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Facebook's new plan to recharge burned-out engineers

By Laurie Segall, staff reporter


NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Do you ever get ground down by your job's never-ending to-do list? So do Facebook engineers. The company has a novel plan for re-energizing them: It's started springing developers for month-long stints with new teams working on different projects.

It's like a cultural exchange program with the cube pod next door.

The idea grew out of "hackathons": short-lived, intense (often overnight) sessions where engineers pound out code, consume vast amounts of caffeine and throw together some kind of working prototype or new product. Facebook holds them regularly, and is in the midst of one right now.

But the company isn't asking its engineers to pull 30 straight all-nighters. Instead, its new "Hackamonth" program sends developers who have been plowing away on a specific project for more than a year to work with a new team for a month.

"Ideally, we hoped to have about 10% of our engineers working on a Hackamonth at any given time," Facebook engineering manager Dave Ferguson wrote Wednesday in a blog post about the Hackamonth concept. "This would not only greatly increase the fluidity of our engineering team, but hopefully increase the sharing of knowledge across teams."

Facebook held three pilot Hackamonths over the past year, with 35 developers participating. Ferguson told CNNMoney he's delighted with how they went. Beyond shaking staffers out of their routines, the program helped Facebook staff several high-priority development efforts, including an iPhone app update and enhancements to Facebook's photos feature.

The concept is similar to Google's 20% time program, though which the company encourage engineers to spend 20% of their work time on projects tangential to their day job. Some of those "20% time projects" have turned into full-fledged Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) products, including Gmail, Google News, Google Talk and social network Orkut.

But Ferguson says Facebook's Hackamonth is more targeted. Engineers are given "very clear objectives to get things done in a short period of time," he said.

Facebook plans to kick off its fourth Hackamonth on Monday.  To top of page

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