Elizabeth Davis | Pinterest Engineering
One Thursday afternoon, I was playing ping pong while watching a couple engineers saw through a slab of wood and add LED lights that map to some of our continuous build statistics. It was Hack Week at Pinterest, the time when hackers from diverse experiences and functional groups come together to interface, collaborate and build awesome products.
This particular Hack Week was entitled “Hack to the Future,” and it lived up to its name. By the end, I was incredibly inspired by the ideas our world-class engineers brought to life. The projects were creative and disruptive. And the best part was that all of our ideas were so different. Our Hack Week underlies the importance of diversity.
In reality, creativity and disruption rely on diversity of thought and perspective. The feature my team created required the combined effort of a designer from France, a product manager with an educational background, two female backend engineers and two engineering interns (including myself).
The power of diversity
I’m an iOS development intern at Pinterest. I’m also a black girl from Los Angeles and rising junior at Stanford University. I grew up in a family equally obsessed with books and sports, and I use 18 separate apps to interact with my friends. I take a lot of computer systems and social psychology classes in school. I protested in the #BlackLivesMatter movement and launched a women’s mentorship program during my last internship. All of these personal aspects inform the engineering decisions I make on a daily basis.
Diversity makes perfect sense in a place like Silicon Valley. The accelerated flow of information by way of engineers from diverse professional backgrounds is incredibly valued. We love working on teams filled with people who’ve worked at major companies, founded small startups, published research or recently graduated from college. These engineers bring ideas and skillsets that are extremely different and just as powerful. We know these are the teams that build the most innovative projects that we see today.
Building a product for everyone
Let’s go “hack to the future” for a minute and imagine a workforce of highly talented people who don’t just have diverse professional backgrounds but also diverse personal ones. Where our information flow doesn’t just extend across Silicon Valley but also across the world and all walks of life. Whether I’m a backend or frontend engineer, where I’ve worked in the past are some key indicators into how I can contribute to a company. But what about the diversity of how I think and approach engineering problems? What about the unique insight I have into how college students interact with apps, or how women shop online, or how Black Americans use online platforms to catalyze social change?
We create products to inspire millions of people around the world. In order to truly empathize with Pinners from all walks of life, these people have to be represented, not only in UX studies, but as we’re designing and building our products. This is how we can build creativity at scale, and how we can continue to be disruptive in the future.
As one of my friends jokingly mentioned in a Snapchat he sent me of Pinterest’s diversity charts, “You are the 2%.” True enough, I account for the two percent of our intern population that is black. Across various tech companies, my black engineering friends and mentors are all one of very few engineers of color who work at their offices. Some even think that hiring diverse talent means “lowering the talent bar.” Diversity can not only positively influence a particular company and the industry at large, but when a company fails to become diverse, they will be left behind.
However, Pinterest is creating a culture that not only accepts diverse talent, but also enthusiastically targets, embraces and welcomes it. There’s been some progress. This year the number of female engineering interns increased from 32 percent to 36 percent, and female engineering new grads from 28 percent to 33 percent. I believe all companies that continue to innovate will follow suit.