What Facebook VP Mike Schroepfer Is Looking For in Seattle Engineers: Entrepreneurial Passion

Facebook made big local news this morning when it said it is planning to open a Seattle engineering office in July. This will be the Palo Alto, CA-based social networking company’s first engineering center in the U.S. outside of its headquarters. (It also has an engineering office in Tokyo.) Facebook currently boasts more than 400 million registered users worldwide, who are spending untold numbers of hours engaged with the site.

An interesting tidbit: Seattle entrepreneur and investor Hadi Partovi, co-founder of iLike (who was with MySpace until very recently), will be joining Facebook in an advisory role, in part to help attract top talent around Seattle. That’s according to a blog post from Facebook engineering manager Ari Steinberg, who is moving from the Bay Area to Seattle to lead the new office.

I just spoke by phone with Facebook’s vice president of engineering, Mike Schroepfer (see photo above), to hear his thoughts on the expansion. Schroepfer is a former Mozilla and Sun Microsystems exec who joined Facebook in 2008. Here are a few edited highlights (edited in part because I couldn’t type fast enough—apologies to Mike):

Xconomy: How did the plans for the new office come about? Have you spent much time in Seattle?

Mike Schroepfer: I’ve never lived in Seattle, but I’ve visited. We’re always on the lookout for the top engineers around the world. There are lots of technical challenges, but probably the thing I spend the most time on is finding the best talent in the world. There’s great technical talent in Seattle, which we know because people have moved [from Seattle to work at Facebook in Palo Alto]. We did a detailed analysis, and Seattle bubbled to the top of the list. We thought we could do great technical work if we have a presence in Seattle. Ari [Steinberg] is relocating. He’s a great representation of the Facebook culture.

X: What’s the growth plan, and the goals for the new office?

MS: As with all of our recruiting, we’re more gated by finding the right people. We’re setting up office space to hold up to about 30 people. [That number is just a rough guide—Eds.] The primary aim for us right now is to reach out to any amazing technologists in the Seattle area who want to join us.

X: What are the key characteristics you’re looking for in your Seattle recruits?

MS: The number one thing we’re looking for is people who are extraordinarily entrepreneurial. That word is used a lot, so let me explain what I mean. Our culture thrives on a small number of people tackling large problems—whether it’s how to scale cost effectively to 400 million-plus users, or redesigning our [developer tools]. It’s a very fun, collaborative social culture. Engineers have a reputation for not being very social. I call myself a reforming introvert. This is an amazingly fun, social, passionate group. They tackle ambiguous problems without a lot of direction and have a lot of passion in our mission of connecting people through technology.

X: Can you boil down the engineering culture of Facebook to one word?

MS: Passion.

X: Does Facebook’s relationship with Microsoft factor into the expansion to Seattle? (Microsoft owns a small stake in the company.)

MS: Not at all. This was a completely independent decision of that.

X: Do you think we’ll see a lot more Bay Area companies coming to Seattle for talent?

MS: The trend that has been happening over the past decade is, thanks to improved communication, the ability to build technical teams that span geographies. That’s dramatically different from 1999. What’s interesting to me is, even as the technology has evolved… it’s really hard to substitute for piling into a conference room and hashing things out on a whiteboard at 9 at night. So [this type of expansion] is one interesting bridge. In Seattle, we can build a critical mass of people. So I wouldn’t be surprised to see other companies doing it.

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