Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Everything old is new again - learning from Facebook Bootcamp

I'm intrigued to read about the culture inside Facebook from this Wired article. Here's what caught my eye.

Facebook engineers and other product developers are hired after rounds of grueling interviews to assess their technical skills and cultural fit. But they are not placed in a specific job until six weeks after coming aboard.
During "Bootcamp", every new hire does small chores for a dozen or so diverse groups. Bootcamp isn’t just for figuring out which role is best for each newcomer. A more crucial aim is to infect each with the Facebook mindset, to live its most sacred belief: “Move fast and break things.” 
Bootcamp also instills other beliefs about what is sacred and taboo at Facebook. Engineers are expected to understand the code base, not just the part they tend to each day. Working on many different parts helps newcomers grasp the big picture. Rotating through many groups also sets the expectation that any role they play at Facebook won’t last long. 
After Bootcamp, these beliefs continue to be reinforced. Facebook doesn’t just tell new engineers that they likely won’t be in any job for long; they live this philosophy via a “nearly mandatory” program called “hack-a-month”  where — each year — they are “loaned” to another group for a month.
A classic "staged" photo of RN Indonesian department in the 1960's. Done for PR. Äll broadcasters made these "quick look busy" shots.

My thoughts
This article reminds me of the fundamental difference between Dutch and UK public broadcasting in the 1990's. The BBC had what they called an attachment scheme which encouraged people to share skills, explore other parts of the organisation. It broke the routine, which is otherwise deadly for creatives. The BBC had it faults, but this was certainly not one of them. This was investment in careers.
In the Netherlands, you were always hired for a specific job, usually thrown in at the deep end because the space was already vacant. And there you stayed until you complained. Or were replaced by the next management coup. 
Moving between departments was usually seen as threatening by the department you were joining ("oh, they are sending someone to interfere"). So they built silos not communities. One of the challenges working in international broadcasting (like BBC World Service, Radio Nederland, or Deutsche Welle) was that programme departments spoke different languages because they were addressing different audiences. So lessons learned from one area were not easily shared from between communities. In fact, the most creative thinking about the future was usually during a crisis - language departments under threat discovered what they had in common, rather than what made they different. 
I get the impression the reason why a lot of broadcasters are failing fast is that they see their personnel purely as an expense. It's all about your performance in the role. Never about what you shared with others. But as soon as people stop learning, the good people leave.
It looks like Facebook has rediscovered some aspects of the ideas of ensuring mobility within an organisation. Keep it fresh. Keep the challenges clear. Remember that routine is the enemy of creativity.
Anyone else with a similar experience?

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