The recent release of Facebook’s new Poke app for iOS is significant for a couple of reasons. First, because it’s a big challenge to the wildly popular Snapchat. Second - and, in my opinion, more importantly - because it marks the return of Mark Zuckerberg to code writing!
According to TechCrunch, everybody’s favorite hoodie-wearing billionaire actually stuck his hands in the coding dirt to help make the new Poke app happen. Strange as it may sound, it probably shouldn’t be surprising, since he wrote the original code behind Facebook and he vowed last year to once again write code every day.
But is it really a good idea for the Facebook CEO to be writing and committing production code? I say no, for a couple of reasons:
As the CEO of a company with over 1 billion users, more than 4,000 employees and $3.7 billion in revenue in 2011 he’s probably got more important things he should be doing. In fact, Zuckerberg himself said last September that he wouldn’t be committing code, due to Facebook’s rule that “If you are checking in code, you have to maintain your code.” Has that rule changed, or will he now be fixing his own bugs or writing his own documentation? I’m guessing Facebook stockholders would prefer he be doing other things, like figuring out how to make more money from mobile.
Zuckerberg gave up coding in 2006 to focus on running the business of Facebook, so he might be a bit rusty. 6+ plus years away from daily coding is an eternity. In fact, he reportedly had a little trouble in a previous attempt to tackle some live code. To keep sharp (and up-to-date) with programming - and with a particular code base - you really need to keep doing it on a regular basis, and not just in a casual way. It’s not surprising if his skills have eroded a bit.
Having the CEO write code puts the developers actually employed to do that job in an awkward position. Will they provide honest feedback about his code? Would they be reluctant to criticize his programming decisions? It’s hard to imagine that a drone coder at Facebook would feel free to interact with the capo di tutti Facebook capi in a totally open and honest way.
I've reached out to Facebook to find out more about Zuckerberg's involvement in live code these days. No word from them yet, but if/when I hear back rest assured I'll share it here.
Bravo to the Zuck, I say, for wanting to keep his programming skills sharp and to stay involved at that level. But, really, I think he should confine his coding to personal or side projects (or even R&D/proof-of-concept kinds of things) and leave the heavy lifting on the production side to Facebook’s engineers. That way he can focus on more important things like revenue growth, privacy policies and learning how to surf.
But that’s just me. What do you think? Should CEOs of big companies be writing production code? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.