Zuckerberg tells potential investors about ‘the Hacker Way’

2 Feb 2012

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg yesterday included a letter to potential investors as part of the social networking site’s filing with the SEC for a US$5bn initial IPO. In the letter, he said Facebook had “cultivated a unique culture and management approach that we call the Hacker Way”. He also spoke about Facebook’s “social mission”.

Zuckerberg’s letter was included as part of Facebook’s IPO filing to the SEC in which it filed for its flotation in May. As part of the filing, Facebook said it hoped to raise US$5bn initially and indicated had 845m monthly active users. When Facebook IPOs in May, employees of Facebook look set to hold 30pc in the company while Zuckerberg will hold 24pc of the company’s stock.

In the circa 2,000-word letter, the 27-year-old Zuckerberg spoke about the genesis of Facebook and its mission.

“Facebook was not originally founded to be a company,” he wrote. “We’ve always cared primarily about our social mission, the services we’re building and the people who use them. This is a different approach for a public company to take, so I want to explain why I think it works.”

Zuckerberg added that he had began by “writing the first version of Facebook myself because it was something I wanted to exist.”

After that, he said “most of the ideas and code that have gone into Facebook have come from the great people we’ve attracted to our team”.

The hacker way?

So what did Zuckerberg mean when he alluded to “the Hacker Way”?

“We have cultivated a unique culture and management approach that we call the Hacker Way,” he said.

“The word ‘hacker’ has an unfairly negative connotation from being portrayed in the media as people who break into computers. In reality, hacking just means building something quickly or testing the boundaries of what can be done. Like most things, it can be used for good or bad, but the vast majority of hackers I’ve met tend to be idealistic people who want to have a positive impact on the world.”

“The Hacker Way is an approach to building that involves continuous improvement and iteration. Hackers believe that something can always be better, and that nothing is ever complete. They just have to go fix it – often in the face of people who say it’s impossible or are content with the status quo.”

Hackathons at Facebook

He said that every few months, Facebook runs “a hackathon”, where employees work on building prototypes for new ideas they might have.

“Many of our most successful products came out of hackathons, including Timeline, chat, video, our mobile development framework and some of our most important infrastructure, like the HipHop compiler.”

And Zuckerberg said Facebook requires all new engineers to share this type of hacker approach.

“We require all new engineers – even managers whose primary job will not be to write code – to go through a programme called Bootcamp where they learn our codebase, our tools and our approach. There are a lot of folks in the industry who manage engineers and don’t want to code themselves, but the type of hands-on people we’re looking for are willing and able to go through Bootcamp.”

Other key segments of the letter include Zuckerberg’s hope “to strengthen how people relate to each other”.

He wrote: “Even if our mission sounds big, it starts small – with the relationship between two people … At Facebook, we build tools to help people connect with the people they want and share what they want, and by doing this we are extending people’s capacity to build and maintain relationships.”

Then he said that the social networking site hopes to “rewire” how people “spread and consume information”.

“We think the world’s information infrastructure should resemble the social graph – a network built from the bottom up or peer-to-peer, rather than the monolithic, top-down structure that has existed to date. We also believe that giving people control over what they share is a fundamental principle of this rewiring”.

Influencing people’s relationships with governments?

Zuckerberg also wrote how he has aspirations for Facebook to alter how people “relate” to their governments and social institutions.

“We believe building tools to help people share can bring a more honest and transparent dialogue around government that could lead to more direct empowerment of people, more accountability for officials and better solutions to some of the biggest problems of our time,” he said.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic