SF and Facebook Menlo Park campuses. In both cases I met with really interesting and brilliant people, and had great conversations.

But also in both cases I observed an interesting similarity between the two campuses. The architecture of each was marked with a distinctive flavor.

Google has a kind of low-key “cool nerd” vibe. The message seems to be “we may be geeky, but we are cultured, and we appreciate good art and music.”

Facebook has more of a bro vibe. It’s architecture is a bit like your friend who likes to party more than you do.

Yet so many of the details — the cafeteria, the art on the walls, the mini-kitchens and little tips about work above the urinals — were eerily similar. I realize that there is a sort of meta-language of corporate campuses. Beyond the individual differences,
they are all of one species, and it is a fascinating species indeed.

2 thoughts on “The meta-language of corporate campuses”

  1. Using the word “campus” in place of “compound” is part of this culture.

    And it causes confusion. Upon reading a news headline about Google opening a “new campus,” a family member asked me when Google had started a university.

    _campus_ (n) the grounds and buildings of a university or college. NORTH AMERICAN: the grounds of a school, hospital, or other institution.

    I suppose Google and Facebook and the other big tech companies might consider themselves institutions, but even that would kind of stretch the meaning of institution.

  2. Very astute comment. Yes, they do think of themselves as institutions, and they think of these places as campuses, rather than as compounds. And I agree that there is a level of fiction going on here which is intrinsic to this particular type of corporate culture.

    I don’t think they are doing it to be dishonest. Rather, they want to give their employees some of the sort of feeling that one gets in a University, of being free to explore and to collaborate in order to discover new ideas and paradigms.

    The fact that this is ultimately being used to create for-profit products and services indeed creates a certain amount of tension, as you astutely point out. But I can see first-hand, visiting these places, that it is an effective strategy, in terms of motivating employees.

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