Last Thursday, I got to visit Facebook and hack with some awesome engineers. Facebook Launch Night was actually an internal company Hack-A-Thon — an event that Facebook puts on every two months where employees stay up all night to work on cool projects in areas where they usually don’t work.

Me with Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder:

Me with Mark Zuckerberg

Me with Blake Ross, Firefox cofounder:

Me with Blake Ross, Firefox cofounder, at Facebook Launch Night

To celebrate Facebook’s 6th birthday, they decided to invite the public to watch as they launched their new products. This was so cool to see! Some employees rigged up a giant “launch switch” the night before the event (see pictures below). When they flipped the switch, BAM! – the new site went live to 80 million users instantly. The rest of their 400 million users, I assume, got the new design a short while later.

Then the feedback started pouring in, live on-screen. Most users were initially unhappy with the site changes, as is usually the case. But, this didn’t affect the Facebook engineers who were watching – pretty much everyone expected the initial feedback to be negative, and some engineers even laughed at the user reactions.

Users are surprisingly resistant to change, and so any large site redesign (even if it’s better than the old design) is bound to disorient users for a few minutes. Facebook engineers understand this, and so aren’t really concerned with initial user reactions so much, but rather what users think in one or two months from now.

After the launch event, I stuck around for the Hack-A-Thon. While Facebook employees hacked on their own Facebook side projects, I decided to work on my music website by building a music data web scraper. By the end of the night, I finished a relatively polished program that could scrape music artist names, album names, song titles, and song lyrics, along with their relationships (which albums belongs to a particular artist, etc.) from popular music data sites. I wrote the script in Ruby, with a splash of Rails so I could use Active Record for my database calls.

All in all, it was an awesome night. I left Facebook headquarters at 7 AM after eating a delicious breakfast and saying goodbye to the awesome engineers who hung out with me while I hacked. I was one of only two non-Facebook people who stayed for the entire duration of the Hack-A-Thon.

It was quite fun, and an awesome experience! Thanks to everyone who organized this awesome event – I really enjoyed it!

Pictures!

Facebook bloons

It’s Facebook tradition to hit this gong before every product launch.

Facebook gong

Mark Zuckerberg explaining Facebook’s philosophy about launching products: launch now, iterate quickly.

Facebook philosophy via Mark Zuckerberg

“Let’s ship it”, he says.

Let's ship it

The Starship Enterprise-esque launch controls.

STARSHIP ENTERPRISE

The gigantic launch lever that controlled the launch of the new Facebook.

Launch switch

Launch is imminent!

Launch imminent

Flipping the launch switch!

Flipping the launch switch

A huge “6” in honor of Facebook’s 6th birthday, plus a scrolling search feed of people’s reactions to the “new Facebook”

Six years

Me, standing next to the famed free snacks and drinks. :)

Mmm...

(If you liked this, you might like Travels in Japan.)

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Feross Aboukhadijeh Hey, thanks for reading! I'm Feross Aboukhadijeh, a programmer, designer, teacher, and mad scientist. I am currently building WebTorrent, a streaming BitTorrent client for the browser, powered by WebRTC. In my free time, I work on StudyNotes, a website to help students study better and get into college.

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