Why Facebook Is Sending Its People to Mobile Coding Camp (And Not Just Engineers)

Published on March 4, 2013
by Mike Isaac

facebook_mobileDo me a favor — listen to Facebook’s next earnings call and count the number of times CEO Mark Zuckerberg says the word “mobile.” If you played it as a drinking game, you’d be blotto before CFO David Ebersman even got on the line.

That’s no mistake (obviously). It’s the company’s mission to spread the “mobile first” mentality throughout the organization (a maxim oft heard and quickly becoming trite in the Valley), which means thinking about designing for mobile in all of the company’s product development.

How to do that, after the organization already has upward of 3,500 employees, with more being added every day? Part of the solution: Send ’em to boot camp.

Facebook has contracted the services of Big Nerd Ranch, an 11-year-old outfit responsible for running a week-long, 40-hour crash course in mobile development that any and all Facebook employees can sign up for.

“Eighty percent of those who took the training were software engineers,” Facebook Director of Mobile Engineering Mike Shaver told reporters at a roundtable Monday. But surprisingly, folks from departments other than engineering were willing to sign up for the course, from marketing to sales to disciplines that wouldn’t require a comprehensive knowledge of mobile coding.

The way Shaver describes it, it’s part of Facebook’s grand, year-long initiative to shift from a Web-centric model of thought to incorporating “native code” — or programming language specific to iOS or Android — into the company’s thinking. In short, it’s crucial in making Facebook’s apps actually perform well. (Remember how crappy the Facebook app was a year ago? I certainly do.)

Which is sort of important, given that Facebook is one of the most popular apps on smartphones across the world.

The program seems to be going well. More than 450 employees have gone through Big Nerd Ranch’s sessions since last July, with nearly two-thirds of those opting to focus on Android rather than iOS. And that’s important to note, too, considering Android’s massive reach in the global mobile device market.

I’d imagine as Facebook continues to hire, the program will continue to expand. Facebook doesn’t require that folks have specific engineering experience in certain areas — “generalists are welcome,” Shaver said — but the ones who are already well versed in either iOS or Android can move through the organization and act as “little seed crystals for different product groups,” Shaver said, which will hopefully beef up the mobile focus overall.

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