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Leadership at Meta: Maher Saba

“I can’t tell you what’s going to happen in the future — except that something awesome is going to happen.”

Maher Saba
Job Title: Head of Remote Presence and Engineering
Years at Meta:
Education: Purdue University, BS Electrical Engineering; University of Texas at Austin, MS Computer Science 
Hometown: Damascus, Syria

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Tell us about your role at Meta. What do industry colleagues tend to find unique or cool about your job?
Maher Saba: I support the Remote Presence organization, which is responsible for the set of video calling and audio calling products and experiences that power the family of apps. Our goal is to help people everywhere feel less alone and more connected by turning time spent alone into time spent together. This is a very challenging problem in terms of product and platform. Internet transactions have been mostly asynchronous, and we’re moving to make those interactions both immersive and in real time through shared experiences that lean into Meta’s strengths. The Remote Presence team is also building a bridge to the metaverse, helping the family of apps interoperate so they can interact and communicate. It’s a unique and interesting opportunity to shape the future of the internet. 

What led you to your current role?
MS: It’s quite a tale — your typical story of coming to the United States as a 17-year-old kid who had just finished high school, didn’t speak English, and had to work hard to pass the TOEFL before getting on a Greyhound bus to West Lafayette, Indiana, to earn a degree in electrical engineering from Purdue. 

Professionally, I grew up in this industry building operating systems, which taught me that any product needs a solid foundation. No matter how cool or valuable a product or a feature is, no one is going to use it if it is slow or keeps crashing. After 25 years, I moved to work on products. The first major product I worked on was Facebook Videos, which turned out to be an amazing experience of building the team and the product at the same time. Facebook Live was next, and from there I moved to Communities. That experience — operating systems, Videos and Live product, and Communities — puts me in a unique position to work on Remote Presence. That’s because Remote Presence depends on dealing with network latency, having a great product across many apps and surfaces, and connecting people and communities. For me, it was a match made in heaven.

How long have you worked at Meta — and what keeps you here?
MS: I started in November 2013. I remember walking around the Menlo Park campus and falling in love with the environment and energy. Eight years later, I still have that feeling every day I come to work (whether in the Seattle office or my home office). I am surrounded by amazing and talented people who want to do the right thing. They want to push on improving and scaling our tech while, at the same time, making sure it works for everyone on the planet. 

Looking back over your career, what’s the most important risk you took, and why? What has surprised you along the way?
MS: Taking on the role of leading Video Engineering. In my first week on the job, I attended an offsite where everyone was presenting grandiose plans and lofty goals, including signing up major partners and taking on entrenched competition. After a few hours of presentations and high fives, someone asked me whether this would be possible to build. First, I explained that we currently had just five engineers (with one of them on paternity leave) and an ask for 10 additional engineers. Then I pointed out that we lacked the network infrastructure to support the company’s current video load and, in my opinion, our video product did not have product-market fit. But I told them we would take on the risk of pushing hard to hire fast, build the product, and partner with the Infrastructure team to get us to a better state. I don’t think anyone believed me, but they were supportive. Six months later, the team had grown to 150 people. We acquired a video startup and were able to add extra capacity from the infrastructure. Then the Ice Bucket Challenge hit and Facebook Video became real, and we never looked back. 

What do you love most about the work you’re doing now?
MS: People use our products to connect with one another in the most intimate ways. They share their presence, their voice, their emotions, and their being. Think of the millions of “Happy birthday,” “What’s happening?” and “I love you” calls that happen every day on our products. I mean, how cool is that? 

Can you share one of the biggest technical challenges you’ve had to solve for or overcome?
MS: We needed to build a solid foundation with a fast and reliable platform. Then we needed to unify all the client product infrastructure code. Then we needed to build an amazing, differentiated, personalized, and fun experience in every part of our product. Going through the stack from the bottom to the top is very hard, and in my experience, many people choose to go from the top of the stack and then work their way down. But that way, you may end up with a good product but not a platform. The key is to get both. Building a solid foundation while working on finding market fit is a proven long-term approach to creating successful projecting.  

What advice would you give to your younger self about getting started in a career in tech?
MS: Be more attuned with what’s going on in the industry, and make sure you’re learning new tech by having many side projects just for fun.

How do you keep your team motivated even in the face of challenges both within the organization and in the outside world?
MS: I first need to earn their respect. I do that by taking the time to understand their work, get into the details, and listen to their recommendations. Once I have that, I can play the cheerleader role and celebrate their successes — and the opportunities to learn from failures. I also believe that everyone on the team is very creative, and having opportunities such as hackathons and show-and-tell will help them unleash their creativity and inspire one another.

What makes you optimistic about the future of our industry?
MS: We are lucky to work in this industry, in which every few years there are huge advances in technology that have a huge impact on our lives. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen in the future — except that something awesome is going to happen. I also know that we at Meta are going to be part of that amazing change. 

What are you passionate about outside of work?
MS: I like golf a lot. There is no better mental break than hitting golf balls and then spending four hours looking for them in the woods.

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