Paresh Rajwat and his team of engineers at Facebook’s parent company, Meta Platforms, are working to take people out of the two-dimensional internet into a metaverse, where users can chat, shop and sometimes play chess. with people on the other side of the world.
The road to it, Rajwat said, “passes through Seattle.”
With more than 8,000 employees, Puget Sound is Meta’s largest hub outside of its headquarters in Menlo Park, California. Engineers here work on Meta’s products, from the Facebook marketplace to avatars operating in virtual reality to, of course, the metaverse.
Last week, Meta appointed Rajwat, already vice president of product management, to head up the Pacific Northwest office. He spent eight years with the company, working on Facebook app monetization, tapping into the creator economy and overseeing the video team. Prior to Meta, Rajwat worked at Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, and advertising company Criteo.
Now, he is focused on maintaining Meta’s working culture, connecting the company to the Seattle community, leading Meta’s virtual reality efforts, and overseeing new Metaverse features.
Rajwat describes the metaverse as an “embodied Internet”. Inside, he said, you might hear a sound coming from your right side and turn to see the avatar of a person who is actually sitting miles away but feels right next to you. you. “It defies distance,” he said. “It really helps people connect.”
Right now, there is still a “great wall” separating the virtual and physical world and Rajwat expects it will be a long time before the metaverse fully unfolds. When that happens, there will likely be more than one Metaverse, which means Meta is ready for the competition. But Rajwat hopes users will be able to move between them quickly.
In the short term, the Meta engineering team is working on adding functionality to the metaverse as it exists today, such as a way to make payments in the virtual world or the ability to send messages to people who are not yet connected to the metaverse.
“Meta has this thing of connecting the world,” Rajwat said. He is already focused on Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and its Messenger app, he continued. Now that’s thinking about the future of the social network.
“The more we think about it, the more we always come to the same conclusion. … It’s something like the metaverse,” Rajwat said.
Before becoming the behemoth it is today, Meta (then called Facebook) moved to Seattle in 2010 with a handful of engineers. His office near Pike Place Market became his first engineering center outside of his Silicon Valley headquarters. There, engineers were working on a Skype video chat feature, a location service, and a converter that automatically displayed a version of Facebook that worked well on a mobile device.
Since then, Meta has expanded to a larger location and then expanded outside the Seattle city limits with offices in Redmond and Bellevue. In 2020, it purchased REI’s never-used Bellevue campus for nearly $368 million, adding to its Spring District campus which had already grown to include 850,000 square feet of office space.
At that time, the company told the Seattle Times that it had about 5,000 employees in Puget Sound. Now, two years later, he says he has over 8,000.
But this growth is on hold. In September, Meta announced it would freeze hiring, reorganize teams and reduce its workforce for the first time in company history. CEO Mark Zuckerberg told employees that Meta will be smaller in 2023 than it was this year.
“I had hoped the economy would have stabilized more clearly now,” he said on a company-wide call. “But from what we’re seeing, it doesn’t appear to be the case yet, so we want to plan somewhat conservatively.”
Meta declined to comment on how the hiring freeze and job cuts would affect its workforce in the Pacific Northwest.
Rajwat said in an interview last week that Meta would continue to embrace remote working, allowing employees to choose how many days they want to come into the office — and if they want to come at all.
“Instead of bringing people to work, now we need to bring people to work,” he said. And, of course, Meta is working on the very tools it hopes will make remote work feel like you’re there in person.