Kara Swisher

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Exclusive: Facebook CTO Bret Taylor Departs (For Start-Ups Unknown)

Facebook’s high-profile CTO Bret Taylor is leaving the Silicon Valley social networking giant later this summer, with future plans to work on an as-yet-to-be-determined start-up.

The move is likely to be of concern to some over the newly public company’s ability to hold onto entrepreneurial talent, especially in the wake of continued intense media and investor scrutiny over its rocky IPO last month.

That’s especially true since Taylor has been in charge of both platform and mobile efforts at Facebook, a critical arena for it.

A pair of Facebook execs under Taylor — Mike Vernal and Cory Ondrejka — will be taking over platform and mobile, respectively.

Vernal joined Facebook in 2008 from Microsoft, leading the original Facebook Connect project and also working on platform efforts and the development of Open Graph. Ondrejka arrived at the company in 2010 through the acquisition of Walletin; he previously worked at Linden Labs on Second Life virtual worlds.

While well qualified, they have big shoes to fill. Named to CTO two years ago, Taylor has also been a strong public figure at Facebook events, including its recent developers conference. And he was front and center at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference earlier this week at the announcement of Facebook integration into its newest iOS.

In an interview today, Taylor said he understands that his departure will be perceived as a disruption, although he noted that Facebook had a deep bench of talented technical staff under CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.

“I had always been upfront with Mark that I eventually wanted to do another start-up,” he said. “And we felt now is the best time after the IPO and the launch of some recent things for me to do that.”

That includes the Apple deal, Facebook Camera and also its App Center, which helps users find mobile and desktop apps their friends like.

Facebook is also reportedly working on a major effort to create its own smartphone, a project known as “Buffy.”

Taylor, who had previously worked at Google, has a strong start-up background. He left the search giant to found FriendFeed, a once-popular social aggregator. FriendFeed was acquired by Facebook in 2009.

Noting that his time at Facebook “has been the among the most fulfilling times of my career,” Taylor said that his departure was only part of life as usual in Silicon Valley.

“Cross-pollination among companies is what drives so much of innovation, so I would not project a lot onto this event,” he said. “I am really confident that the mobile and platform leaders at Facebook can deliver what needs to be done.”

When asked about the worries he had for the company, Taylor said the challenge of becoming public was top of mind internally.

“We are dealing with the cultural change of increasing attention, from going from a private company with a lot of scrutiny to a public company with a lot more scrutiny,” he said.

But he maintained that Facebook’s ability to remain nimble as it grew was strong, noting that the tech side continues to work in small teams. “These details really matter,” he said.

As for his own future, Taylor said he had not decided the area that he was going to focus on, but that he would be starting something with another former Googler, Kevin Gibbs.

Taylor said that he would probably focus on an industry he does not understand well as a consumer, as he did when he was working on Google’s mapping efforts.

“People said we had no sense of direction, so making maps better made sense,” he joked. “That turned out pretty well.”

Here is Taylor’s post on Facebook about the pending departure:

I wanted to let you all know that I’ll be leaving Facebook later this summer. I’m sad to be leaving, but I’m excited to be starting a company with my friend Kevin Gibbs.

While a transition like this is never easy, I’m extremely confident in the teams and leadership we have in place. I’m very proud of our recent accomplishments in our platform and mobile products, from Open Graph and App Center to Facebook Camera and our iOS integration. I’m even more excited for the world to see all the amazing things these teams have coming.

I’ve learned more than I ever imagined in my time at Facebook. I’m also extremely grateful for my relationship with all of the amazing people I’ve worked with here.

I want to give a special thanks to Mark Zuckerberg. You’ve not only been my boss for the past three years, but my mentor and one of my closest friends.

Thanks to all of you at Facebook for the most incredible three years of my life.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work