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 Responses to “The meta-language of corporate campuses”

  1. Adrian says:

    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. admin says:

    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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