Facebook CIO Builds Solutions For Facebook First And Then For The World


The position of Chief Information Officer at a technology firm is, by definition, challenging. In other businesses where the preponderance of technology expertise resides in the IT department, engineering talent is everywhere in a tech-centric company, and CIOs have to deal with peers who often believe they might do CIO work better than CIO.
Imagine the challenge of being Facebook’s CIO. It is not just a technology company; it is one of the most important technology companies. Atish Banerjea is the new CIO. He is responsible for three main Facebook functions:
The Build organization, that focuses on building tools and products for Facebook to make our employees the most effective and efficient in doing their jobs. “As opposed to buying a third-party tool, which is going to do a mediocre job meeting the employees’ needs inside the company, we build many of the products from the ground up to both meet the extreme scaling challenges we have at Facebook, as well as to make sure that the tools are the most specifically designed to let the employees do their job in the best possible way,” he said in one of the articles in Forbes.
Infrastructure, providing all of the corporate infrastructures that connects Facebook internationally across the 80 countries that Facebook currently operates.
Operations, which is focused on providing service to the employees. Some of these services tend to be what you think of as more traditional IT services.
Banerjea has found ways to differentiate the role by thinking of it more like a traditional chief technology officer roles he has had in the past. “When I was the CTO for Pearson Education, my primary role was helping build products and services for students and for educators, which are more marketable products,” Banerjea noted. “[This] was more similar to the CIO role at Facebook where we had software engineers, product managers and designers building products for educators and students.”
Banerjea inherited and has continued to build an engineering team that is equivalent to the engineers who work on customer-facing products for the company. The difference is the focus inside of the enterprise. He has found that as the internal products have advanced, they address needs that customers also have, and so his team and Facebook employees operate as a lab of sorts, testing the value of the products developed. He offers as an example, a product called Employee Safety Check. If someone is in a disaster area, they can mark themselves as safe through Facebook for others to see. “We built this internally before it was available externally,” said Banerjea. “The first time we used it was when there was an earthquake in Mexico in 2017. With the number of employees that we are talking about, in the past when we did not have tools to make sure that we were able to connect with all of the employees, it would have taken up to four days. [With] the Employee Safety Check product we built for Facebook, we have been able to do this in less than 12 hours.”
Banerjea underscored that philosophically, his team is oriented to solve Facebook’s own problems, but if there are broader implications, so much the better. These products then become accessible to others through the company’s Workplace platform. “The big benefit it has brought to Facebook is that the products become better as a result because we get a great amount of feedback externally,” noted Banerjea. “We enhance the product, build in features or make changes to the product based on the feedback we are receiving externally, which makes the product better for Facebook as well. It is a win-win.”
Just as ideas can be shared from internal project through to the Workplace team and platform, so, too, can resources be shared. Whether they are software engineers, product managers, or designers, Facebook believes that engineers or designers should work on the problems that they want to solve. “In the design, product management, and software engineering space, we have people going back and forth fairly regularly,” said Banerjea. “It enhances the organization and people’s careers because it gives the opportunity for people to be able to essentially spend extensive time within Facebook growing their careers without having to leave the company and go work somewhere else.”
Through thinking differently, Banerjea was able to bring a higher order of value than the normal CIO to a low order technology organization, fostering value to Facebook workers and then, through extension, to the world.