Patricia Perozo, software engineer at Pinterest, has made a huge impact mentoring students who are looking for their first job in the technology industry, particularly those from under-represented groups or untraditional backgrounds. Learn more about her journey to Pinterest and the programs she’s spearheading to bring opportunity and empowerment to the future of tech.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your role at Pinterest, what gets you excited about your work?
My name is Patricia Perozo and I’m a software engineer on Pinterest’s Trust and Safety team. I was born in Caracas, Venezuela but grew up in the United States in Virginia and Chicago!
At Pinterest, we’re really proud of our work to create a safe space on the internet where people can feel inspired and manifest what they want to see in their life. My team works hard every day to make that a reality so that your experience is free from some of the negativity, spam, and misinformation you find everywhere else. It’s a super exciting space to work in because as a team we’re constantly having to change and adapt given that people always come up with a new way to spam or spread bad content. Our job is never done and that’s part of the fun!
This year, you led the charge on creating Pin it to Win it: Early Career Web Series, Pinterest’s first ever career development series for undergraduates from underrepresented groups in tech. Can you share some more details on the program?
Yes! The Pin it to Win it series consisted of 7 events designed to take attendees from the question of “How do I get noticed?” all the way to “How do I thrive in my new job?” These sessions were held live over Zoom and were super interactive. The series was developed by our University Recruiting team, myself, and other helpful partners throughout Pinterest. Sessions were led by Pinterest Engineers, all of whom are also part of Pinterest’s communities (affinity groups for employees with similar backgrounds/interests and their allies).
We reached over 550 individuals with the series and it directly led to 6 hires on our engineering team! One of my favorite parts of this experience was interacting with the attendees at the beginning of each sesion and getting into debates about the best way to make Mac and Cheese (baked obviously) or what their favorite Halloween candy was as a kid. These informal discussions early on created a safe space for people to ask the tougher questions along the way when we got into more complicated topics. This was most clear in the Offer Financials talk where attendees reported feeling comfortable asking difficult questions about compensation and pay because of the safe environment.
What inspired you to create and scale a series like this one?
When I was in college I participated in the Code2040 fellowship program. It really helped me to learn more about the unwritten rules of the industry, navigate finding my first full time job, and ultimately build a successful career. One of the pillars of Code2040 is to “drive change in racial equity and inclusion within the companies we join” and that community has supported me in my work at Pinterest.The Pin it to Win it series came from a desire to give recent grads and newcomers to the tech industry, specifically Black, Latinx and Indigenous people, all of the tools they need to get their first engineering job. Racial equity in the industry is important for many reasons. Particularly important is the outsize impact tech has on the world. It is clear that no group of people should be locked out of these decision making rooms.
Before COVID, many of these events and opportunities used to be in person and required students to be in Silicon Valley to attend. This summer, since everything had to be done virtually, I really saw the opportunity to make this type of information available to all. There are countless articles and Twitter threads about both how broken the interview process in the industry is and how to get past those barriers (and more) to land your first job. Trying to condense that information for our attendees and demystify the process is an important first step in leveling the playing field for those who don’t have a support system already in the industry.
What was the planning process like for Pin it to Win it?
I worked with awesome partners on the Pinterest Recruiting team and Engineers from our employee communities: Blackboard, PIndigenous and Todos Pincluidos. Our dedicated planning team of engineers and engineering managers worked together brainstorming the most important content to highlight for attendees and building out the presentations.
The recruiting team focused on spreading this invite to as many people as possible and afterwards connecting attendees with open roles at Pinterest. They were super on board for the goal and supportive throughout the process. Spoiler alert: we’re planning to run this series again in 2021 and this time it will be planned further in advance and with a true event planning professional, instead of just a scrappy team. I think that’s a good case study for how new ideas move forward on my team. First, a DIY version is created and we collect feedback. If it’s successful then we can incorporate it into our official roadmaps and plan for the support and resources necessary to take it to the next level for version two!
Can you share some advice for other managers who want to give back to the community and improve inclusivity in the tech industry?
First, I would ask yourself a number of important questions:
- What is your team’s hiring process like?
What is the broader company’s process like?
How do you reduce bias, and are the questions you’re asking actually giving candidates the best possible chance to showcase their talents?
There are a ton of really innovative and interesting ways to change the standard process, and I would think about how to incorporate them on your team. Check out this viral Twitter thread and the below articles:
- Engineers Hate Your Take-Home Project—Here’s How to Fix It
- How to Make Tech Interviews a Little Less Awful
- Real Talk: The Technical Interview is Broken | by Code2040 | Cracking the Code
Next, Code2040 has found that the highest leverage intervention point is between college and getting the first industry job after graduation. This is because qualified students majoring in Computer Science are not finding their first role in the industry. That sounds unbelievable due to the massive need for engineers and yet our process is so broken that students are not finding that first role. The most recent numbers I have are from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the graduation year of 2018. That year approximately 80k students graduated with a BS in Computer Science in the United States. There are approximately 4 million software engineers in the United States, if just a fraction of us took on a mentee, every Junior and Senior majoring in Computer Science could have an engineer in industry helping support them in their job search and we could pretty easily close that gap and make the transition to industry easier, and less stressful. This would benefit Black, Latinx and Indigenous students the most as those historically excluded from the industry and those less likely to have connections and support to help in that process.
Tl;dr, if you’re able, find a college mentee and help them land their first job. This will stop the drop off of qualified students not finding their place in the industry, and choosing a different career after college instead.
Finally, I want to call out the issues with retention. The tech industry has been called a revolving door for minorities and for good reason. The Kapor Center ran a first of its kind study in 2017 on why people leave tech and made 5 recommendations to raise retention rates. Unfortunately, as acknowledged in the study, their recommendations don’t fix the issues of underleveling, being denied promotion, and disparities in compensation. The only advice I have here is that a good manager helps build their direct reports. If all managers properly supported and cared for their employees equally by helping them identify stretch opportunities and projects, giving clear and actionable feedback, and supporting their passion projects, issues like this could be mitigated significantly.
My time at Pinterest has upended any preconceived thoughts I had about my career trajectory. Previously, I thought that I would be an engineer for a few years and then transition into product management where I saw more people like me. In the past two years I realized how much I actually love being a software engineer and finally believe that I have what it takes to become a senior engineer or tech lead. I always believed in the phrase “you can’t be what you can’t see” but for some reason didn’t consider the implications in my own life. I never questioned why I could see myself as a junior engineer but never progressing past that.
For those experiencing something similar, my advice is to take stock of your wins on a regular basis. Once I started mentoring others, I could see how far I had come from when I was in their shoes as a new grad. I remember when I thought to myself, “I could never break down a project like X person” or “write clean code like Y senior engineer.” Being able to say to myself “wow I can actually do that now” helped me benchmark my progress. Those are huge milestones and should be celebrated accordingly! I have also been lucky enough to have had a number of excellent managers and mentors who have really supported me and my career. It truly does take a village and I want to thank and acknowledge the support system that helped me get to this place. Looking to the future, I’m excited to take on increasingly larger challenges and build my skills enough to one day become a tech lead.