Engineers Love Working at Facebook

The secret to employee satisfaction from Tom Occhino, Engineering Director at Facebook.

“I optimize for engineers doing work that they love.”

- Tom Occhino, Ex-Engineering Director of the React Group at Facebook

In the following excerpt from Move Fast: How Facebook Builds Software, coming out July 6, I talk to Tom Occhino about how he ensures everyone on his team is fulfilled with their work.

Every employee wants to feel creatively fulfilled in their job, and every company has a large amount of unfulfilling work that needs to get done. How can a company satisfy the needs of the individual employee while also making progress on company objectives?

Tom Occhino has worked at Facebook for eleven years. Today, he is the engineering director of the React group, an open source infrastructure division of Facebook that includes React Core, React Native and other related projects.

Tom is friendly and encouraging, with the winning smile of your favorite high school guidance counselor, and he has earned the respect of the React group through a combination of technical knowledge and empathy.

“I optimize for engineers doing work that they love.” Tom believes that engineers should be spending 75 percent of their time at work on things that they are passionate about because engineers do their best work when they are creatively satisfied.

From Tom’s perspective, management cannot blindly assign work based on what needs to be done. Individual preferences need to be accounted for. People do their best work when they don’t feel like they’re just another cog in the machine.

Tom Occhino’s team is staffed with some of the best engineers in the world. But even so, it’s never the case that everybody is perfectly happy with everything that they’re working on and the team is having the maximum possible impact on Facebook.

There are exciting greenfield projects to build, but there are also boring bugs. And unfortunately, someone is going to have to fix those bugs. As Tom says, “Engineering work is a stable matching problem and it’s in constant evolution.”

If an engineer cannot find any work they enjoy within their current team, there is a well-defined process for moving to another. “We literally call it engineering mobility,” says Tom. “After an engineer has been on the same team for a year, we encourage them to take what we call a hack-a-month and try out the experience of being on a different team. If you don’t like that team, you can go back to your old team, or you can try something else.”

Tom is a popular manager, so much of his team will stick within the React group. Even within that single team, there are so many different projects at all areas of the stack that many engineers never get bored.

Over time, projects begin and end. Engineers get moved from project to project, from subteam to subteam. If Tom keeps these people satisfied, a sense of mutual respect develops between him and each of his direct reports.

When he gives employees the kind of work they enjoy, Tom earns the trust of his fellow engineers. And when he earns their trust, he knows that these engineers will be willing to pick up unpleasant tasks when necessary. “If I come to them with an engineering crisis, they will support me. They will do the work that needs to get done, even if it’s not their number one choice.”

I have spoken to multiple engineers who have worked for Tom, and it’s clear he is an amazing manager. The React team sounds like a utopia of engineering satisfaction.

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