Inside Facebook’s World

A visit to the social-networking giant's amazing Silicon Valley campus.

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Harry McCracken /

The scene at Facebook's Hacker Square, the central space at the company's campus in Menlo Park, Calif. The bridge connecting two buildings is painted the precise color of the Golden Gate Bridge; the tiles paving the square spell the word HACK in enormous letters.

And then there’s the stuff written, and drawn, on the walls.

It’s tempting to call it graffiti, but that’s not correct. Graffiti, Merriam-Webster tells me, is “unauthorized writing or drawing on a public surface.” At Facebook’s campus, putting stuff on the walls is not only authorized but encouraged. It’s a tradition that extends all the way back to Zuck’s dorm whiteboard, alluding to the walls that are a principal feature on Facebook itself. Rather than being antisocial, it’s social.

Facebook Wall

Harry McCracken /

Some of Facebook’s wall art is clearly temporary and off the cuff, done in chalk on expansive blackboards and whiteboards. (On the other hand, one of those blackboards has been gathering doodles and jottings since 2008.) Some of it looks as though it could stay there for the long haul. And some of the art is by invited artists-in-residence.

It ranges from rather sober slogans such as “Stay Focused and Keep Shipping” and “Done Is Better than Perfect” to drawings of inspirational figures: I saw Calvin and Hobbes (separately), Pac-Man, Superman, Yoda and Zuckerberg. A stairwell, decorated during an event for female hackers, includes stenciled images of Oprah, Judge Judy, legendary computer scientist and Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper and Disney’s Mulan.

The Hacker Company

Harry McCracken /

The Facebook community’s customizations of its surroundings are epic in scale in certain instances. One rooftop has a 42-ft. QR code, designed to be visible from space. And there’s a giant sign on the side of one building that reads “The Hacker Company.” Facebook acquired it from … the Hacker Company, which happens to be a family-owned signmaking business in central Florida headed by one Roger Hacker.

The Hacker Company sign is on a building that faces Hacker Square, the campus’ single most important public space. It’s paved in a mosaic of tiles that spell out HACK in enormous characters, and it’s where the community meets to begin hackathons, the nonstop jags of creative programming that are an institution not only at Facebook but all over Silicon Valley.

Facebook Crane

Harry McCracken /

Hackathons traditionally begin underneath a mysterious yellow crane, which Facebook discovered at previous headquarters in a former HP building; the company adopted it as a talisman of the hacker spirit and transported it to the Menlo Park campus.

The campus with hacking reflects Facebook’s desire to be a place ruled by intrepid programmers who make the world a better place by creating ingenious computer code that doesn’t necessarily follow established rules. Hacking is imbued in the culture of Internet companies large and small all over the world, but Facebook wears its obsession on its sleeve.

The first Facebook hacker of them all, Zuckerberg, sits in the building with the Hacker Company sign. He doesn’t have a fancy executive suite. In the tech world, that’s nothing special; plenty of big-time executives work out of cubicles rather than offices, as a sign of solidarity with the foot soldiers and an acknowledgement that walls and doors tend to stifle collaboration.

Zuck, however, doesn’t even have a cube. Like everyone else at Facebook, he and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg work at tables that are out in open space and in close proximity to other employees sitting at similar tables. He does have a conference room to call his own, but it’s on Hacker Square, and passersby can peer in and see who he’s meeting with. (Presumably, it’s not where he struck the deal to buy Instagram.)

Facebook Vending Machine

Harry McCracken /

Facebook may not provide staffers with plush offices, but that doesn’t mean it wants anyone to feel uncomfortable. On the contrary. Like other ultracompetitive Silicon Valley companies, it wants employees to feel very comfortable at work — so much so that they aren’t tempted to engage in such productivity-killing activities as running errands or going home at the earliest opportunity.

Like many of its competitors, Facebook provides luxuries such as complimentary dry-cleaning service and copious amounts of free food and beverages. Even prosaic necessities like networking cables and laptop batteries are provided via vending machines conveniently situated around campus. And if you need a bicycle, well, there are communal ones there for the riding. (They’re mostly intended for pedaling around campus, but staffers are welcome to take them off-site.)

Such amenities are part of how Facebook vies for the attention of the brainiac computing-science graduates it must hire in droves. And they’re particularly important, given the campus’ somewhat isolated location.

Facebook's very own barbecue pit, under construction

Harry McCracken /

When Facebook was a tiny start-up, it had an office — eventually multiple offices — in downtown Palo Alto. It was close to other tech companies; lunch spots and other local businesses were everywhere; a general sense of geek community was palpable. By contrast, 1601 Willow Road’s neighbors include a toll bridge leading to Fremont, copious amounts of marshland and a smattering of businesses, including a mini-storage facility and a Jack in the Box. If the company wanted its new home to feel as if it was smack in the middle of everything, it would have to provide the everything itself.

So that’s what it’s doing. “We’re not trying to manufacture an urban environment. That could be cheesy,” says Katigbak. But the more it builds, the more the campus feels like a community unto itself.

The campus features the requisite cavernous cafeterias, one of which is wallpapered with pages from vintage food magazines. It’s also got cozier dining options, such as Tony’s, a pizza joint that is literally a hole in a wall, and a barbecue pit. There’s a doctor and a dentist, a gym with personal trainers and a bicycle shop and bike-repair facility. Facebook is even erecting on-site versions of familiar businesses such as local Starbucks rival Philz Coffee.

Facebook door

Harry McCracken /

All of these venues provide opportunities for employees to not only take a break from work but also meet with fellow staffers and talk shop in social settings. The company is also ripping out some of the exterior walls erected by Sun and replacing them with garage-style doors that it can leave open, allowing the collaboration that happens inside buildings to spill out into the campus’ outside areas.

Facebook wants the collaboration to eventually spill out of the current campus altogether. The company plans to build five additional buildings on the other side of the Bayshore Expressway and connect them to the current campus by tunnel. The project, which Facebook would like to complete by the end of 2014, has already required a mountain of environmental-impact paperwork and ongoing negotiations with not only Menlo Park but also neighboring Atherton, one of the richest cities in the U.S.

Facebook Campus Expansion


The expansion is designed to result in a facility capable of accommodating up to 9,400 staffers. If Facebook were a city, that would make it larger than Atherton, and nearly a third as populous as Menlo Park itself.

Of all the challenges the company faces on an array of fronts, none will be more crucial to its ongoing success than preserving the hacker-centric campus culture no matter how big it gets. The upcoming buildings may be the first brand-new offices Facebook will design and build for itself, but you can bet that it’s already thinking about ways to keep them feeling humble and unfinished. The ceilings are going to be exposed. The floors will be bare. And the moment the paint on the walls dries, everyone will be invited to begin writing on them.

(MORE: Read our feature on TIME’s 2010 Person of the Year, Mark Zuckerberg.)

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