I found my calling: Interview with Pinterest engineer Yash Nelapati

Find Your Calling

Learn how Pinterest Engineer Yash Nelapati found success by pursuing a passion.

Editor's note: "I Found My Calling" is a new series by CareerBuilder that highlights influencers in different verticals – people who have found success and happiness by pursuing a passion. Each week, we'll share another inspiring story. Find YOUR career calling now by visiting http://findyourcalling.com/.

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, that 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 says. "I basically condensed his pitch into two or three things. '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.

However, Silbermann's determination piqued his interest. "I liked his passion and his drive, so that pushed me over the edge to take the leap of faith," says Nelapati. 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.

Purposes come in all forms
Whether or not you see value in the purpose of your role or the goals being pursued by your company, there is something valuable you can do each day you go to work: Try to make a difference.

"Every single day I go back to work because I try to see – what other differences can I make here," says Nelapati. "I go back, talk to a lot of new blood, see what they're hyped about and we just try some sh**."

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 from 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. Though he acknowledges how easy it is to feel burnt out under similar circumstances with similar companies, 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," says Nelapati. "Every time I read it, something sparks and I get back to work."

Burning questions
Nelapati is regularly involved in mentorship programs at Pinterest and recently had the opportunity to interview some of the top U.S. engineering students during a visit to MIT. Already impressed with the next generation of Web engineers, Nelapati is expecting 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."

Pin-worthy tips
There is even more we can learn from Nelapati's story. Here are some other highlights from our interview with him:

  • On issues arising: "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."
  • On taking your education seriously: "Unfortunately, I didn't take it very seriously until it was too late in school so … Everybody has to experience it; 'What am I going to do? Do I have a clear path?' 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."

For more on Nelapati, check out his Pinterest page.

Want to learn how you can Find Your Calling? Check out "Discover your career match during #FindYourCallingDay"