Zuckerberg, Schroepfer: Facebook’s Crazy Growth Means Balancing Small-Team Culture While Making Sure Things Don’t Fall Apart

6/30/11Follow @curtwoodward

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I think being at that phase of life means we can’t have Seattle be like, ‘Oh all the projects we didn’t think were important, we’re going to send up to Seattle.’ Really, it’s like, ‘Which one of these about-to-fall-over projects would you like to work on?’”

Of course, there are pitfalls when you’re playing that kind of high-stakes balancing act. Zuckerberg laughed while recalling an internal video that lampooned the amount of serious work thrown at the newest Facebook workers, and the big mistakes that can happen.

“After some intern committed a bug on photos that made it so that you couldn’t view any photos on the site for 20 minutes, there was this video that went around that was like ‘Yeah, of course it makes sense that we would send someone with three weeks of industry experience to fix the biggest photo site in the world,’” he said with a laugh. “Probably not our best moment. But I think it is one of the things that is coolest about the culture, though, is that we touch so many people using the products, hundreds of millions of people, but the team is small. And I think that’s one of the things that really characterizes working here now.”

Zuckerberg acknowledged it might not be that way forever, that at some point the growth might equalize and the ratio of employees to users would grow. But for now, it’s apparently a key part of the company—and enough of a balancing act that Steinberg has to get aggressive at times about managing what his people will work on and what they can’t be sucked into.

“Probably the hardest part is that there’s too many teams that are all trying to get people in Seattle,” Steinberg says. “I have to fight off some teams and say, ‘No, you guys can’t have anyone yet, because we want to double down on the things that we’re doing and get more cohesive groups up here.”

Zuckerberg pointed to the recent overhaul of Facebook’s mobile interfaces as probably the most notable area where engineers in the roughly 40-person Seattle engineering office played a major role.

“We have hundreds of millions of people using Facebook on mobile devices, and the majority of them are actually still using mobile Web, which is interesting, and I think not what a lot of people expect. I think a lot of people expect it to be iPhone or Android,” Zuckerberg says. “And we have this really big project that we just finished up here to relaunch the main mobile website so that all the code is unified … whether you’re using it in the iPhone app or a mobile Web app.”

As for the future, Zuckerberg says there’s “something awesome” coming from Facebook next week that was started in the Seattle office. Stay tuned for that announcement.

“I just think there’s so many good engineers up here, largely from Microsoft and Amazon traditionally, and Google a bit more recently, and there’s a really good startup scene up here,” Zuckerberg says. “I think it’s gone really well.”

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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