John Carmack Is Leaving Meta, Report Says: Business Insider and The New York Times reported that John Carmack, a tech industry giant known for his work on virtual reality and classic games like Doom and Quake, is leaving his job as a consulting CTO at Meta.
Carmack joined Oculus as CTO in 2013 after helping Palmer Luckey promote the first Oculus Rift prototypes. When the company (then called Facebook) bought Oculus in 2014, Carmack was pulled into Meta. But in 2019, he changed his job at the company and stopped being the CTO of Oculus. Instead, he became a CTO consultant.
At the time, he said he would work on artificial general intelligence. In August, we discovered that this work wouldn’t be for Meta but for his new company Keen Technologies. In August, Carmack wrote on Twitter that Meta had taken up about 20% of his time.
“It’s clear I’m not convincing enough.”
Carmack’s forthcoming internal departure post for Meta employees, which he shared on his personal Facebook page, suggests that he is unhappy with how things are going at Meta right now. He is said to have written that things have been “tough” for him and that, even though “I have a voice at the highest levels here” and “it feels like I should be able to move things,” “I’m not convincing enough.”
Carmack wrote about Quest 2: “We built something pretty close to the right.” He also said that he was “tired of the fight” with Meta, which is spending billions on its Reality Labs division to build things like VR headsets and software for its vision of the metaverse. The New York Times said Carmack also wrote internal posts at Meta that were critical of CEO Mark Zuckerberg and CTO Andrew Bosworth.
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In a tweet to Carmack on Friday night, Bosworth thanked him and said, “It’s impossible to overstate the impact you’ve had on our work and the industry as a whole. People know about your technical skills, but what we will remember most is how hard you worked to help people.
@ID_AA_Carmack, it is impossible to overstate the impact you’ve had on our work and the industry as a whole. Your technical prowess is widely known, but it is your relentless focus on creating value for people that we will remember most. Thank you and see you in VR.
— Boz (@boztank) December 17, 2022
This isn’t the first time Carmack has been upset with what Meta’s top VR priorities are. The company also killed his mobile projects, the Samsung Gear VR and the low-cost Oculus Go. At the time, he said, “we missed an opportunity” with both of these.
During his unscripted talk at Meta Connect in October, he was very honest about his frustrations. He said, “There are many things in virtual reality that make me mad.” He said that it’s hard for users to update headsets quickly and seemed very sceptical about Horizon Worlds’ progress as a social platform and Meta’s decision to raise the price of the Quest 2 and release a $1,500 Quest Pro. “I’ve always made it clear that I think cheap headsets for the mass market are the most important thing for us and for VR to catch on,” he said.
In 1991, Carmack also helped start the company id Software, which made games like Doom, Quake, Wolfenstein 3D, and Commander Keen. The studio was bought by the company that owns Bethesda in 2009. In 2014, ZeniMax and id sued Oculus and Luckey for stealing trade secrets. The lawsuit mentioned Carmack’s help for Oculus while he was still working for ZeniMax. In 2018, the parties reached a deal.
Now, Carmack will focus on Keen Technologies.
From his Facebook page, here is Carmack’s full message to employees:
I resigned from my position as an executive consultant for VR with Meta. My internal post to the company got leaked to the press, but that just results in them picking a few choice bits out of it. Here is the full post, just as the internal employees saw it.
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 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 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 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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Jessa Martin is the author of Nogmagazine, A professional in writing by day, and novelist by night, she received her bachelor of arts in film from Howard University and her master of arts in media studies from the New School. A Brooklyn native, she is a lover of naps, cookie dough, and beaches, currently residing in the borough she loves, most likely multitasking.