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Facebook opens first engineering centre outside the US in London for mobile

Archana Venkatraman

Facebook opened an engineering centre in London today, its first outside the US. The London hub, launched by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, will focus on building Facebook mobile and platform products.

“There are 7,000 different mobile devices hitting Facebook,” said Mike Schroepfer, Facebook’s vice-president of engineering. With more Android, iOS and Windows devices coming to the market, Facebook wanted to ramp up its mobile strategy, Schroepfer added.

“Mobile also offers tremendous revenue and advertising opportunities for us,” Schroepfer said.

The social network with more than a billion users has so far struggled to monetise its growing mobile user-base. 

“The transition to mobile has been difficult,” admitted Schroepfer. “We have invested a lot in web technologies and now we are investing in mobile technologies.”

Facebook did not, however, reveal the investment it is making in its London office or in its mobile strategy.

The London engineering centre, headed by Facebook engineer Philip Su, will draw on the rich pool of engineering talent that exists in London to ramp up the social network’s mobile efforts. The centre has about 20 engineers, including six engineers who are graduates from London universities. Some of the engineers are likely to be ex-Google employees, Su told ComputerWeekly.

“Our biggest focus with the London office will be to improve the server-side performance for mobile and reduce the net-latency,” Su said. “The engineers will look at ways to optimise the existing Facebook servers and help it deliver just the right amount of data on users’ mobile devices,” he added.

There is a large pool of platform-based developers in London that we want to take advantage of, Schroepfer said.

“We are determined to bring the best technology companies to Britain, and London is the fastest growing technology cluster,” said chancellor George Osborne at the opening of the Facebook London centre.

Teaching students new ICT skills such as writing codes and building apps will help UK flourish in the 21st century,” Osborne added.

One of the biggest challenges for Facebook is the amount of data it has to store, secure and deliver on demand to its users.

So far, there are 220 billion photos stored on Facebook’s datacentres with 300 new pictures added every day, said Jay Parikh, Facebook’s vice-president for infrastructure. In addition, there are 2.5 billion content objects shared everyday on Facebook.

“The conventional way of dealing with data doesn’t apply to us as everything has to be real-time,” Parikh said.

In the long term, the London team will expand to include more engineers who will work on a range of projects, including Facebook platform and mobile products. 

Facebook is also looking to help boost the size of the local engineering talent pool through initiatives such as the Next Gen Skills campaign and its support for CDI’s Apps for Good education programme.

None of the engineers employed so far by Facebook in London are women engineers, Su said.


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