Startups

Michael Lopp And The Future Of Engineering At Pinterest

Comment

Image Credits: Pinterest

Michael Lopp’s job at Pinterest is to basically make sure he doesn’t have anything to do all day.

Of course, that isn’t the case. As head of the company’s engineering efforts, Lopp, a compulsive counter who has been at Pinterest for a year and 30 days, has to ensure like the rest of the leadership that all of the teams building Pinterest are meshing and that he can effectively delegate certain tasks.

“It’s gonna sound like I’m lazy but I swear I’m not lazy,” he says. “My job is to get myself out of a job. I’m aggressively pushing things I think I could be really good at and should actually maybe own to someone else who’s gonna get a ‘B’ at it. But they’re gonna get the opportunity to go do that [and continue to learn in the process]. My job is to — it sounds like I just want to sit here and drink coffee and talk about bread — but it’s about pushing it down, so these things, which naturally come to me [go to others in the company].”

Pinterest is at an interesting time in its life. Earlier this year, the company ran an experiment called Jumpstart — where it sent a team to Japan to improve the local versions of the product in a short period of time. Pinterest also began opening up its development platform and, of course, has continued to build additional tools for marketers. He describes Pinterest as a “nice” company.

Before joining, he was added to an email thread where he unexpectedly saw nearly a hundred “thank yous.” It’s pretty different from Palantir, he says, which was engineering-driven, while Pinterest is a confluence of multiple different roles working together at the same level.

The success of Pinterest’s continuing expansion depends on its teams, which consist of designers, product managers and engineers. Much of Lopp’s job involves ensuring that those teams mesh well.

He has to ensure that the company grows, monetizes and continues to drive additional engagement, which requires that each team functions at a high level despite differences in opinion and specialities. That triangle inevitably creates a feedback loop: better engagement and growth leads to better monetization, which allows Pinterest to re-invest in the other two, and so on and so forth.

Lopp’s story behind joining Pinterest isn’t dissimilar to that of joining Apple. While at a bar with the CEO of a startup he worked at during the middle of the dot-com bust, he got a call from a recruiter that asked him if he wanted to work at Apple.

“I went to do it to hide for like three years. To wait until the nuclear winter was over.” It turned out to be one of the most successful parts of his career, and after working there for more than eight years he left to head up engineering at Palantir, where he remained for just over four years.

pinterest buyable pinsThen, while visiting Palantir’s offices in Australia, he got another call. Aubrey Obata Kendall, head of recruiting at Pinterest, explained that the company had a “Lopp-shaped hole” at the company, he said. Wanting to run engineering at a consumer Internet company, Lopp decided to take the job.

Lopp tells me he wanted to work at company driven by product. Pinterest, in addition to being a consumer company, is also a product “for regular humans,” he says. While CEO Ben Silbermann handles the company’s strategy and co-founder Evan Sharp is the design voice of Pinterest, the company still needed a strong engineering voice. Enter Lopp.

“I’m at the perfect cross-section of where I’m at in my career and what this job wants,” he says. “This is the first time I feel like what I’m doing and the experience I’ve had is perfectly, exactly what Pinterest needs. It’s the culture-building piece. The other piece here is I’m all about the humans.”

Still, most of his time is spent in meetings, with about a third of his time in one-on-one sessions with other team members, and about a third in program meetings. And he still keeps up with his coding: he learned Swift, Apple’s new programming language, during a Pinterest hack week earlier this year. “The engineers can smell it,” he says, if someone doesn’t have coding expertise.

“This is my job. I spend 80 to 90 percent of my time dealing with how it all fits together. It’s a perfect set of problems I’m pretty good at. I mean challenges. Opportunities — not problems.”

He still takes time to himself — whether that’s a short amount of time to write columns (he’s a prolific writer on his personal blog, Rands in Repose) — and of course advises everyone else to do that (and also take vacation).

“Busy is a bug, not a feature. Whenever I see myself in that state I do a system analysis: How do I get this in this state,” he says. “I like being busy — there’s this thing about busy that feels nice. But that’s actually your ego messing with you, and you’re probably failing in something. Whenever I feel that there, I do a lot of system analysis. Why is this here? Can I delegate it? This is what I was doing in Japan.”

The engineering teams are designed to be small and agile, but Lopp’s impact can also be seen at the recruiting level. While at Pinterest, he began actively pushing to hire new graduates instead of just those with experience. The company’s incoming class consists of 60 newly graduated engineering employees and 71 engineering interns. There’s also a “bartender” program where managers are excluded from the hiring process — so there isn’t pressure to simply fill a spot, with specific people trained to be good interviewers in the hiring process instead.

And then there’s the diversity question. Of the incoming class, one-third of the new hires and interns are women, and having that kind of diversity inevitably helps dissolve “groupthink” among engineering groups, Lopp says.

“Engineers are skeptics, so I took some time to present the research, and there’s a bunch about why teams that are more diverse, companies that have women in executive positions, are more successful.”

Lopp, a bit of a gamer, tends to stay out of the spotlight in games like World of Warcraft. That’s not entirely a surprise — his job at times is to take a step back, look at the whole picture, figure out how to place the right chess pieces and step in where necessary in order to ensure that the operation continues running smoothly.

Like working with humans in real life, organizing a big group of people who are volunteering their time in a video game is a bit like herding cats. (Though, to be fair, at a company like Pinterest they are being paid for their time.)

“It’s not 1,000, but it’ll be [there] before you know it, and we’re getting to another Dunbar’s number in terms of process and overheard,” he says. “But I’ve gone through this a couple times, so I have some ideas on how to build it. The problem I’m working on now is how do we take all of the things they need to do and put it in the golden list. We’ve been growing so quickly, we’ve started to silo a bit in those worlds, and my job because I’m a Silicon Valley tech person, is to how do I keep those [teams working together], support their different missions, have a platform to design all of them.”

More TechCrunch

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

1 day ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

1 day ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo