January 19, 2010Culture · Compute · Bootcamp · Recruiting

Bootcamp: Growing Culture at Facebook

Ben Hamilton

One of the biggest challenges in any company is instilling your culture and values in your new hires. Especially as a company grows, this challenge becomes harder and harder to solve. In my experience, the most successful companies build a strong, self-sustaining culture from the very early stages, and use that foundation to recruit and retain the best talent in the industry.

I just finished my first six weeks here, and I'm proud to say Facebook's engineering organization is built around reinforcing a unique culture of self-sufficient individual contribution from Day One with our Engineering Bootcamp program. (If you don't know much about Engineering Bootcamp at Facebook, check out Andrew Bosworth's excellent introduction to this innovative program. It's great reading!) Looking in from the outside, the idea of joining a general pool of newbie engineers, learning from my mentors and peers, and then choosing the team that best fit me seemed a little alien at first. Before Facebook, I'd always been assigned to a team before my first interview at a company. To think I had control over my own destiny at Facebook was at the same time empowering—and more than a little nerve-wracking! In hindsight, though, the ideas behind Bootcamp are simple and brilliant, and refreshingly different from a traditional new hire training program. Six weeks of hands-on concrete problem solving and cross-team feature work with an experienced mentor are a perfect way for any group (not just Engineering!) to:

  • -Propagate the culture in a scalable way
  • -Get new hires to build connections across the organization
  • -Keep individual teams sharp and motivated to attract the best talent

At first, I thought I'd need to choose an engineering specialty quickly and start diving deeply into that area in order to catch up to my future teammates. However, my mentor urged me to take advantage of my first six weeks to do just the opposite, and try to get my fingers into as many different parts of Facebook's architecture as I could: legacy, current, and even upcoming systems. This was great advice; I ended up learning about all sorts of systems at Facebook simply by fixing bugs and implementing features. Now, I feel confident that even if I don't know how to solve a particular problem, I've got a good grip on who to talk to and which systems at Facebook are applicable to the issue. This helps me avoid my innate engineer tendency to reinvent the wheel (although questioning tradition can be healthy).

It's not just new hires like me that learn and grow from Bootcamp: observing the typical roadblocks encountered by newbies is a great way to identify and refine all sorts of systems that need improvement, which helps the entire organization. My mentor worked closely with me to clear away any roadblocks like that and make sure folks didn't run into them in the future, which made me feel empowered in turn to identify and resolve the major pain points of my future teammates. Now that I've graduated and joined my new team, I'd love to see the ideas behind Facebook's Engineering Bootcamp go mainstream in other organizations. Having seen the culture and values of several other companies slowly erode over time, I have confidence that Bootcamp is a great way to build and maintain a strong foundation of motivated, top-tier talent who can build the future of the company. I know I'm already looking forward to being a part of that future!

Ben Gertzfield is a new engineer at Facebook, and is already looking forward to becoming a Bootcamp mentor himself.

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