Why is Facebook going on a hiring spree?

Facebook plans to increase its number of employees by 14 percent in the first quarter of 2015. The hires suggest that Facebook is looking into some unusual technologies.

Jose Miguel Gomez/Reuters
President, founder and CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg speaks during a Reuters interview at the University of Bogota January 14, 2015. Facebook Inc on Wednesday launched a mobile phone application that gives Colombian users free access to a handful of online services, broadening Zuckerberg's effort to boost Internet usage in developing markets.

For a look at what Facebook thinks might be the next big thing, the company's new hiring surge could offer clues.

An aggressive hiring push could add 14 percent to the company's staff in the next quarter, according to a Reuters analysis. But it's what those new hires will be doing that points to how the social media giant is trying both to change and stay the same.

Facebook goggles. Facebook acquired Oculus Rift, a technology company that is working on a design for virtual reality glasses, for $2 billion last year. 

In contrast to Google Glasses, which are essentially smartphones that can be worn as eyewear, Oculus Rift headsets immerse the wearer in a virtual three dimensional world, usually for computer gaming. The demand for virtual reality products still lies in a relatively small niche audience, but Facebook is looking to lead the market.

The 54 new job openings suggest that the product’s commercial release might be sooner than expected, Reuters suggests.

Universal Internet access. Facebook is also looking to make good on Mark Zuckerburg’s promise to bring the entire world online by investing in satellite and drone technology to make that possible.

This move would mean that Facebook would be hiring employees beyond computer programmers and designers, and instead focusing on avionics, radio frequency communications, and thermal engineering, Reuters concludes.

Website upgrade. Earlier this year, Facebook hired much of the design team from Teehan + Lax, the firm behind the blogging platform Medium. Teehan + Lax is known for minimalistic design, and one of the common complaints about Facebook’s layout is that it is too crowded. It has been a long time since Facebook upgraded its look, leading to a lot of speculation about whether this means Facebook will be getting a facelift.

The move could also signal new apps from the company's Creative Labs, suggests Nate Swanner of Slashgear. Either way, he wrote Friday, "It's a great day for Facebook, who have hired in some talented designers."

Facebook has been famous for hiring top design talent.

Facebook currently has drastically fewer employees than Google – Facebook has 8,348 and Google has roughly 55,000 – but that is part of Facebook's allure. Part of its pitch is that each employee has a proportionally grater impact on the organization.

Once designers get "get to Facebook, designers don’t sit in a corner and wait for people to toss requirements at them," writes E.B. Boyd for Fast Company. "Rather, they enjoy an unusually high level of involvement in the product, starting at the very beginning as executives and product leads discuss what they should build."

But Facebook has clearly made the decision that to grow as a company and compete with rivals, it will have to grow its staff by an estimated 1,200. Part of that growth has been an expansion of its Seattle office from two employees in 2010 to 400 today – with plans to head for 800.

“There’s a fairly direct correlation between their investment in people and servers and infrastructure, and their ability to remain competitive,” Colin Sebastian, a market analyst, told Reuters.

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