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Facebook’s Green Roof Mirrors Company’s Workplace Culture

By Queenie Wong, San Jose Mercury News (TNS)

MENLO PARK, Calif. — Facebook employees looking for a break from sitting hunched over a computer don’t need to venture far from the company’s new office space.

They just need to walk upstairs — to the roof.

A nine-acre green roof sits atop the tech firm’s new Frank Gehry-designed building across from its main headquarters, filled with a plethora of native trees and flowers, lawn furniture, white boards, viewing decks, and a half-mile walking trail overlooking the city’s marshlands. It’s more like a park than the top of an office and big enough to accommodate a large number of the 2,800 employees who are expected to eventually fill up the newly opened building, even on a warm summer’s day.

Walking meetings are a tradition for the social networking company and a common sight on Silicon Valley tech campuses, including LinkedIn, Apple, and Oracle, where a simple conversation could spark the next big idea. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the late Apple founder Steve Jobs and other tech titans are known for holding meetings on foot. Aside from the health benefits, a 2014 study by Stanford University researchers found that walking also boosts creative thinking.

But this green rooftop above the three-level Facebook building takes open space to new heights — literally.

“Work has become more mobile and fluid so you can actually step away from your desk and have a small conversation with people,” said Chris Guillard, a founding partner of CMG Landscape Architecture, which helped design Facebook’s green roof.

And that’s exactly what Facebook employees did on a recent windy Friday morning during an exclusive tour of the green roof for the San Jose Mercury News. With a blue sky above and a bird’s eye view out to the horizon, they walked and talked. Some sat with their laptops to work on the viewing deck while a few scribbled notes on a dry-erase board and others relaxed on the grass.

“It was more about creating an environment that our employees would thrive in than anything else,” said Lauren Swezey, Facebook’s sustainability and community outreach manager.

Across the rooftop’s expanse are 23 unique spaces named after natural wonders throughout the world, including the Argentina mountain range Aconcagua and Oregon’s Three Sisters.

“Someone can say, ‘Hey, meet me at Pinnacles,’ so you can see that’s number 18,” said Swezey, pointing to the numbered location on a map of the green roof.

Facebook’s new building and green roof contrasts with its main headquarters across the street, which includes an urban street inspired by downtown Palo Alto with a Philz coffee, street art and more for employees to gather.

“One is much more about the interface between the buildings and the space and people running into each other. The garden is more of a refuge in a lot of ways,” Guillard said.

Eventually, the roof will also include eating areas, including a sandwich shop called Fromage, staffed by the company’s chefs and culinary team. Since the new building, which spans more than 430,000 square feet, took up most of the available land’s space, creating an open area on the roof made sense. The highest point of the building is slightly more than 72 feet, according to Facebook.

Gehry, a world-famous architect, is known for his eclectic titanium-clad buildings such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park in Chicago — considered one of the world’s largest green roofs at 24.5 acres because it sits above a train yard and parking garages.

Helping to foster Facebook’s work culture isn’t the only benefit that the green roof brings. The roof absorbs heat and rainfall, helping the company cut down on energy use and runoff. In these drought-plagued times, many of the plants atop the roof can survive in dry weather, Facebook said.

Located along the Pacific Flyway, the roof will also provide a place for birds to land during their migrations, and Facebook has partnered with nearby Audubon societies to help study what birds take refuge on the roof. They are also using the space to hold events with the community, city officials and employees.

Swezey said that other tech firms such as Samsung have looked at incorporating green roofs in the design of their buildings to make the spaces more eco-friendly. But Facebook’s new space is different in that it isn’t just a basic garden.

“It’s taking it beyond the traditional green roof, which is often just grass and succulents and not made to be used. This is really an area that is made to be used,” Swezey said.

Photo: Dai Sugano via Bay Area News Group/TNS

Twitter’s Sharon Ly, On Closing Tech’s Gender Gap

By Queenie Wong, San Jose Mercury News (TNS)

SAN JOSE, California — Sharon Ly was in the fifth grade when a computer programming class at a community center in Vietnam sparked her interest in technology.

Ly’s mom had put her through dance, swimming, and martial arts class, but computer science stood out.

Now 30 years old, Ly is not only an engineering manager at Twitter but also leads the company’s Women in Engineering group and Girls Who Code program.

“I definitely looked around and saw few women. I think this is true previously in almost all of my career and I wasn’t aware of that,” Ly said. “It was like a light bulb going off and I saw an opportunity to take action and do something about it.”

We sat down with Ly to chat about what the company is doing to help close the gender gap in technology. Twitter’s workforce is about 70 percent male and 30 percent female, on par with diversity numbers at other Silicon Valley tech firms. The interview was edited for clarity and length.

Q: Why do you think it’s important that there are not only more women in science and technology, but in social media businesses?

A: It’s about inspiring the next generation and showing women that they, too, can be in any field of their choosing; that technology is not a taboo field only for men or people of a certain archetype. That to me is powerful. When you have diversity in your workplace, I think you will just feel more comfortable expressing your ideas. Your team will probably be more creative about how they go about solving problems.

Q: What is Twitter doing not only to attract more women to this field, but retain them?

A: This year, we’re hosting three Girls Who Code summer programs in Boston, San Francisco, and New York to teach girls how to code but also help them build a community and network so they can take that with them in the next stage of their lives. I think Girls Who Code is one of those powerful programs that could help change the landscape of the industry in the long haul.

In the short term, we try to be fair in our hiring and promotion practices. For engineering managers specifically, we do a peer coaching forum. You have 50 percent men, 50 percent women in a room talking about gender issues, sharing what their experiences have been like and learning from each other.

We’re also making sure that when you start at Twitter you have a support system and a mentor who can help you in the next step of your career. I think that strong support system is really important to help women do well in their careers and stay in the industry.

Q: What have you heard from participants in the engineering manager program and Girls Who Code about some of the barriers they face when they enter the tech field or in school?

A: There are many different reasons but ultimately at the end of the day, Girls Who Code participants say, “I didn’t know that computer programming could be fun. I didn’t know that I could do it.” It’s really inspiring because year after year, we hear between 95 and 97 percent of participants say they’re definitely going to major or minor in computer science when they go to college.

There are a couple of things that people are just not consciously aware of, like being more confident. There’s research that shows women go for the job only if they’re 100 percent qualified and men go for the job if they’re 80 percent qualified. The first part is just being aware that there are differences in how you may be behaving or you may be thinking about yourself.

Q: When it comes to closing the gender gap in technology, there’s been a lot of work centered around networking and mentorship. Are there any other solutions that Twitter is looking at or you personally think should be pursued?

A: I think when we get to the stage where women feel that networking is the same for both genders, when we get to that point of 50 percent female representation in the tech industry, then that’s when you’ll start hearing about what is the next big thing. Right now, we still have a lot of work to do with just those two tools.
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Five FACTS ABOUT SHARON LY

  • Her favorite literary genre is the murder mystery. Growing up, she devoured every Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes book in her dad’s collection.
  • She has worked at Twitter for almost five years.
  • She and her husband love the hot pot dish Japanese shabu shabu so much that they go to a shabu shabu restaurant at least once a week. The staff at Shabu House in San Francisco even know their names.
  • She enjoys chatting about zombies, superheroes, and robots.
  • Her team recently launched Twitter’s group direct messages.

SHARON LY

Age: 30
Birthplace: Vietnam
Position: Software engineering manager
Previous jobs: Systems engineer at Twitter; engineer at educational gaming startup Grockit
Education: Attended MIT
Residence: San Francisco

Photo: Scott Beale via Flickr