Inside Facebook's Engineering Culture: Part 1
A broad and deep dive in how Facebook / Meta works, from the perspective of SWEs and EMs.
Facebook – renamed Meta in October 2021 – is the world’s second most-used company by the number of users. At ~3.6B monthly users, it is second only to Google by this metric, meaning every second person on planet Earth uses a Facebook product.
Facebook also owns three of the four most-used social media networks by number of monthly users: Facebook (#1), WhatsApp (#3) and Instagram (#4). Only Google’s YouTube (#2) stops Facebook from locking out the top 4 places in the chart of most popular social media networks.
Facebook was founded not even 20 years ago, in 2004. Gaining market dominance and solidifying it across social media globally, was done at unprecedented speed by the company.
Today, this Big Tech giant has more than 75,000 employees worldwide, and about 32,000 of them work on the tech side. Since its founding, Facebook is the only major tech company to have a founding software engineer lead the company, with Mark Zuckeberg as CEO.
But what is it really like to work at Facebook? What is the culture like? How do teams get things done? What are processes and approaches that engineers use?
This issue is about “things software engineers and engineering managers should know about Facebook’s engineering culture.” While the information is especially useful for anyone planning to join the company, the utility of these details go well beyond that workplace. Facebook has grown blazingly fast to achieve global dominance; many of its unconventional methods might serve other tech companies hoping to grow with similar speed, just as well.
In this article, I am referring to Meta as “Facebook”. This is because the company rebrand happened recently, late last year. At the same time, the vast majority of details about the engineering culture come from the period when the company was called Facebook. I am also doing this in order to avoid using the Meta/Facebook phrase for those few details post-2021, and to not cause confusion by switching to a different name of “Facebook,” when discussing practices before October 2021.
Because of the length, the article is published in two parts: this is part one of a two-part series.
This series contains more information about Facebook’s engineering culture than any publication has revealed before. In writing this article, I talked with more than a dozen current and former Facebook / Meta software engineers, engineering managers, and engineering directors in verifying the details of this article. The majority of the people I talked with had more than 3 years’ tenure at Facebook.
Still, it’s not possible to capture every single detail about an organization with tens of thousands of software engineers. Facebook gives high autonomy to both individuals and teams to decide how they work. I can’t cover all that variety, but I try to provide a useful overview.
In this issue, we cover:
Standout differences between Facebook and other Big Tech companies
On the engineering-centric culture
On the individualistic culture
Software engineer hiring
Engineering manager hiring
Compensation: structure and examples
Alumni and boomerangs
Engineering and product roles
Performance reviews, bonuses and equity refreshers
With numbers on cash bonus targets, equity refresher dollar values for the US, personal performance multipliers and example compensation outcomes.
The calibration process
4. Engineering processes
Bootcamp & onboarding
How teams and projects operate
The tech stack
Notable internal systems and tools
Changes at the company over time
Advice to succeed as an engineer
Advice to succeed as an engineering manager
Advice when leaving the company
Advice and inspiration for founders and managers to take from Facebook
For a similar deepdive on Amazon, see the article Inside Amazon’s Engineering Culture.
Below are terms frequently used within Facebook.
Workplace: Facebook’s corporate version which the company heavily uses. Think of it as a mix of wikis, documentation, Slack and social.
SWE: Software Engineer working on core products and platforms. Not to be confused with Solutions Engineers, Business Engineers, Partner Engineers, Developer Support Engineers or Enterprise Engineers.
PE: Partner Engineer or Production Engineer. SE: Solutions Engineer. EE: Enterprise Engiener. MLE: Machine Learning Engineer.
E3, E4, E5, E6: SWE levels. More detail about these in next week’s newsletter and in the article Engineering Career Paths at Big Tech
IC3, IC4, IC5, IC6: individual contributor levels. For SWEs, they map to the “E” notation. For example, an IC3 SWE and an E3 are the same.
PM: Product Manager. TPM: Technical Program Manager. Read more about TPMs in this article.
DS: Data Scientists. DE: Data Engineer.
PSC: Performance Summary Cycle.
Pulse: an anonymous survey of how happy people are about their manager, company leadership, personal experience, etc. Similar to Workday’s Peakon survey.
Calibration: a part of PSC, where managers discuss employees and arrive at final ratings.
PID: Position ID. Same meaning as headcount.
PIP: Performance Improvement Plan.
Phab: short for Phabricator, Facebook’s internal tool on top of Git and Mercurial. In capabilities, it is similar to that of GitHub.
Diff: synonym to pull request or code change.
To land: to merge a code change. “I’ll land that diff” means “I’ll merge that Pull Request into the main branch.”
LGTM - “Looks Good to Me”. Each diff needs to have at least one code review before landing. When doing a review, it’s courtesy to leave at least one message. If there is nothing to improve with the code, and no comments to add, most engineers just comment “LGTM” before approving the diff.
TLDR: Too Long, Didn’t Read. With so much content on Workplace, the feed can get really long really quick. A concise TLDR for long posts is something that most folks appreciate.
KPI: Key Performance Indicator. Most teams have these indicators which they set out to improve upon in the next period.
SEV: incident level.
Archetypes: role archetypes at E7 and above. Some organizations use archetypes from E6.
RSU: Restricted Stock Unit. This refers to stock that every Facebook employee working in tech receives as part of their compensation package. Read more about equity for software engineers.
AE: Additional Equity (formerly known as DE: Discretionary Equity)
MPK: Menlo Park office, Facebook’s HQ.
Zuck: short for Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Metaversary: the anniversary of being employed at the company. E.g. “2nd Metaversary” means you’ve hit 2 years at Meta.
As of 2022, the core values of Facebook are these six:
Focus on long-term impact
Build awesome things
Live in the future
Be direct and respect your colleagues
Meta, metamates, me
“Move Fast” is the ethos that can be felt the most across all of Facebook. It originates from the original mantra of “Move Fast and Break Things” and is at the core of Facebook’s approach. It’s hard to overstate how much this is a part of the culture.
Motivational slogans printed across Facebook’s campuses used to be common sights, up until around 2016. Printed in capitals and often in bright red, Facebook had several sayings which it printed on posters for staff to see. These included:
Move Fast and Break Things
Done is Better Than Perfect
What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?
Every Day Feels Like a Week
The Wright Brothers Did Not Have Pilot Licenses
The Foolish Wait
Fortune Favors the Bold
Is This A Technology Company?
Stay Focused & Keep Shipping
Proceed and Be Bold
This Journey is Just 1% Finished
Do Not Mistake Motion for Progress
Hack Early. Hack Often.
Be The Nerd
Move Fast With Stable Infra
These posters are now gone. However, for close to 10 years after the company was founded, they dominated the thinking of engineers and their effect can still be felt today.
Reading these slogans might make little sense to those not working at Facebook at the time. Up until around 2014, Facebook distributed its Little Red Book, which was a visual explanation of the culture which these posters referred to. The Little Red Book and the posters were created by the same team. A few pages from the Little Red Book:
Standout differences between Facebook and other Big Tech companies
What are the main differences that set Facebook apart from other Big Tech companies? Here are some of the most visible ones.