Zuckerberg, in Sandals, Chats Up CS50

Unnamed photo
Adina B. Pomerantz

Mark Zuckerberg, creator of facebook.com, speaks to students in Computer Sciences 50 about the design and code of his wildly popular networking site in 2005.

Facebook.com creator Mark E. Zuckerberg advised introductory programming students to “surround themselves with smart people” in a guest lecture on web development he delivered at the College yesterday.

The young entrepreneur—who was a member of the Class of 2006 until starting facebook.com in the spring of his sophomore year—spoke in a Computer Science 50 (CS50) “topic session” about the application of programming knowledge to real world endeavors.

“I suggest you take the hardest courses that you can, because you learn the most when you challenge yourself,” Zuckerberg said.

He also announced two forthcoming additions to his site: a collection of aggregate statistics about the members at each participating school and a tool to display degrees of friendship more specifically.

Rather than asking users to rate their friendships on a scale of one to 10, the new feature will allow users to input descriptive statements about their relationships. (For instance: “I took CS50 with this person freshman year.”)

During the roughly 80-minute presentation, Zuckerberg fielded a plethora of questions related to facebook.com, few of which dealt with the programming driving the site.

“Any CS50 questions?” Zuckerberg joked repeatedly.

But Teaching Fellow Jeff W. Bezanson ’04 was not surprised by the shortage of questions related to the class.

“I wasn’t expecting a lot of technical questions because [Zuckerberg’s area of programming] is not the material we cover,” Bezanson said. “I think everyone is interested in how you make large amounts of money.”

Despite the success of facebook.com, which the founder said receives millions more daily page views than Google, Zuckerberg said he is not prepared to shift his focus from growing the site’s infrastructure to maximizing profit.

“We’re focusing not on building something and how to make money out of it but, instead, always looking to maximize the long-term value,” Zuckerberg said about his company, which he said prefers hiring tech experts to purely business-savvy applicants.

Course professor Michael D. Smith, however, said he believes this managerial philosophy will change with time.

“I think most companies that are successful actually start out this way with a good idea that makes business sense,” he said. “It’s only later in a company’s life that it becomes extremely important to do all the business stuff.”

Zuckerberg’s meteoric rise to dot-com fortune epitomizes his stated belief that success in technology is becoming increasingly accessible to individual programmers.

According to Zuckerberg, that increase in individual “leverage” heightens the possible benefit of classes like CS50.

“It’s one of the reasons that I think it makes a lot of sense to be studying this stuff,” he said.