John Carmark departs Meta

John Carmack Has Departed Meta, Now Working on Artificial General Intelligence

Ah, John Carmack, a name I grew up on playing Doom and various other games from ID Software, and eventually migrated to Facebook/Meta, to work on its VR platform, has announced he’s now leaving.

As reported by Mike VRO, an enthusiast in the VR space, John Carmack gave a brief rundown of what he’s been up to, his passion for VR, and ultimately why he’s leaving — he’s not satisfied with the pace of the evolution of VR while being employed at Meta and the efficiency of the company. And I tend to agree with him. It’s hard to stay at a company and not being happy with what you’re doing, that eventually, something is going to burst.

In another Twitter post, John stated that he wrote an internal post while still employed at Meta, that was leaked to the press, but sadly those press “cherry-picked” what they wanted to use for a story. With respect to Carmack, here is the entire post, and it’s quite lengthy.

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”!

While I don’t claim to understand the ins and outs of Meta’s VR platform, I can only wonder if the final straw was the release on the Meta Quest Pro. It’s an outrageous priced VR headset that isn’t aimed at consumers, and it’s just there. I’ve seen multiple conversations regarding the headset, and those usually ended with those wondering what the entire purpose of the headset was.

Regardless, having John Carmack leave Meta will likely place a giant hole at Meta, as he was a key component in their VR plans. When Carmack left ID Software, he went to Facebook to work on its VR platform, and was responsible for the growth of the Quest VR headsets. I still remember when John departed ID Software back in 2013 to go work on Oculus VR, as it was known then.

For now, John Carmark has mentioned he has joined Keen Technologies and will work on AGI (Artificial general intelligence), which has been in the news quite a bit as of late. More so late, due to AI-generated art and story being written by AI. As for VR, it’s too soon to say if he’ll ever go back to work on it, but for now, he definitely has found a new challenge for himself.