Profile: Andrew Bosworth, Facebook social engineer
The gig: Andrew Bosworth, 29, is the director of engineering at Facebook Inc. and inventor of the social networking site’s News Feed, a feature that broadcasts what your friends are doing on Facebook. He created the Palo Alto company’s engineering boot camp, which helps new recruits get up to speed on Facebook’s computer code and culture. A photographer who takes snapshots of company events, he’s also something of an unofficial Facebook historian.
Lucky encounter: Bosworth met his future boss at Harvard University in 2004. A senior, he was a teaching assistant in an artificial intelligence class. Mark Zuckerberg, a sophomore, was assigned to him. “He didn’t attend my lessons as often as most of my students, but to be fair he was quite literally building Facebook at the time,” Bosworth recalled. “It has worked out well for all of us.” Two years later, Bosworth, who was working at Microsoft Corp. in Seattle, got a call from a recruiter hunting for someone with a background in artificial intelligence. He flew down to Facebook to interview. “I loved using Facebook, but it seemed like it had fulfilled its destiny,” he said. “But when I talked to the team at Facebook, they described a vision of the social Web that had incredible ambition.”
California kid: Bosworth, who goes by the nickname Boz, grew up on a horse ranch and vineyard in the rolling hills of Saratoga in Santa Clara County, where his family has lived since 1891. Bosworth has such a strong attachment to his home state that he has a tattoo of California on his right forearm along with a grizzly bear and golden poppies.
Straight shooter: Bosworth’s other tattoo spells out “veritas,” the Latin word for truth. “I have always just believed in transparency and honesty. That’s a big part of who I am as a person. I wear my heart on my sleeve,” he said.
From farming to technology: He’s an alumnus of the El Sereno 4-H Club and a proud member of 4-H on Facebook. Bosworth said he raised animals and showed them at the county fair, but “4-H is a lot more than just cows and cooking.” He was a founding member of the California 4-H Technology Corps and also took part in the National 4-H Technology Corps. A friend in 4-H taught him computer programming.
Mr. Social: Bosworth might have logged a lot of computer screen time but he was no wallflower: He went to 14 proms, which he claims may be a record. He was also a star athlete in high school, playing a number of sports (in college he was a national tae kwon do champion). He was briefly recruited by Harvard to play football. An offer never materialized, but Bosworth went to Harvard anyway to study computational neurobiology. “I have always been social and had a lot of friends,” he said. “I liked the element of understanding where someone was coming from and how that influences behavior and action. It led me on a path to study a combination of the human brain and computer science.”
Nine-month labor of love: His biggest thrill at Facebook was building News Feed. “It consumed me more fully than anything in life had ever consumed me. It opened up to me the truth that when you are passionate about something, you do better work, you do smarter work and you are an order of magnitude more productive.”
When News Feed launched in 2006, many users thought the feature was too intrusive and protested en masse. Facebook had to make some changes to calm concerns that News Feed invaded its users’ privacy. But even as protest groups formed, Bosworth said he could see that users were twice as engaged as they were before News Feed. “That passionate outpouring of sentiment, much of it negative, was being fueled by News Feed itself. That’s when I realized how big the opportunity was at Facebook. I would have preferred a fan group to a protest group, but the fact that people felt that passionately about the product at all was very humbling and eye-opening.” Bosworth had similar experiences working on Facebook Groups, which launched last year and already has more than 275 million users, and Messages, which he describes as a bet on what communication will be like in the future.
Some of his favorite moments: (From — where else? — his Facebook profile) Bosworth once shared the stage with magician David Copperfield. He lined up across from Minnesota Vikings 6-foot-6 defensive end Jared Allen on the football field and “didn’t get beat.” He was a VIP at the Playboy Mansion. MC Hammer once told him his outfit was stylish. And President George W. Bush complimented his shoes and the shine of his (bald) head.
Never get comfortable: “Comfortable is something to be suspicious of at Facebook,” Bosworth said. “We are big believers here in the [Intel Corp. co-founder] Andy Grove saying that ‘only the paranoid survive.’ Whenever I feel like I am getting comfortable with something, I make sure we bring in someone with new energy and new ideas to take it on.”