CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg left Harvard University as a dropout with a novel idea.
He returned Monday with a triumphant message: He’s hiring.
The 27-year-old CEO received a rock-star welcome during his first official visit since he left for California’s Silicon Valley in 2004.
He made his recruitment pitch to 250 students after a similar meeting at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“We’re just getting started,” he said. “The next five or 10 years are going to be about all the different products and industries that can be rethought.”
So many students turned out to see the sweat-shirted billionaire outside a university library that campus officials had to set up temporary barriers to separate him from his audience.
Aaron Perez, an 18-year-old freshman, said Zuckerberg’s creation was one reason he chose to study computer science.
He said he likes hearing that companies are hiring computer programmers in today’s struggling economy.
“It’s an empowering story, especially these days,” said Perez. “It makes it seem like I’ve got a chance.”
Harvard computing officials were working on their own university-wide online directory when Zuckerberg created Facebook as a campus-only social network.
The then-sophomore told the campus newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, it was silly that the university needed years to create the site.
“I can do it better than they can, and I can do it in a week,” he said.
An earlier Zuckerberg creation, Facemash, almost led to his expulsion after he hacked university computers for student photos.
But there were no hurt feelings Monday.
“There are relatively few tech rock stars whose names are known by people all over the world,” said Harvard computer science professor David Malan, who cited Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Apple’s Steve Jobs as two other examples.
“He really is in that category.”
Zuckerberg said his company has plans to expand and needs talented workers to do it.
“There’s a lot of really smart people here, and a lot of them are making decisions about where they’re going to work,” Zuckerberg said.
The Boston area’s status as a centre for technological innovation has improved in the last several years, said local entrepreneur Dharmesh Shah, who runs a blog devoted to technology startups.
“There’s always been this stereotype that startups on the East Coast won’t take as much risk as the startups you see on the West Coast, and that held us back,” Shah said.
“But it’s changing. I’ve never seen it as vibrant as it is right now.”
News that Zuckerberg was on campus spread Monday by word of mouth, Twitter and, of course, Facebook. Students held their smartphones aloft to snap photos as he walked through the campus.
Student Madeline Halimi said Zuckerberg’s story is encouraging but also a little daunting.
“What’s really weird is wondering whether the person next to you will be the next person to invent something that changes the world,” Halimi said.