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Facebook opens in Cambridge

Almost 10 years after Facebook got its start in a Harvard dorm room, the social network is back in Cambridge.

Facebook Inc. has opened an engineering office in Kendall Square, in the heart of the area’s growing tech community and in the same neighborhood where two other West Coast tech giants, Amazon.com Inc. and Twitter Inc., recently established beachheads.

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The office will give a permanent home to a handful of local Facebook employees who have been working remotely and provide more room for the company to add workers. Facebook declined to provide details on the office’s size or on how many employees it plans on hiring.

“We are in Boston because there is really great, deep technical talent, and great start-up culture,” said Ryan Mack, who will lead the Boston team for Facebook. “This is just a really exciting time to be in Cambridge and Kendall Square, in particular.”

As Facebook’s size has risen to about 1.2 billion users, its need for engineering smarts is growing, Mack said. “We really have to invest heavily in hiring really strong talent.”

Facebook’s Cambridge outpost will focus on some of the harder engineering challenges, such as networking, storage, and security issues. It is the fourth outpost Facebook has opened for engineering work outside of its Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters.

The Kendall Square location is the focal point for much of the local start-up community. It is on the eighth floor of the high-rise that is home to the Cambridge Innovation Center, a shared working space that includes more than 300 entrepreneurs and small businesses.

“It’s very emotional for Cambridge and Greater Boston to have Facebook come back,” said Tim Rowe, chief executive of the Cambridge center. “It’s the one that got away.”

Even though Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard University and left for California to build up the company, the social network has maintained strong local ties. It recruits heavily at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but until now, most hires were relocated to California or one of the company’s other offices.

Facebook’s return is more evidence the region is a wellspring of computing brainpower, said Cathy Wissink, director of technology community engagement at Microsoft Corp.’s Innovation & Policy Center in Cambridge.

“It really speaks to the strength and diversity of the broader Boston tech community that a company like Facebook is coming in,” she said. “The tech industry as a whole benefits when there are more voices in the conversation.”

It’s not just the business community that is relishing Facebook’s arrival. Politicians are crowing. Massachusetts House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo wrote a letter to Zuckerberg last year that promoted the state as an ideal location for a new office.

“For almost two years, I have been talking about our efforts to encourage Facebook to have a presence here in Massachusetts, where the idea for the company was first born,” DeLeo said. The addition of Cambridge to Facebook’s list of global addresses, he said, “reinforces our state’s standing as a place where innovators and technology companies want to be.”

Michael B. Farrell
can be reached at michael.farrell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globembfarrell.
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