Top coder: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg discusses a software problem during a hackathon event in London.
Late this January, some 75,000 people around the planet sat in front of their computers and pondered how to make anagrams from a bowl of alphabet soup. They were participants in the Hacker Cup, an international programming battle that Facebook organized to help it find the brightest young software engineers before competitors like Google do.
After three more rounds of brain teasers, Facebook will fly the top 25 coders to its head office in Menlo Park, for an adrenaline-soaked finale this March that will award the champion $5,000. In return, Facebook gets a shot at hiring the stars discovered along the way.
“I’m in an all-out land grab for talent,” says Jocelyn Goldfein, Facebook’s director of engineering and most senior woman on its technical staff. The social network builds almost all of its own software, and young, smart coders are the company’s most critical asset as it manages the comments, photos, and “likes” of more than 800 million users. “We are in uncharted waters every day,” says Goldfein. “What’s great about young people is that they don’t know what’s impossible, so they try crazy things and lead us to be the first to make them work.”
Google and many other companies are chasing the same code slingers as Facebook, causing salaries to shoot up. Average salaries for technology professionals in Silicon Valley rose 5.2 percent in 2011 to break the $100,000 barrier, while pay rose just 2 percent nationally, according to a recent salary survey. One graduating college senior, posting anonymously on the Web, claimed that Facebook offered a $100,000 salary, a $50,000 signing bonus, and $120,000 in stock options. Facebook declined to comment.
According to the prospectus filed in connection with Facebook’s planned initial public offering of stock, the company’s headcount jumped from 2,127 to 3,200 full-time employees in 2011. Unlike some large companies, Facebook does not leave recruiting programmers to its human resources department. “The HR departments are in one building and engineering is in another,” says Goldfein. “Recruitment sits with us.”