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How Facebook's CTO stays ahead of the future

The stakes for Facebook's chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer, couldn't be higher. While Facebook is the leading social network in terms of subscribers, that means constant pressure to keep all its apps up and running.

Even the smallest outage sparks criticism and outrage. And there's a never-ending list of new rivals, positioning themselves as the newer, cooler, alternative.

For Facebook to maintain its position atop the social media food chain, and for the stock to retain the confidence of investors, the company has to innovate and stay two steps ahead of what consumers want.

Schroepfer is in charge of the thousands of engineers at the company, and of making sure that all the social giant's products work without a glitch.

Schroepfer, "Shrep" as he's called throughout the company, has a job that's not just thinking about the present, but about the future. Schroepfer leads the teams building out new technologies for Facebook over the 10-year time frame that Mark Zuckerberg laid out at Facebook's F8 developer conference last week.

The goal is to lead Facebook's technological development in areas where it already has a stake — like virtual reality, with its Oculus headsets, as well as artificial intelligence — and to explore new areas where Facebook might see an opportunity down the line.

Mark Zuckerberg discusses Facebook's 10-year timeline at F8 Developers Conference in San Francisco.
Harriet Taylor | CNBC
Mark Zuckerberg discusses Facebook's 10-year timeline at F8 Developers Conference in San Francisco.

"We spend a lot of time making sure the core of what we do is working well," said Schroepfer, referring to investments in data centers. But a lot of his time is spent looking "at what are the things that are not getting built in the world that we need to achieve our mission of connecting the world," he said.

To figure out what futuristic technologies to explore, Facebook has created a new division, called Building 8, and hired a high-profile executive to run it. Regina Dugan was head of Darpa, the research and development arm of the Department of Defense, before running Google's Advanced Technologies and Projects Lab.

"She's going to join us to head up a new effort to basically fill in a lot of the gaps in our 10-year vision," said Schroepfer. "There's so much we want to build that we haven't even started on yet, and she's going to give us the capacity to go off and explore."

But while Google drew criticism for its high-tech explorations being too far afield from its core mission, Schroepfer is committed to making sure Facebook stays focused on areas that are guaranteed to impact its business.

"If there isn't a good reason why this thing is directly square on the mission, then we're not going to work on it, even if we think it's cool," said Schroepfer. "We want to ask those questions, why are we doing it? Is there something unique about our talent, about our technology, that allows us to do well here?"

And that focus requires Schroepfer to say no and he says it happens all the time: "I think one of the most important things in running a disciplined business is saying no. What we're going to do is spend more energy on the things we know are going to work, … that are aligned with our mission."