Zuckerberg's challenge: Sticking with 'Hacker Way'

As Facebook's revenue--and employee base--doubles and triples, it will be increasingly hard to just iterate and maintain the "Hacker Way."

Mark Zuckerberg may dress like a hacker but will soon be able to afford some very expensive hoodies. James Martin/CNET

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a letter to potential shareholders romanticized the "Hacker Way" of operating and the meritocracy that comes via good code.

His challenge will be maintaining that ethos amid quarterly earnings conference calls, employees that will be instant millionaires and the politics that come with being a large lumbering company.

Technology high fliers all have the same dream: Become huge yet maintain the nimbleness of a startup.

There have been so many pixels spilled on Facebook's IPO filing . That document may be the most examined IPO filing in recent times. But for me Zuckerberg's Hacker Way sticks out. Here's an excerpt from Zuckerberg's letter to potential shareholders:

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.

Hackers try to build the best services over the long term by quickly releasing and learning from smaller iterations rather than trying to get everything right all at once. To support this, we have built a testing framework that at any given time can try out thousands of versions of Facebook. We have the words "Done is better than perfect" painted on our walls to remind ourselves to always keep shipping.

Hacking is also an inherently hands-on and active discipline. Instead of debating for days whether a new idea is possible or what the best way to build something is, hackers would rather just prototype something and see what works. There's a hacker mantra that you'll hear a lot around 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 best at lobbying for an idea or the person who manages the most people.

Let's dissect this Hacker Way and its prospects as Facebook becomes a Wall Street darling.

Facebook's finances

Facebook has finally opened up its books. What do you think?

First, Facebook had $3.71 billion in revenue in 2011. As Facebook's revenue--and employee base--doubles and triples it will be increasingly hard to just iterate. Facebook will face the same problem as any large company: legacy code. Iterations may mean that Facebook's infrastructure becomes to sprawling. The big question: can the Hacker Way scale?

And then there's the keep shipping motto. That approach has worked well for Facebook even though it sometimes riles up the user base. As Facebook grows it's going to be increasingly difficult to keep thousands of versions of Facebook in the air.

As far as Facebook's open code-based meritocracy. I just don't buy it. Facebook will become a political animal just like all large companies. All you have to do is find an early Google employee vs. one today. Ditto for Microsoft. Companies change and ultimately management mumbo jumbo comes into play.

I wish Zuckerberg and his Hacker Way well, but it's going to be tricky to manage going forward.

This story originally posted as "Facebook's post IPO challenge: Keeping its 'Hacker Way' intact" on ZDNet's Between the Lines.

 

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