Initial public offering filings typically include a letter to potential investors from the company’s CEO. These missives are generally used to discuss basics like the company’s growth so far and its bright future ahead. In Facebook’s IPO document filed Wednesday, however, Mark Zuckerberg dedicated a significant portion of his letter to something a bit out of the ordinary: Teaching potential investors about “the Hacker Way.”
For one thing, it’s a sign of Zuckerberg’s commitment to maintaining a rigorous engineering culture at Facebook, even as it becomes an increasingly powerful media entity. It’s a statement that at Facebook, technology — and the programmers who push it forward — will always come first. The company’s “hackathons” (one of which GigaOM recently attended) are a key example of this. Hacker Way is also what Facebook named the road inside its new Menlo Park, California headquarters.
But it’s also a powerful statement on a larger scale. Digging into the SEC’s online database of company filings, it looks like the word “hacker” has been used just 6400 times in the past four years. That may seem like a lot, but out of the millions of words that have been filed to the SEC in that amount of time, it’s a pittance. And from the looks of it, practically every time the word “hacker” has been used in regulatory filings, the connotation has been negative: “Data security breaches as the result of hackers,” “The acts of a hacker causing damage or destruction to data” and so on.
For Zuckerberg to use this platform to embrace the word hacker and actively change its definition into something positive comes at an excellent time: Right now, the tech industry is waking up to how important it is to help the government and regulatory bodies understand what it is that they do. Facebook’s IPO could serve as a call for hackers everywhere to get more respect, which would be a great thing for the tech industry as a whole.
Below I’ve excerpted some key parts of Zuckerberg’s treatise on hacking from the IPO filing:
“The word ‘hacker’ has an unfairly negative connotation from being portrayed in the media as people who break into computers. In reality, hacking just means building something quickly or testing the boundaries of what can be done. Like most things, it can be used for good or bad, but the vast majority of hackers I’ve met tend to be idealistic people who want to have a positive impact on the world.”
“The Hacker Way is an approach to building that involves continuous improvement and iteration. Hackers believe that something can always be better, and that nothing is ever complete. They just have to go fix it — often in the face of people who say it’s impossible or are content with the status quo.”
“Hacking is also an inherently hands-on and active discipline. Instead of debating for days whether a new idea is possible or what the best way to build something is, hackers would rather just prototype something and see what works. There’s a hacker mantra that you’ll hear a lot around Facebook offices: ‘Code wins arguments.’”
“Hacker culture is also extremely open and meritocratic. Hackers believe that the best idea and implementation should always win — not the person who is best at lobbying for an idea or the person who manages the most people.”