The Worst-Kept Secret About Mark Zuckerberg Is That He's *Not* Actually A Coding Genius


mark zuckerbergAdnan Abidi/ReutersMark Zuckerberg.

Mark Zuckerberg is not a "programming prodigy" - that is the verdict of a discussion thread for programmers on the question-and-answer website Quora.


And Zuckerberg's peers don't place him in the uppermost tier of skilled coders, according to TopCoder, a site where coders improve and rank their skills. He's only in the third level.

Most people have a vague idea of the the story of Facebook's origin: It was initially built by Zuckerberg in a week when he was a student at Harvard as a sort of revenge prank on the university after authorities there banned his "Facemash" web site, which let people compare and rate photos of other students based on their looks.

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To people outside the software business, that story makes Zuck seem like a computer wizard - he created Facebook in a week!

In fact, Zuckerberg majored in psychology, not computer science, at Harvard. The initial version of "The Facebook" web site was not particularly sophisticated. And his peers in the business are ranked much more highly than he is as a coder. Zuckerberg's success has more to do with his personal persistence, hard work, a good idea and luck than it is Zuckerberg's coding prowess.


While he's clearly a skilled software engineer and incredibly talented businessman, he's not a "prodigy". The issue of Zuck's relative level of talent as a programmer came up when one Quora user asked how the Facebook CEO trained himself to be a coding genius.

One commentator in the Quora discussion cites TopCoder, where hackers can get their skills rated.

Zuckerberg's profile on the site is at the "green" level, which is third tier of coding skills. Adam D'Angelo - the former CTO of Facebook who was pivotal in its creation - is in the top level, "red." (The ranking goes grey, green, blue, yellow, red). In fact, it recently emerged Zuckerberg apparently wrote that his former colleague "taught him most of what he knows".

David Roth is the Quora conversationalist who calls the question "flawed". Roth notes that Microsoft founder Paul Allen, who wrote the loader for Microsoft Basic for the Altair computer while flying to Albuquerque.

He adds: "Note that this was in 1975; there weren't laptops that you could take on a plane then. Allen was writing machine code on a piece of paper with a pencil, and he created a loader program that worked. That's pretty amazing." 


He also talks about Margaret Hamilton: "She wrote the code for the Apollo space program. The sheer scope of that project and the hardware limitations she was dealing with are staggering.  She had finished this code by the time she was 31."

Scores of others concur. One Quora user remarks: "I don't think he is a programming prodigy. He was (and is) an ambitious, driven young guy who shipped the right product at the right time, got smart people to work for him from the start and learned to be the CEO of a big company. Not a small feat, but he didn't need to be a prodigy to achieve it."

As another of Quora's community adds: "Zuckerberg is not a programming prodigy. The application he wrote was not unique, and not all that well-made - that is, not a brilliant, exemplary piece of programming. We can leave it to IT historians to come to a definitive answer for why he was so successful, but my belief is that he happened to strike on the right combination of timing, marketing, and features in a fairly crowded space."