Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Zuckerberg's Early Mastery of Computer Science

It's all about being driven and being focused.

A freshman roommate of Zuckerberg's, when he was at Harvard recounts:

Zuckerberg and [Samyr] Laine, both from the suburbs north of New York City, shared one of the doubles in Room D11. The other double paired Australian rower Bede Moore and musician Justin Coffin. 
“We were all very different,” said Moore, who now lives in Jakarta and co-founded the e-commerce site Lazada Indonesia after leaving Boston Consulting Group Inc.
“Sam and I were both athletes, but he came from New York whereas I was fresh from overseas,” Moore said in an e-mail interview. “Justin was musically very gifted. Mark was obviously on the computer. But even despite the differences, the room worked brilliantly together.”... 
In their sophomore year, when they were no longer rooming together, Laine became the 14th person to sign up for Facebook after getting a message from Zuckerberg.
Laine still laughs at an incident from freshman year. He remembers Zuckerberg running out of their dorm room after oversleeping and missing the first hour of a computer science final exam, only to get the highest mark in the class.
“The mastery he had of computer science, even as a freshman, it was almost comical,” Laine said. “We would often try to see how fast he could hack into our computers.”


  1. Sorry but I know the problems that Facebook is having and has always had scaling to handle it's users, to the point where very little innovation happens now because they can't make it scale.

    And let us not forget that Zuckerberg hired a guy (that he later shafted) to write most of what is now Facebook in the first place.

    He was genius in how he screwed over his business partner and then screwed over Nasdaq and others in the IPO from hell that still sees him with personally more than 50% of the company, but he's no genius programmer.

    I employ 5 programmers and of those 5, 4 of them could out code The Zuck any day.

    He had an idea that took off, and got the right money at the right time, made the right business decisions often by accident and screwed the right people when he needed to and got away with it. That's it. Facebook is a colossal waste of time and people are realizing it. It has no business model other than selling porn to teenagers and given that they've had 10 years to find one it isn't going to change any time soon.

    Facebook and Zuck are not role models and shouldn't be admired unless you admire fraud and luck.

    I know this sounds like sour grapes, but seriously, Facebook is about as real a business as the Federal Reserve.

    1. I mostly agree with your comments. There is definitely nothing genius about Zuckerberg or Facebook. Facebook, like most things in tech, was a successful second version of an idea -- the first version being Myspace. The things Facebook did right that surpassed myspace were:

      *) they kept the interface clean and avoided the morass that was uncontrolled CSS customization in Myspace that was often unreadable.

      *) they standardized the interface using web standards that allowed for others to develop apps to deploy under Facebook.

      *) they made advertising inexpensive and easy to buy for almost anyone.

  2. Well, reading these comments, it is hard not to think that it is sour grapes. You do not become a 50 B$ company by accident or luck. It takes a statistically improbable series of lucky accidents for that to happen. THe converse is not true though. Even if you are extremely talented, your startup could fail miserably as there are too many factors that are outside your control, like the market, peoples' ever changing preference, technology, funding availability etc., A bit of luck is there in what he achieved for sure but that is just that, a bit. Most people who talk here about startups have no idea what it takes to build a startup from scratch, even if you have the right idea, at the right time, and were lucky to see it take off initially, it takes a lot of determination, dedication, strategy, foresight and judgement to be able to scale it and keep it consistently profitable, not including the sales and marketing talent you need to communicate with investors and consumers. Trust me, I know as I am building my third (and first successful) startup after my previous two failures even though my first two startups "look like better ideas to a third party observer" but failed due to various factors. Also, FB is not Zuck's first start up. Read a bit.

    1. I didn't attribute solely to luck.

      I attributed it to him screwing his partners. I also made the point that he is not a good programmer and wrote an almost unmaintainable application that is costing them billions a year just to keep what they currently have going and can barely add new features (3 a year is not innovation which is what they currently average).

      I also pointed out that he didn't write most of it, because he couldn't. He wasn't good enough a programmer to do even that, which is sort of the point of the story in the first place.

      I also pointed out that he screwed over his primary investor and then helped lie about the health of the company at it's IPO.

      We're talking about a company who's sole revenue is on advertising porn to kids. They have no business model and never have. It's smoke and mirrors based on popularity. If people had to pay for Facebook they never would, it would be tits up in 3 months. There is no difference between Facebook and Greece.

    2. Can you prove this "all revenue from selling porn to kids" claims through accounting statements and a list of their highest grossing advertisers? Seems a bit sketchy to me.

  3. Zuck's coding skills are above average, yes. His success in three words:

    Alpha Epsilon Pi

  4. Just for the sake of argument, how do you build a business by giving away free access to everyone? How do you get someone to invest hundreds of millions in such a scheme? In my long business career, I have yet to meet a venture capitalist who was stupid - most are extremely shrewd and often as not, cut throat businessmen. So where is the "pinch point", as one once asked me?

    What if the goal was to get unlimited access to the most intimate details of peoples lives. If you try to take it from them, they will scream invasion of privacy. But if you entice them to willing give it to you, you can fill your databases and start mining. When you look to see who Zukerberg's investors were, things start to become clear. Remember, the NSA has the world's largest data center to fill.

    Long ago, in a galaxy far away I attended a secure briefing on the government's data mining efforts. This was before Facebook or Twitter, and when Google was just starting to come on line. What I saw left me shaken and in disbelief. The level of "public" information that could be accessed was nothing short of astonishing. Believe me when I say to you that if you think you have any privacy, get the hell over it. That battle was lost long ago.

  5. Amazing. How does a guy fight his way out of the slums and graduate from Phillips Exeter Academy? Nary an elite or benefactor of the military industrial complex has ever even heard of this school. Truly a hardscrabble story of American ingenuity.

  6. I think there's some confusion between a great programmer and a great entrepreneur. I've done a little programming but am no expert--I can't compare Zuck vs. some random "brilliant" programmer lost in the middle-upper class strata. I'm sure Zuck quickly moved away from programming and into management as FB took off. I doubt he keeps his skills as sharp or up-to-date as someone who codes daily.

    But I have to agree with the "sour grapes" statement. Whether you like Zuck/Facebook or not, it is/was a huge success, at least for a time. And it's certainly a lot more appealing than MySpace, which never suited anything except teenagers or some garage band trying to get publicity.

    It's kind of like comparing an inventor who came up with a simple but novel concept that sold like wildfire. I'm sure thousands of engineers can claim they can out-design the innovator and beat him on any math or physics test. But they're still working for someone else while Inventor X is sipping his drink of choice in Costa Rica right now...

  7. Really cool story. One can only imagine the hours of work he must have put in to achieve that level of mastery. For him it probably wasn't "work", he loved every bit of it. It was probably his life.