Facebook’s famous mandate to “move fast and break things” can backfire.
For instance, in a recent presentation to an iOS app developer group in the UK this past September, Facebook engineer Simon Whitaker laid out how its iOS app can have as many as 429 developers contributing code every week.
Once in a while, something that’s built quickly but poorly will just fall apart.
The company’s developers even have a term for it: “Clowntown.”
“Clowntown simply means that the situation at hand has gotten so bad that the clowns now rule the asylum,” ex-Facebook engineer Girish Patangay, who claims credit for inventing the term, once explained on Quora.
In his presentation, Whitaker says that he went a step further — and became the “Zombie Mayor of Clowntown.”
Earlier this year, Whitaker was the developer in charge of Facebook’s “legacy contact” feature, which lets you set a next-of-kin to take over your profile page in the event of your death. If activated, that legacy contact gets a Facebook message expressing the company’s condolences and offering control of the account.
The original version of legacy contact was a quick-and-dirty hack, Whitaker says. So when he got an intern over the summer, he tasked her with rewriting the feature from scratch, taking the time to do it with a little more style.
Except that while he was setting her up with this project, making a fake account for her to test with, he accidentally messed up some of his code.
Instead of making a fake dead person, Whitaker marked his own account as deceased. His coworkers had a good laugh.
And his wife, marked as his legacy contact, got a message offering Facebook’s condolences for the passing of Simon Whitaker.
By his own reckoning, that makes Whitaker the Zombie Mayor of Clowntown.
Incidentally, Whitaker’s talk sparked a lot of controversy in the programmer community. As this blog post lays out, a lot of programmers apparently feel that if Facebook’s sheer scale requires it to have that many programmers writing that much code, it means that they’re not making smart design decisions.
“I’d never want anyone in my tiny team thinking this is what the cool kids are doing. I’d never want to work this way, but it works for them,” as one Reddit comment put it, in part.
Facebook did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.
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