Episode Summary: Move Fast with Jeff Meyerson

Decision-making around software projects has always been a contentious issue, should one move in an extremely thoughtful – planning all the way through, OR should teams opt for a quick approach, iterating through ideas, even if it means the approach might not be picture perfect. While both approaches lead to some trade-off, the former leading to time being consumed (where competitors can launch products, the idea can become obsolete, etc) and the latter causing unintended bugs (possibly making it all the way to production).

Google often is regarded as the organization founded by the PhDs who wish to take things slow ensuring that everything’s done in as much of a picture-perfect manner as possible, whereas Facebook (at least in the early days) was a company full of college-going engineers who chose to move fast and get something out there, even if that meant a few things would most likely break.

This article will summarize an interview with Jeff Meyerson, author of Move Fast: How Facebook Builds Software. Daliana Liu, the host for this episode raises a good point, “All the tech companies, they have to move fast to win competition, launch products. So what’s specific about Facebook that they move fast in a way that’s different from other companies?”

Jeff’s response to the question summarizes Facebook’s strategy in the early days: “Facebook basically said, ‘Look, we can’t compete with that. We have to do something different.’ And so they said, ‘Okay, we’re just going to step on the gas as fast as we can, and just build as fast as we can, and put some loose numbers around what success means and just drive towards those numbers like really aggressively, very aggressively.’ And that’s move fast.”

The interview goes on to talk about another rather interesting (and albeit controversial) topic covered in the book Move Fast, and that is the 10x engineer and the influential engineer.

However, Jeff is very much aware of the fact that arbitrarily judging someone to be “10x” is a naive thing to do. He puts forth the argument that while he does believe in 10x engineers, he’d like that there be some established KPI against which engineers can be compared, which would eventually lead to finding a few engineers who end up banking 10x more points on the metric than the average.

For the influencer engineer, the water gets a bit murky. The general philosophy here is code wins arguments. As a result, an influencer engineer would be the one who ends up having a (sizeable) impact on the organization by the code that they’ve written. Jeff goes on to take Nick Schrock here as an example based on the work he has done in writing and architecting GraphQL, something that had a great impact on Facebook.

“You want to move fast both to evade your competitors and to reach your goals as quickly as possible so that you can define new goals.” – Jeff Meyerson

The second half of the interview goes on to talk about ethical concerns with some of the recent mishaps at Facebook, to which Jeff succinctly and rather correctly points out that no one is forced to be on Facebook – and that he (Jeff) does support scrutiny for all firms! 

In fact, Jeff even points out Facebook’s biggest enemy – itself. Facebook’s been trending in this rabbit hole of zero-sum hyper-competitive mode where it makes its competitor’s products perform poorly inside its own products (thus discouraging their use). Youtube can be seen as an example here, and how poorly it performs when being used inside Facebook Messenger. Imagine if these products worked in synergy, leading to a positive-sum output and a win-win for both customers and the companies involved!

Fun fact: uploading the audio version of Move Fast on SEDaily rather than a platform like Audible was actually Jeff himself practicing moving fast. Since Audible took too long to publish the audiobook, Jeff decided that it made more sense to have something out there, rather than wait for Audible indefinitely!

While there’s a lot more nuance to the topics covered here and a lot of topics that aren’t touched upon at all in this article, I’d highly recommend checking out Move Fast – it’s on Amazon and the audio version is in fact, free available on the SEDaily website.

Click here to listen to the full episode, or watch it on our YouTube channel.

Viral Tagdiwala

Viral is a grad student at Northeastern University, Vancouver. He loves reading papers on exercise science when he’s not coding!

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