Prototyping is Key

The intersection between the creativity of an engineer and the innovation culture of the company.

Every product starts out as an idea. The creation of a product is an iterative journey, and prototyping plays an essential role.

In the following excerpt from Move Fast: How Facebook Builds Software, coming out July 6, I discuss the role prototyping plays in Facebook’s creative process in developing products.

At  Facebook,  new products are often developed in a  bottom-up fashion. An individual engineer might see an opportunity and devote some time to trying it out with a prototype. The prototype is often developed because an engineer decides to work nights and weekends to build something adjunct to their day-to-day work.

Facebook’s creative process is also systematized through hackathons. A hackathon is an event where employees are free to work on whatever they please. Many of Facebook’s features and products started as hackathon projects.

Hackathons can yield prototype products that eventually change an organization. But a prototype version of a product is rarely good enough to confirm whether customers will actually want it. A prototype is useful for showing the experimental version of what a product will end up looking like. Most projects die during the prototype stage.

The engineer who develops the prototype often loses interest in the project after seeing how hard it is to build. Or perhaps the prototype version is so much worse than what the engineer imagined that the engineer becomes confused, disgusted, or dispirited.

The prototyping phase is a  gauge of how serious the engineer is going to be about bringing something into existence. It is also an important point of contact between the creativity of an engineer and the innovation culture of the company.

To get from prototype to finished product requires iteration. To run useful experiments, a company must also invest in cycles of iteration, bringing a product fully to market and putting it in contact with users.

While you are waiting for Move Fast: How Facebook Builds Software, learn more about how modern data infrastructure works.