Unlike hundreds of other tech bloggers, I’ll confess: I haven’t really been waiting with pins and needles all day to write a live blog or scrutinize or analyze the long-awaited facebook IPO. These are the benefits, I would say, of specifically covering educational technology. (It’s also the benefit of still recovering from all those years in graduate school: I’m too poor to buy stocks and too free-spirited to worry about an investment portfolio. I may feel sorry for not being able to plan for retirement in the future) . comments.)
however, the filing of a $5 billion initial public offering by the people who helped redefine “share”, “like” and “friend” is an important moment for the economy, for the web , for the technology industry, for us and, of course, for all the early investors and shareholders of facebook.
While many people pore over the accounting that an IPO reveals (facebook’s profits, sources of its income, etc.), I am fascinated by the letter that CEO and founder mark zuckerberg wrote as part of the presentation. It is a statement of Zuckerberg’s personal philosophy intended to explain his vision for his company.
wired’s tim carmody offers an annotated version of the letter; It’s worth a read for Tim’s thoughts on what Zuck is “really saying.” below, I have excerpted part of the letter in detail, a section called “the hacker’s way”. Considering the name and momentum of this blog, this is the part that interests me the most:
The word “hacker” has an unfairly negative connotation for being portrayed in the media as people who break into computers. hacking really just means building something quickly or testing the limits of what can be done. Like most things, it can be used for better or worse, but the vast majority of hackers I’ve met tend to be idealistic people who want to make a positive impact on the world.
the hacker way is a build approach 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 front of people who say it’s impossible or are happy with the status quo.
See also: Gmail
Hackers try to create the best long-term services by quickly releasing and learning from smaller iterations instead of trying to get everything right all at once. To support this, we have created a testing framework that can test thousands of versions of Facebook at any one time. we have the words “done is better than perfect” painted on our walls to remind us to always keep shipping.
hacking is also an inherently practical and active discipline. Instead of debating for days whether a new idea is possible or what is the best way to build something, hackers prefer to prototype something and see what works. There’s a hacker mantra you’ll hear a lot in Facebook offices: “Code wins arguments.”
hacker culture is also extremely open and meritocratic. hackers believe that the best idea and implementation should always win, not the person who is the best at lobbying for an idea or the person who manages the most people.
To encourage this approach, every few months we have a hackathon, where everyone builds prototypes for the new ideas they have. in the end, the whole team gets together and looks at everything that has been built. many of our most successful products grew out of hackathons, including timeline, chat, video, our mobile development framework, and some of our most important infrastructure like the hiphop compiler.
To make sure all of our engineers share this approach, we require that all new engineers, even managers whose primary job isn’t writing code, go through a program called bootcamp where they learn about our code base, tools, and approach. . there are plenty of people in the industry who manage engineers and don’t want to code themselves, but the kind of hands-on people we’re looking for are willing and able to go through boot camp.
All of the examples above relate to engineering, but we’ve distilled these principles into five core values for how we run Facebook:
focus on impact: If we want to have the biggest impact, the best way to do it is to make sure that we always focus on solving the most important problems. It sounds simple, but we believe that most companies do it wrong and waste a lot of time. we hope everyone at facebook is good at finding the biggest problems to work on.
Move Fast: Moving fast allows us to build more things and learn faster. however, as most companies grow, they slow down too much because they are more afraid of making mistakes than missing opportunities by moving too slowly. We have a saying: “move fast and break things”. the idea is that if you never break anything, you’re probably not moving fast enough.
be bold: building great things means taking risks. this can be scary and stops most companies from doing the bold things they should. however, in a world that is changing so rapidly, you are guaranteed to fail if you don’t take the risk. We have another saying: “the riskiest thing is not to take risks”. we encourage everyone to make bold decisions, even if it means getting it wrong sometimes.
Be open: We believe that a more open world is a better world because people with more information can make better decisions and have a greater impact. that also applies to the operation of our company. We work hard to make sure everyone at Facebook has access to as much information as possible about every part of the company so they can make the best decisions and have the greatest impact.
Create Social Value: Once again, Facebook exists to make the world more open and connected, not just to build a business. We expect everyone at Facebook to focus every day on creating real value for the world in everything they do.
source: facebook s-1, page 69
carmody says this part of the letter sounds like it was put together from a variety of agile web development guides and sounds like the sort of “mission statement” crafted at a company retreat. fair enough.
but as someone who thinks a lot about the need for more courage, openness, speed, flexibility and real social value in education (technology) – and wow I can’t believe I’m writing this – I find this part of the letter Zuckerberg’s, a compelling enough vision to shake up a number of institutions (and not just “old media” or wall street). “Hacking is… an inherently practical and active discipline,” Zuck writes. “Instead of debating for days whether a new idea is possible or what is the best way to build something, hackers would rather prototype something and see what works.” this is an important lesson that we need to heed in educational institutions, I would say, though I’m sure it’s not one that many people want to hear.