01/22/2016 02:01 pm ET Updated Jan 22, 2017

Director of Engineering at Facebook AI Explains the Advantages of New York Tech

These Questions originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answers by Serkan Piantino, Director of Engineering, Facebook AI Research; Site Director, Facebook NY, on Quora.

Q: What is New York tech better at than Silicon Valley?

A: We have a thriving tech community, but also a wealth of other industries in New York. Great products and innovations get built when there's a high-bandwidth link between the builders and the customers of those products, and so NYC is the right place to be if you want to disrupt one of the few trillion dollars of industries headquartered here.
At Facebook NYC we can see this first hand. Almost all of our big teams are centered around products that specifically benefit from being in New York - Local, News and Publishers, AI Research and Mobile Infrastructure all are either teams working closely with local industries, products that address the experience of an urban environment, or center around talent that is abundant on the east coast (like AI Research or Mobile Engineering).


Q: What are some common traits in the most successful engineers you know?

Great question. Here are some trends I've noticed, having worked with some incredibly talented engineers on a wide variety of projects
  • The major way a software engineer scales - and remember that there can be a factor of 10 or 100 in productivity - is by the process of chunking. An engineer who can think and reliably manipulate lines of code is going to be less effective than one who has experience thinking about whole algorithms or systems. In order to really chunk something down it must be mastered, so the best engineers can not only describe a system at an abstract level, but they know precisely how the internals of each chunk work and fit together.
  • Great engineers have a sixth sense about when and where to build lines of abstraction. They think about code as the most natural and resilient expression of how to do something, and that makes them very thoughtful about keeping code readable and direct while giving it power and flexibility through carefully chosen abstractions.
  • They have a huge number of tools at their disposal. So much of tackling a problem is choosing the tools, and they understand this and constantly add to their repertoire.
  • They're collaborative and mature. So much of this job is communication and being a reliable teammate that personality is incredibly important. Great engineers don't have to be extroverts, they don't have to be warm and fuzzy, and they certainly don't have to aspire to be managers. But they absolutely must know how to work with others in an open and mutually respectful way.


Q: What is your advice for a company thinking of starting a remote engineering office?

A: I see companies that are growing feel pressure, both internally (from employees who want to move) and externally (from candidates who won't join if they have to move) and it's very tempting in those times to green light renting a shared space and letting those people open a new office.
Unfortunately, what happens is that this guarantees the office spends maximum time in awkward, small phases of growth. The engineers either each work on remote teams, leading to a lot of inefficiency and frustration, or the office is forced to specialize in one product or domain that it finds difficult to later outgrow.
So, my advice to companies would be to wait and then carefully open an office when you know you can sprint to a comfortable, sustainable size. At Facebook NYC we grew from 0 to 350 over just 4 years. We were always hiring quickly, building more and deeper projects to work on, and making each of our early engineers a part of defining the office as it erected around them. That made FBNY more like a fast-growing startup within a bigger company and not like a small and forgotten satellite.

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