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Friday, August 12, 2016

Inside Pinterest’s new Seattle hub: How the company is trying to stand out in a sea of engineering centers

Pinterest held its recruiting event on Thursday at the WeWork building in downtown Seattle.
Pinterest held a recruiting event on Thursday at the WeWork building in downtown Seattle.


Mukund Narasimhan is a well-traveled tech industry veteran, having worked as an engineer at places like Intel, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and Google.


Mukund Narasimhan is heading up Pinterest's new Seattle engineering center.
Mukund Narasimhan is heading up Pinterest’s new Seattle engineering center.

Now he’s taking on a leadership role at Pinterest, heading up its new Seattle engineering office and helping the content-sharing company solve some of the toughest technology challenges he’s seen yet.



Narasimhan joined four other Pinterest engineers who traveled from the company’s Bay Area headquarters to Seattle on Thursday to host an invite-only recruiting event that educated attendees about the types of challenges and projects that Pinterest employees tackle everyday.


Around 100 folks showed up on Thursday evening at the Seattle WeWork building, where Pinterest is renting the entire first floor, taking over space previously occupied by AOL.


Pinterest, currently valued at $11 billion, only has four employees at the office, its first remote engineering center outside of San Francisco, but Narasimhan told GeekWire that there is room for 36 people. The former Google, Facebook and Amazon.com engineer hopes to reach that number within a year, and then find a larger space in Seattle.


“We’re already looking,” he said.


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Pinterest certainly seems committed to planting a stake in Seattle, a tech hub with plenty of talented engineers. Other Silicon Valley tech companies like Facebook, Google, Apple, Twitter, Uber, Lyft, Salesforce, and nearly 75 more have engineering offices in the Seattle area, according to a list compiled by GeekWire.



“There are many people who understand the problems in this space, like search, data analysis, and machine learning,” he said. “There are a lot of experienced engineers in Seattle.”


In fact, that’s one of the reasons why Apple just last week acquired Seattle machine learning startup Turi for $200 million, a deal first reported by GeekWire.


On Thursday, Pinterest engineers gave quick 10-minute presentations about the different engineering problems that the company takes on, from home feed recommendations, to advertising, to discovery.


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Pinterest is renting the entire first floor at the downtown Seattle WeWork building. The company gets its own front door.

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Narasimhan, a longtime Seattleite who earned a PhD in electrical engineering from the University of Washington, said that Pinterest offers a unique set of engineering problems compared to what he experienced at fellow social media giant Facebook, for example.


“The problems we deal with here tend to be a little harder,” he said.


Narasimhan explained that Facebook engineers mainly concentrate on modeling social networks. Pinterest, he said, is more about the content, which often means tougher problems to solve. There are more variables within Pinterest’s algorithms that help surface the right content for the right users, and this creates more work for engineers.


“You need to understand what the user wants, why they are coming to Pinterest, and what they engage with,” Narasimhan said. “You have to work on modeling of the content and modeling of the users.”


Narasimhan gives a quick talk on the engineering behind Pinterest's home feed algorithms.
Narasimhan gives a quick talk on the engineering behind Pinterest’s home feed algorithms.

While Pinterest shares similar “home feed” algorithm challenges to sites like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, one differentiator is the “evergreen” aspect of the content consumed on Pinterest. For example, the photo of your vacation you posted on Facebook a week ago will likely never surface again. But, that super tasty salmon recipe you found on Pinterest may have been posted years ago — yet it still holds value today.


“On Facebook, you have to worry about three days worth of content,” he said. “On Pinterest, it’s more like three years of content. The scale is different.”


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But these challenges are what makes it fun for Narasimhan. He’s also excited to get back to a smaller company environment. Pinterest employs more than 800 — engineers make up nearly half of its workforce — but with the Seattle office, Narasimhan will be leading a small team in a startup-like atmosphere.


“At a smaller company, you can take initiative, and you can drive a project,” he said. “A lot of it is up to you.”


Pinterest, founded in 2010 by Ben Silbermann, Evan Sharp and Paul Sciarra, counts more than 100 million monthly active users and has raised $1.3 billion to date. The company, like rival social media sites Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, is making a new push into video. It also just poached an advertising analytics guru from Snapchat.

Source : www.geekwire.com

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