At Facebook, Andrew Bosworth is just known as “Boz.” With his shaved head and tattoos, he looks pretty badass.When he’s not coding new features like News Feed, a once-controversial ticker of updates that’s now the core of the social network, he’s serving as the hardcore drill sergeant behind the appropriately named Bootcamp, Facebook’s program to get new programmers up to speed.
But he has a generous, nurturing side, too: In his spare time, he advises entrepreneurs, like the founders of hyperlocal startup Spindle.
We got the chance to ask Boz a few questions about Facebook, Spindle, and his amazing career.
Business Insider: How do you balance advising companies with your duties at Facebook?
Boz: The way I think about this is that if I wasn’t excited to put in extra effort above and beyond my schedule at Facebook then I wouldn’t accept the role. I take advising really seriously and since I put Facebook first I end up being very selective about the companies I advise.
BI: How did you get connected with the guys over at Spindle? What inspired you to advise them? What do you think Spindle has that other apps don’t?
Boz: When Pat was still at Microsoft, he and I worked together on the integration of Docs.com into Facebook Messages. That was a fun project and I was pretty impressed with him so we stayed in touch.
Later on, after he left Microsoft, he came by for lunch and we started talking about his new project. I was actually pretty sceptical that they would be able to build a relevance engine or that it was even an important thing to focus on that early on in the project. When he showed me a demo, though, I was really impressed.
I think that is a pretty serious competitive advantage for them and they were right to invest in it as early as they did. I had a few ideas about the presentation and a few possible pitfalls and we just started a dialog about it and later they asked if I would officially advise them.
BI: What did you learn during the early days of Facebook that you shared with Spindle so they would do things similarly or different?Boz: The biggest challenge small organisations face is choosing what to work on. A new product is a blank canvas but with limited time and money how you choose to focus your energy is really the most important thing. I’ve really just tried to provide perspective to the team about what things ended up being really important in the long run for us and what things seemed important but weren’t. Some of this advice won’t be too surprising, like really focusing on growth and optimising those flows. Other advice is a little more subtle like how to balance putting energy into relevance vs performance or other trade offs.
BI: You’ve been involved with big products like the News Feed and Facebook Messages. How are those going today, and what’s the takeaway from your experiences? Have there been any specific lessons from those products that now form part of the wisdom you’re sharing with Spindle?
Boz: I’ve been fortunate to work on a huge range of products here at Facebook and they have pretty much all grown beyond my expectations and just kept on growing. At one level I have learned a lot about actually building products; when you build and iterate on something used by so many people you start to develop a feel for design patterns and anti patterns that you can pretty readily apply to new products. On another level, I have learned a lot about the process of actually building things like how to balance speed and quality or how to prioritise features.
BI: You’ve been a key part of bringing new engineers up to speed at Facebook. When you look at the Spindle guys, are you thinking in the back of your head, “I wish these guys worked here at Facebook?”
Boz: The team seems really stellar and I’ve definitely been impressed with their work, but I think they are pretty happy in Boston at the moment, as they should be! One thing we think a lot about at Facebook is not just hiring great engineers but also building a platform that enables engineers across the world to create great social products. Spindle is a great example of that.
BI: A lot of startups sign people up as advisors because they really want to recruit them onto the team. Have you discussed a larger role at Spindle?
Boz: We’ve never even discussed it.
BI: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned working at Facebook?
Boz: I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is to get excited about ideas and not implementations. Implementations always have problems and if you are too attached to what you’ve built, instead of the idea you were pursuing, you won’t be able to see those flaws and make it better. Keeping an open mind and being self critical is really hard but it is the only way to build truly great products.
BI: Where do you find inspiration to continue innovating in your work?
Boz: Generally speaking I think people who are successful at building products are just very mindful as they go about their day. They are more acutely aware of annoyances or desires others might reasonably ignore. If you combine that with an engineering mindset sometimes we can figure out ways to solve those problems. In those scenarios it never really feels like you are innovating, it just feels like common sense.