Why Mark Zuckerberg is the last to know about cool new Facebook features

Mark zuckerbergScott Olson / Getty ImagesFacebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Once a year, engineers at Facebook are encouraged — but not required — to ditch their jobs and try something else out within the company for thirty days, a program it started in 2011 called “Hackamonth.”

You know Google’s vaunted 20% time, where engineers get a dedicated portion of their workday for side-projects? It’s “kind of like that, but on steroids,” says Facebook developer advocate James Pearce in an interview with Business Insider. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

It’s well-known that lots of Facebook features, from the Like button to the Timeline view itself, got their starts at Facebook’s famous all-night hackathons. In fact, so many of Facebook’s new features and products come from engineers just doing their thing that cool new stuff doesn’t always percolate up to the higher levels right away.

“Mark [Zuckerberg] is the last to know,” Pearce says.

But not every problem can be fixed or solved in one evening.

For those who want to solve “bigger, more architectural problems,” says Pearce, a Hackamonth is the way to go. When an engineer is ready get busy on a hackamonth project, Facebook has an internal website that makes it “very, very easy” to find a team to go link up with. Or, if you have your own big, crazy idea, you can use it to find a like-minded team to help bring it to fruition over the course of a month.

At the end of the month, if you click with your new team, you’re allowed to stay. There’s no hard feelings or friction among former colleagues, Pearce says — it’s just what you do at Facebook these days. And he says that the company appreciates those who lend out their expertise.

“Ultimately, we value engineers who can be generous,” Pearce says.

A lot of the projects that comes out of the Hackamonth program is nerdy, behind-the-scenes stuff around app updates and site performance. But the impact Hackamonth projects have on Facebook, as a company, is big, Pearce says. And it all starts with what the developer wants to do.

And, obviously, by helping developers switch it up a little bit, it prevents (or at least forestalls) some of the burnout that can come from working in any job too long. Ideally, developers come back re-energised, or they find something that works better for them.

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