Knit Con through an employee’s eyes

Tobi Ogunnaike| Software Engineer, Engineering Productivity

Originally published on Tobi’s personal blog.

It’s not every day I get to spend two days with my coworkers making arepas, practicing Tai chi, learning how to plate dishes, and vibing to six different DJs. Two days immersing myself in the deepest caverns of talent that cut across continents, genres, and domains. All on the company’s dime.

Then again, every day is not Knit Con.

Knit Con at Pinterest HQ in 2019

My first taste of Knit Con was three years ago. I had heard so much about this so-called Knit Con from recruiters and teammates. My recruiter’s face lit up as she described it. You know how someone describes an incredible meal they ate many years ago that is forever etched into their memory. The way they smile as they recall the details, every bite, every flavor, and the sadness that ensues when it all ended. Yeah, she did that, but for Knit Con. I could not understand.

Employees in Slack asked for the exact dates for that year’s Knit Con. They wanted to know so they could change their summer travel dates so they wouldn’t miss the experience. How good could this thing be, I wondered?

Knit Con is our two-day annual employee inspire-a-thon. It’s what happens when the company stops working for two days and employees are encouraged to teach and participate in creative, interactive classes and inspiring talks. It’s a real-life representation of the Pinterest product where attendees are encouraged to explore their creativity and imagination. Having worked in other industries before Pinterest, this concept of “stopping work for creative exploration” was a bit foreign. I thought it might mean no serious meetings on the calendar, but you had better work if you have a deadline. You know like when teachers in school would say an assignment was “optional” but it really wasn’t. But my experience has been totally different. In my four years here, all my managers have fully supported employees taking the time to experience Knit Con. So much so that I always leave my laptop at home during the event.

Every Knit Con is different and yet the same. Same in the sense that the anticipation builds up in the preceding weeks. Employees mark their calendars and teachers start designing how to bring their talents to life. Same in that familiar sense when you haven’t seen your best friend in a long time and then they visit, and you start off right where you ended. No instruction manual needed, it’s the same. Like when you’re assembling furniture and something snaps right into place. It clicks in perfectly.

Each Knit Con is different because no two people’s experience is the same. And that’s by design. You could spend all day jamming to the talented lineup of DJs. Just as the West Coast DJs close for the night, you can tune into the APAC DJs. Such is the beauty of working for an international company. The music never stops. If you’re hungry for more, you can treat your tastebuds to any number of appetizing classes. No matter which sequence of classes you take, you’re going to leave feeling inspired, energized, and with your creative muscles warmed up.

Of course, this year’s Knit Con was going to be unique. 2020 was a tragic year. We lost people, we lost human connection and we lost control. Perhaps strangely, my favorite part of Knit Con in yesteryear was running between our different buildings, and seeing friends and coworkers all excitedly trying to make it to their next class. Everyone was buzzing. It’s the same feeling you get at a packed soccer stadium, at a festival, or on IPO day. Some classes would be too full, then employees would spontaneously convene in other areas — making delicious cocktails, weaving and crafting yarn and paint into standalone delights, or playing FIFA against the person in IT you pinged yesterday asking for access to Figma. If you made it to the class, you got to watch someone let bare their soul’s innermost passions. You’d find someone who can make four-hundred-year-old paint sound interesting. The person who knows a little too much about poison but can weave its history in such an alluring manner that it keeps you transfixed. The person who plates food in a way that strips away the gastronomic jargon but reminds you of your primal instinct to eat with your eyes and nose.

But this year had no office buildings so no inter-building commute chatter. No in-person lunch so you couldn’t check what cool classes your friends had gone to. Limited spontaneity because we watched from our laptops.

Could it still be special? I know I’m not the only one who wondered this.

It definitely was.

This year, I took a class where we learned how to make Venezuelan arepas. For a short while, we were transported into the houses of our South American friends. We learned that arepas are quite versatile. You decide how thick you want it and what fillings you’d like. This perfectly encapsulates the spirit of Knit Con. Knit Con brings the base, the foundation, or the cornmeal if you will. And we, the people bring the filling. It’s what you make it.

Like listening to talks? You could’ve tuned into Ben’s keynote, or Dr. Michio Kaku (who delighted and frightened us about the future of technology), or Aron Ralston (who recounted in painstaking detail and with a dark wit how he managed to cut his arm off to save his life).

Love food? You could’ve taken a great pizza-making class where Andrew taught us how to make a crust you’d want to devour. Or a class by Polly Sang where she taught attendees how to cook without recipes. This style of cooking is eerily reminiscent of my childhood where my mother often asked “what do we have and what can we make” and began to freestyle (or innovate, in tech-speak) to delicious effect.

In “What goes on in the mind of a poker pro”, I gained an appreciation for how psychology and game theory can be applied and combined to devastating effect. From one end of the stress stakes, I then opted for something calmer. I learned the basics of Tai Chi, an ancient martial arts practice that encourages us to focus on our breathing. Given the year we’ve just had, could there be any class more relevant than one encouraging us to focus on the health of our minds and bodies?

Knit Con represents a conscious and intentional effort by Pinterest to invest in the creativity and imagination of its employees. It’s an understanding that creativity is something to be celebrated and recognized. As adults, we all have bills to pay and taxes to file. So it’s important to take the time and space to hone and express our creativity in the many shapes and forms it manifests. Knit Con allows us to have bonding moments with coworkers across different borders, time zones, political leanings, races, and genders. It’s a reminder that we should all be open-minded to experiment with new ideas or hobbies, whether that’s making Gordon Ramsay’s beef wellington or trying an Afrobeats dance class. It’s good to get out of your comfort zone to try something new because you might surprise yourself!

I left Knit Con feeling hopeful. Hopeful because despite the immense pain of 2020, human ingenuity and creativity did not die. Despite the fact we’re all Zoomed out, we showed up for each other to inspire, to entertain, to teach, to excitedly gasp, and to share with one another. I’m fortunate to work at a company that invests in creativity. I know this is not the norm. When I worked in biotech and as a chemical engineer, it would’ve been impossible to have such an experience. Pinterest is the hopeful, positive part of the Internet for millions of people. I hope we continue to invest in our people’s creativity so we can continue to meet such a high bar.

Until 2022.

To learn more about Engineering at Pinterest, check out our Engineering Blog, and visit our Pinterest Labs site. To view and apply to open opportunities, visit our Careers page.

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Inventive engineers building the first visual discovery engine, 300 billion ideas and counting.

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