VR Industry Luminary John Carmack Quits Meta, Calling it “the end of my decade in VR”
John Carmack, legendary programmer and key player in the Oculus gensis story, announced he’s left Meta, writing in a memo to employees that he “wearied of the fight” of trying to push for change at the highest levels of the company.
Carmack has never been one to mince words. Outside of bringing industry expertise to Oculus in 2013—notably a year before Meta (ex-Facebook) acquired the VR headset startup for $2 billion—Carmack has been a rare window into the world of consumer VR and one of the most important companies behind it. And even now, it appears we’re getting a peek into how things work in Meta, or rather, how they don’t work.
Last Friday, Carmack sent out a memo to employees saying he was effectively leaving Meta, mentioning the company’s VR efforts were developing at “half the effectiveness that would make me happy.”
Carmack demos an early Oculus Rift prototype at E3 2012
Parts of the memo were previously leaked in a Business Insider piece, however Carmack went one step further by releasing the memo in a Facebook update. We’ve included the text in full at the bottom of the article.
Having spearheaded Oculus’ mobile efforts throughout his tenure, in 2019 Carmack stepped down as Oculus CTO to a “consulting CTO” position, something he said would reduce his time spent at the company to a “modest slice” so he could pursue new ventures outside of VR.
Still, Carmack says the last few years at Meta has been a struggle:
“I have a voice at the highest levels here, so it feels like I should be able to move things, but I’m evidently not persuasive enough. A good fraction of the things I complain about eventually turn my way after a year or two passes and evidence piles up, but I have never been able to kill stupid things before they cause damage, or set a direction and have a team actually stick to it. I think my influence at the margins has been positive, but it has never been a prime mover.”
He contends the waning sway within Meta was “admittedly self-inflicted,” owing to the fact that he wasn’t really up to engaging with C-level battles for influence:
“I could have moved to Menlo Park after the Oculus acquisition and tried to wage battles with generations of leadership, but I was busy programming, and I assumed I would hate it, be bad at it, and probably lose anyway.”
Carmack says in a follow-up Twitter thread that there was “a notable gap between Mark Zuckerberg and I on various strategic issues, so I knew it would be extra frustrating to keep pushing my viewpoint internally.”
Before making the move to Meta vis-à-vis Oculus, John Carmack was co-founder and Technical Director of the famous id Software. He also founded Armadillo Aerospace, a private aerospace company. Carmack says he is now “all in” working on artificial general intelligence (AGI) at his startup Keen Technologies.
The full text of his internal memo follows below:
This is the end of my decade in VR.
I have mixed feelings.
Quest 2 is almost exactly what I wanted to see from the beginning – mobile hardware, inside out tracking, optional PC streaming, 4k (ish) screen, cost effective. Despite all the complaints I have about our software, millions of people are still getting value out of it. We have a good product. It is successful, and successful products make the world a better place. It all could have happened a bit faster and been going better if different decisions had been made, but we built something pretty close to The Right Thing.
The issue is our efficiency.
Some will ask why I care how the progress is happening, as long as it is happening?
If I am trying to sway others, I would say that an org that has only known inefficiency is ill prepared for the inevitable competition and/or belt tightening, but really, it is the more personal pain of seeing a 5% GPU utilization number in production. I am offended by it.
[edit: I was being overly poetic here, as several people have missed the intention. As a systems optimization person, I care deeply about efficiency. When you work hard at optimization for most of your life, seeing something that is grossly inefficient hurts your soul. I was likening observing our organization’s performance to seeing a tragically low number on a profiling tool.]
We have a ridiculous amount of people and resources, but we constantly self-sabotage and squander effort. There is no way to sugar coat this; I think our organization is operating at half the effectiveness that would make me happy. Some may scoff and contend we are doing just fine, but others will laugh and say “Half? Ha! I’m at quarter efficiency!”
It has been a struggle for me. I have a voice at the highest levels here, so it feels like I should be able to move things, but I’m evidently not persuasive enough. A good fraction of the things I complain about eventually turn my way after a year or two passes and evidence piles up, but I have never been able to kill stupid things before they cause damage, or set a direction and have a team actually stick to it. I think my influence at the margins has been positive, but it has never been a prime mover.
This was admittedly self-inflicted – I could have moved to Menlo Park after the Oculus acquisition and tried to wage battles with generations of leadership, but I was busy programming, and I assumed I would hate it, be bad at it, and probably lose anyway.
Enough complaining. I wearied of the fight and have my own startup to run, but the fight is still winnable! VR can bring value to most of the people in the world, and no company is better positioned to do it than Meta. Maybe it actually is possible to get there by just plowing ahead with current practices, but there is plenty of room for improvement.
Make better decisions and fill your products with “Give a Damn”
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