“What am I going to do? Do I have a clear path?… Unfortunately, I didn’t take it very seriously until it was too late in school…. It had to hit me hard…; hard enough for me to take a serious look at my life.” — Yash Nelapati, Pinterest developer
It’s important to understand the purpose that drives your company forward. Even more important to grasp is the purpose of your role. Which problems are being addressed because of your efforts?
For Yash Nelapati, a web developer working at a startup in Silicon Valley, this issue was top-of-mind when he sat down with a peer to discuss a new solution to an old problem. Ben Silbermann, a former employee of Google, was already impressed with Nelapati at this point, but Nelapati was not yet sold on Silbermann’s idea: creating a new platform to categorize, review, and share links in a visually appealing way.
“I heard a lot from Ben on his grand vision,” Nelapati said. “I basically condensed his pitch to…: ‘Hey, what is the problem we’re solving?’ And I really believed it was a good problem to be solving.”
At the time, there were a slew of inelegant solutions that allowed users to save, display, and share links with friends, but none that did so in a satisfying, scalable way. Silbermann’s determination piqued Nelapati’s interest.
“I liked his passion and his drive, so that pushed me over the edge to take the leap of faith,” Nelapati said. They agreed to work together and, eventually, produced something you know (and love): It’s called Pinterest. Nelapati was the company’s first ever hire.
Make a Difference
“Every single day I go back to work because I try to see, What other differences can I make here?” Nelapati said. “I go back, talk to a lot of new blood, see what they’re hyped about.”
At all times, along with his can-do attitude, Nelapati maintains perspective. He knows just how big Pinterest is as a social medium and as a company, understanding that changes and ideas will take time to develop and implement. “My thought process has completely transformed over the last five years because we’re not small,” says Nelapati.
The Importance of Inspiration
Staying creative is one of the biggest challenges all Pinterest employees face day-to-day, according to Nelapati. In his role, he isn’t limited to simply making engineering decisions; he must also make design choices and pay attention to the overall experience of a Pinterest user. Nelapati says his eye for design has been instrumental as an employee of Pinterest, and that broad skillsets are valuable.
Despite the creative output required, Nelapati has been going strong as a member of the Pinterest family since December 2009. And though he acknowledges it can be easy to feel burnt out in such circumstances, Nelapati has found a way to stay motivated. His secrets: knowing when to take breaks and keeping inspiring stories on hand.
“I go talk to people, pick up one or two qualities that exceptionally show in their stories. I write them down in my little small Moleskine and read [them] back every time I’m out of ideas,” he said. “Every time I read it, something sparks and I get back to work.”
Nelapati is regularly involved in mentorship programs at Pinterest and recently had the opportunity to interview some of the top US engineering students during a visit to MIT. Already impressed with the next generation of web engineers, Nelapati expects big things from this group because of the aptitude, passion, and foresight they displayed as students. To them, and to everyone else out there gearing up for their first career, he has this to say:
“Have a curious mind. Pursue those burning questions, like, How did this guy do that? What drove him? There’s always a story that connects.”
We can learn even more from Nelapati’s story. Here are some other highlights from our interview with him:
- On taking your education seriously: “What am I going to do? Do I have a clear path?… Unfortunately, I didn’t take it very seriously until it was too late in school…. It had to hit me hard…; hard enough for me to take a serious look at my life.”
- On learning outside the classroom: “I remember going to a lot of [chat rooms], asking a lot of questions, and people would not care. People would boot me out of the room and I would change my name and go back.… If you’re passionate enough I think you can learn a lot of stuff from the Web and that’s basically what I did. I pushed myself hard, read a lot of documentation, spoke with a lot of people, went to local meet-ups, spoke with more people…. A lot of people do that.”
- On fixing problems: “You should be personally and emotionally connected but when something goes wrong, you just need to know when to take your foot off and take a step back and think, Why is that decision made? Step out of your shoes and think.”
For more on Nelapati, check out his Pinterest page.
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This article originally appeared in the Advice & Resources section on CareerBuilder.com, and is part of “I Found My Calling,” a new series by CareerBuilder that will highlight people in various occupations who have found success and happiness by pursuing their passion.