Purdue Homeland Security Institute

Facebook seeks ideas from Purdue students

November 9, 2012

Posted: Friday, November 9, 2012 10:00 am | Updated: 12:37 pm, Fri Nov 9, 2012.

Purdue students might soon have the opportunity to see their original ideas implemented into one of the most widely known companies in the world-Facebook.

The Open Compute Project, started by Facebook a year and a half ago, is teaming up with Purdue to lead to new innovation for their company. A computer and information technology class will be offered in the Spring 2013 semester that will allow students to become familiar with the technological aspects of Facebook that they seek to improve, including data center, infrastructure hardware, and server designs. The members of the class will break into teams and work to develop proposals for solving the design challenges.

“Once we select the winners from the different proposals, we’ll work with them to create something tangible and actually bring that idea into production,” Amir Michael, systems engineering manager at Facebook, said.

This spring will be the first time that this type of class has been offered at Purdue. Along with allowing students to acquire more technical knowledge and to work on developing new ideas, the project’s goal is to open up the type of information normally kept within a company. According to Michael, the Open Compute Project is an initiative to take technology that is currently trade-secret and to open source it to the rest of the world.

“Often times, people forget that the idea is just one thing. Actually creating something out of the idea is what can really help you start a company or create a business,” Michael said. “Being secretive about that idea doesn’t necessary help you because if no one knows what you’re doing, then no one’s really going to want to adopt that idea.”

Michael discussed the importance of having an “open culture” within Facebook to allow new ideas to be shared more readily.

“We’ve come up with a type of culture that’s based upon builders, and people who can make things very quickly,” Michael said. “You can build things fast when you have an open culture that shares a lot. It’s about not creating barriers between engineers, and allowing a free flow of information to happen inside of the company.”

John O’Hara, a member of the infrastructure engineering recruiting team at Facebook, also said the company culture is an important aspect of working well to create solutions.

“In order for a small group of people to build something this big, it required a ton of innovation, creativity, complexity and scale,” O’Hara said. “Beyond the technical competency, our culture is really important to us. We want people who are risk takers, who are innovators, who are builders.”

Facebook is interested in recruiting students graduating from Purdue to work as a part of their engineering teams, and the Open Compute Project is one major way in which students are able to make those connections.

“At the end of the day, a company is a group of people,” O’Hara said. “If you can assemble a smart, talented group of people, you can build amazing products.”

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