Facebook Seattle: Past 30 Hires and Growing, Adding Heft to Chat Overhaul, Running Out of Mob-Lunch Restaurant Space

An obvious sign your small office is growing fast: It’s getting harder to find a table for an all-hands meal. As workplace annoyances go, that’s a good one to have—especially if you’re leading Facebook’s first engineering hub outside the mothership in Palo Alto, CA.

Xconomy chatted with Seattle’s office lead, Ari Steinberg, Wednesday evening as the group welcomed visitors for a “Tech Talk” about its recent work on improving its analytics interface. (No joke: This was on the magazine table by the front desk.)

Steinberg’s overview was similar to what you hear from a lot of Silicon Valley companies that have expanded to Seattle—he says Facebook’s beachhead here is humming right along, continuing to add staff, and “really pleasantly surprised by the quality of people that we’re getting.”

But he adds that Seattle’s new engineers have already made a mark within the company and may eventually take the lead on some projects.

“Even in just our first small batch of people, there’s a number of them that have clearly had a pretty big impact and developed positive reputations among people in Palo Alto,” Steinberg says. “They’re very quickly getting some recognition.”

When Facebook Seattle was announced, officials said they planned to have space for around 30 people. Steinberg says they’ve probably topped that number already (after opening in August) and don’t see any reason to slow down yet.

“We’re actually now hitting some scaling problems,” he says. “The restaurant was going crazy [Wednesday] when we went for lunch because they didn’t have a table big enough for the whole group.”

Seattle’s engineers aren’t limited to a certain group of projects, but the office near Pike Place Market has developed clusters of people focusing on mobile, chat infrastructure, spam-fighting and the development platform, Steinberg says.

“There may also, down the road, be teams that are entirely based in Seattle. This isn’t like a hard-and-fast rule that it has to be this way,” Steinberg says. “It’s kind of an evolutionary thing. So I think as more people show up, we figure out what’s the best fit for them, and we can change things.”

From a user’s viewpoint, a lot of the work being done in Seattle is still behind the scenes—which makes sense, since most of the people have joined in the past four months or so, fairly close to the amount of time needed to ship a project, Steinberg says.

Seattle engineers, however, have already taken a noticeable role in helping to beef up Facebook’s chat feature. The project originally was based entirely in Palo Alto, but Steinberg says Seattle has now become a second “center of mass” for that work.

Staying in touch with headquarters is done with all of the communication tools you’d expect in a 21st century workplace. But all the technical tools in the world can’t entirely replace the dynamic of a good shoulder-to-shoulder collaboration—as Facebook Vice President Mike Schroepfer pointed out last year, “it’s really hard to substitute for piling into a conference room and hashing things out on a whiteboard at 9 at night.”

Steinberg says that’s been helped by the clusters of engineers working on a project in the smaller office: They get some teammates to work with face-to-face, and “in Palo Alto, it becomes a much higher priority to integrate those people when there’s more than one of them.”

Navigating all of this is an interesting change for Steinberg and crew—they’re essentially writing the playbook for how Facebook’s satellite engineering offices will work in the future. As an engineer himself, Steinberg also is trying to balance between straight-ahead recruiting, integration of new hires, and some good old-fashioned coding whenever he can.

“I can’t keep myself away from it,” he says.

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