It's the culture, stupid.
Signs are spread on Facebook walls and employees are encouraged to comment them.
Mike Schroepfer, VP of engineering at Facebook.
"What would you do if you weren't afraid?" A question that according to Mike Schroepfer, VP of engineering at Facebook, lies in the middle of the company's culture. A culture that incorporates transparency, embraces failure, encourages going fast and breaking things and inspires its employees on being bold. No wonder that Hackathons are a huge part of Facebook culture ("Hack" is actually written on the face of the building). Mike enumerated the number of projects that saw the light during hackathons, Facebook's chat, video, Hip Hop for PHP project to name a few. He said that these events offer employees and interns a chance to launch ideas they're excited about and help create a collaborative dynamic that is essential to stirring innovation within the company.
Going bold has also been the motto of the Prineville project which aimed to Build a Data Center that approaches the theoretically most efficient Data Center and that doesn't require any air conditioning. By circulating the air from the outside into the building, the Data Center was based on a "We just open the window" approach which was a first in the industry. The details of Prineville's design have been made public and can be accessed on http://opencompute.org/
to "help other companies save money" says Mike.
Prineville primary design.
It's not not about Technology.
Having a culture that readies the ground for innovation is essential, but building the IT to support it is the voucher of its sustainability. Tim Campos, director of IT, gave us a compelling overview of how IT at Facebook supports a "move fast and break things culture".
It starts by breaking the old school paradigm and maintaining an environment that values productivity and efficiency, gives employees "Choice", offers them awesome support ("If it's not awesome support, it's not good enough" according to Tim) and is essentially agile. The Facebook way, as Tim calls it, is based on living the enterprise's standards, personalised automation and a menu of choices.
"We think that employees don't need to be controlled, they need to be empowered". To illustrate this, Tim presented the supply vending machine. A dispenser that tags supplies with their price to create self-accountability in employees. "It's ok for them to use, but it's good to tell them how much it costs".
Tim Campos also gave us an overview of some internal tools used by Facebook to support a culture of openness, sharing and transparency. Facebook uses platforms that enable employees to know where they are positioned within the organization. Each employee has an internal Facebook page that states who he reports to and what projects he has been working on.
Discussions aren't done around emails but rather occur in a Facebook-notes-like fashion with features such as comments and likes.
Employees review are also revisited. Facebook uses Rypple to get feedback from employees. If an employee does something exceptional (even outside of his team), he can get recognition "Give a Thanks" from fellow collaborators and a notification is sent to his manager. This not only helps with performance reviews but means a lot to employees who feel valued for the job they do.
Facebook's story is an impressive example of how a culture backed up by solid IT can create an ecology for innovation. In the end, it's about empowering your employees and reinventing yourself on regular basis. less control is really equivalent of more impact!