Facebook’s Star Manager Peter Deng Becomes Instagram Director Of Product To “Do Fewer Things Better”

Peter Deng built Facebook Chat, Groups and Messenger as its product management director for the last six years. Now he’s going to execute the vision of Instagram’s founders as its new Director Of Product. “I’m not trying to come in and make changes,” Deng tells me. “Kevin and Mike have a great thing going. How can we move faster and build more beautiful products? That’s what I’m coming here to do.”

Deng doesn’t get up on stage as much as Zuck, Sheryl, and Chris Cox do, but he’s responsible for much of what we know as Facebook today. He previously interned at Microsoft and later worked on product at Google before joining Facebook in 2007.

Here’s a quick run-down of what Peter’s worked on since then:

  • The first version of Facebook Chat
  • Early updates to Events
  • “Brought a voice to Pages”, giving them the ability to post to the News Feed
  • Led the News Feed and homepage team for two years, redesigning it to update in real time
  • The profile redesign that focused on collecting structured data about users — the fuel for Facebook’s ads engine
  • Transformed Groups from bumper stickers on your profile into collaborative communication spaces
  • Founded the mobile messaging team after pushing Facebook to acquire Beluga

After all that, he still wasn’t sick of the Facebook ecosystem, telling me he never planned to leave the company. Instead, Deng wants to bring the insights from building these products to Instagram as he reports to its CEO Kevin Systrom. That’s great news for Facebook, which has seen a lot of talented veterans move on to launch their own startups after doing their “duty” to the social network. Naomi Gleit, Facebook’s longest-running employee other than Mark Zuckerberg, will now be leading the messaging team Peter previously managed.

Moving to Instagram will give Deng a fresh set of puzzles to solve while still going to work at 1 Hacker Way. He explains:

“I see a lot of the same challenges that Facebook faced in getting to where it is today. How do you build a product organization, how do you understand how people use the product? how do you make the product relevant internationally.  Fo me it was an exciting time to come to a team that’s probably going to face a lot of these challenges, and make it less painful to go through some of these things.”

Systrom said about Deng:

“Peter joins in good company too, as we’ve built out our Instagram leadership team to take on the challenges of building a world-class product and company. Through our many discussions, it’s clear his unique skills in building out product management teams, creating scalable structures for building new products, and his experience building out Facebook News Feed and Messenger make him the perfect fit for our company. Ever since we worked at Google together many years ago, I’ve been able to call Peter a good friend – and now years later, I’m thrilled we get to work together again on the Instagram that we all know and love.”

Compassion Through Sharing

Instagram’s potential to transport us and offer new perspectives endeared it to Deng. “There are these guys in Russia and Indiana that I follow. I don’t know them, they’re not my friends, but that I get to see the world through their lens is truly amazing,” he tells me.

And Instagram’s ability to preserve our memories took on new meaning for Deng this morning, as he had his phone stolen. He recounts, “At first I was kind of pissed for 30 seconds. But then I thought ‘Hey, it’s just a tool to make my life better. I can get another tool and my life stays the same. All my moments are already on Instagram and Facebook. We have photo sync. Nothing is actually on the phone. It’s just the window.”

While Deng has great product vision himself, he tells me his job isn’t to meddle with Instagram’s focus on simplicity, embodied in its design philosophy “Do Fewer Things Better.” The team is 50 people now, up from 13 when it was bought by Facebook in April 2012. It’s not a startup scrambling to define itself. It’s a tool used by hundreds of millions of people, where a little more efficiency makes a huge difference.

Deng concludes, “I want to fulfill the vision of the path it’s already on. One of the biggest things I can do is try to hire the product team to fulfill the vision. Mark wanted to make the world more open and connected. We want to capture and share the world’s moments. It’s a beautiful mission. We make the world just a little more compassionate with each other and understanding of each other’s points of view.”