Dimitry Soshnikov (left) writes code as Ryan Patterson helps him during a boot camp at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California. Photo by MCT.
Congratulations, recruit. Take a seat at one of Facebook's
long, white desks and look at the piece of paper taped on
your monitor: "Welcome to Facebook!"
Underneath, printed in big, bold, red letters, are slogans
like: "We Hack Therefore We Are," or "Move Fast and Break
Things." Within days, your software code will be in front of
our almost 900 million users.
And so begins the six-week journey of a new employee class in
Facebook's "Bootcamp," an experience shared by every
engineering hire, whether they are a grizzled Silicon Valley
veteran or a fresh-faced computer science grad.
Since 2008, hundreds of Facebook's engineers have passed
through Bootcamp, which may lack the physical tests of
military basic training but does provide the same kind of
shared experience and cultural indoctrination into the
world's largest social network.
Bootcamp is one part employee orientation, one part software
training programme and one part fraternity/sorority rush.
When new engineering recruits are hired at Facebook, they
typically do not know what job they will do. They choose
their job assignment and product team at the culmination of
Bootcamp, a programme that exemplifies Facebook's adherence
to founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg's "Hacker Way," an
organisational culture that is supposed to be egalitarian,
risk-taking, self-starting, irreverent, collaborative and
Each new recruit needs to take a deep breath. Within a few
days, all are expected to be pushing live software updates
out to the better part of a billion users. If a Bootcamper
crashes part of Facebook doing that, well, it won't be the
"I would describe it as a way for us to educate our engineers
not only on how we code and how we do our systems, but also
how to culturally think about how to attack challenges and
how to meet people," said Joel Seligstein, the head of the
Bootcamp programme, who might be described as Facebook's
answer to Yoda.
"We like to teach what's important very early on, on Day 1. I
would say it's even more of a cultural programme than it is a
From "the HP Way" at Hewlett-Packard to Google's sense of
what's "Googley," company culture is a mainstay of Silicon
Valley life. With workplace perks like free gourmet food and
other amenities, life at Facebook doesn't look much different
on the surface from Google, Zynga, Twitter or many other
young, fast-growing Internet companies.
But Facebook takes its zeal for culture one step further. It
plasters the walls of its offices with slogans like "Code
Wins Arguments" and "Move Fast and Break Things," Facebook's
version of Chairman Mao's Little Red Book of quotations.
Rather than top-down commandments, however, employees are
encouraged to tweak those messages or add their own opinions
in chalk or paint, a ritual called "Hacking the Space."
Within the company, it is an article of faith that the
culture of constant change embodied by those sayings
differentiates Facebook from its competitors, and will allow
the company to remain nimble even as it goes through a
landmark initial public offering of stock this year.
"It's a quasi-religious iconoclasm," said David Kirkpatrick,
author of "The Facebook Effect," a 2010 book about the rise
of the social network. "Facebook takes its culture deadly
seriously. They know the pace at which they arose and became
dominant in their field was even faster than Mark Zuckerberg
They also know that things on the Internet are constantly
changing at an extremely rapid rate, and the only way any
organization can stay alive is to be unbelievably dynamic."
Nothing encapsulates that culture better than Bootcamp, a
program started in 2008 by Andrew "Boz" Bosworth, a burly and
gregarious Saratoga, California, native with a map of
California tattooed on his forearm who was one of
Zuckerberg's teaching assistants at Harvard.
One of the keepers of Facebook culture, Bosworth started
Bootcamp when Facebook's engineering organisation passed 150
people, a threshold known as "Dunbar's number," the maximum
number of people with whom humans are believed to be able to
maintain stable social relationships.
Almost immediately after reporting for Bootcamp, new hires
get assigned by Seligstein to work independently on a few
real software bugs and problems, between lectures and other
Bootcamp activities. The expectation is that some of their
code should be ready to go live within days - one way
Bootcamp tries to unlearn habits that don't fit with
Facebook's urgent, ship-it-now culture.
Now that Facebook is growing so fast - about one-third of the
company's roughly 3200 employees have been hired since the
start of 2011 - Bootcamp has become a critical way to expose
new hires to the company's values and culture.
Beyond all else, Facebook executives say, employees have not
just the freedom, but the obligation, to try new things and
fail, because "shipping code" - adding new software that runs
the website - as quickly as possible is crucial to the
What other Silicon Valley companies "don't do is let their
employees take risks, and have failure be OK," said Jocelyn
Goldfein, a Facebook director of engineering. "I think that
is part of the secret sauce at Facebook. I didn't understand
this one until after I got here - that the tolerance for
failure, that ‘Move Fast and Break Things,' is actually what
keeps us open to continue to innovate."
"Can you think of another site that routinely pisses off such
a large percentage of their customers?" she asked, referring
to the user outrage that greets every Facebook change. "But
you can think of lots that had plenty of happy users, and
eventually dwindled into irrelevance."
Even though she was a long-time manager at VMware and
high-profile hire in 2010, Goldfein went through Bootcamp
like everybody else. By her first week, she said, she had
shipped more software code at Facebook than she did in her
seven years at VMware.
And, as has happened before, a fellow Bootcamper, working on
one of the software bugs that new recruits are typically
assigned to fix, made a mistake that crashed part of
"That was a really scary experience for him," Goldfein said.
"But no one said, ‘You idiot; you don't belong here.' They
said, ‘Hey, you tried, and here's what we're going to do to
try to fix it, and this is what you've learned.' That
experience of having people rally around you is really
tremendous, and what it teaches you to do to is rally around
Starting with Bootcamp, Facebook recruits are exposed to a
series of slogans that are intended to encapsulate the
company's values. Among the sayings posted on red-letter
posters around any Facebook office are:
-Move Fast and Break Things
-What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?
-The Foolish Wait
-Our Work Is Never Over
-We Hack Therefore We Are
-Are You Fearless?
-Done Is Better Than Perfect
-Code Wins Arguments