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Facebook R&D Goes Global: Opens Engineering Office In London, Its First Outside The U.S.

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With the majority of Facebook’s 1 billion users, and subscriber growth, now coming from outside the U.S., the company is taking ever more steps to building out its global footprint to reach that audience. To that end, today Facebook opened up an engineering center in London, its first outside of the U.S. and is now hiring for people to staff it, following through on an announcement it first made in July.

This is both a good and bad thing, I think, for the London tech scene. On the one hand, it’s a sign of how the city is a magnet for good talent, and that Facebook — like Google, Amazon and others — see this as a natural base for developers in their global aims.

On the other, we have already heard smaller companies lament about how big companies like Google — and, incidentally, the financial industry — are major talent magnets when it comes to developers and other tech specialists in London. (That disparity has spawned events like the Silicon Milkroundabout to carry the flame for startups.) Having Facebook here, with its current status as an employer in great demand — could make the process of attracting engineering talent to smaller startups even more challenging.

Facebook is putting one of its top engineers in charge of London. Philip Su has previously led on Facebook’s Skype integration, and others on what Facebook calls its “landing team” have helped develop such central FB features such as the App Center, Timeline, Ticker and photo products.

That points to Facebook more or less creating a mirror structure here in London, working in a number of different areas rather than focusing necessarily only on services it might roll out outside the U.S.. Indeed, even those who are already getting recruited to work in London will still go through Facebook’s bootcamp in Menlo Park before joining the UK team later this month. The only steer that Facebook has given so far on what engineers will cover in London are that the engineers will work on a “range” of products including Facebook’s platform and mobile products. (Just as international is a big growth area for Facebook, so is mobile.)

That also means it will be run slightly differently from Facebook’s operations center in Dublin — which oversees areas like customer help and advertising sales for all regions outside of North America and so has a different geographical focus compared to Facebook’s California HQ.

“We’re excited to be building our first major European engineering centre in a city that is rapidly emerging as a global technology hub,” Facebook VP of Engineering Mike Schroepfer said today at an event that also had the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in attendance (pictured above). “The London Engineering team will play a crucial role in development of future products and core technology for Facebook.”

It should be pointed out that while this is Facebook’s first engineering center outside the U.S. it’s not Facebook’s first move to bring engineers to London. Given that London is a center for digital advertising, Facebook’s already had people on the ground here working with local agencies on social marketing services.

Facebook, citing data from Deloitte, says that the Facebook ecosystem has already contributed to the creation of 35,200 jobs in the UK (and only 30,000 hours of time wasted at work checking your FB account.. I kid!) Some 7,500 of those jobs are in the area of creating and monetizing Facebook apps, worth some £500 million annually.