At Duolingo, we pride ourselves on hiring individuals who are passionate about our mission and want to use their expertise to change the world for the better. To help give you a peek into what it’s like working for Duolingo, we’ve asked our team members to share more about their experience at the company and in Pittsburgh! Today, meet Basim: a Senior Engineering Manager for the Duolingo English Test based out of our Pittsburgh Headquarters! He joined Duolingo in November 2020.
Why did you choose Duolingo?
I had multiple reasons to pick Duolingo. First of all, I had been a user of the app for years before joining the company, and I loved the usefulness of the app and the fun branding. When I started interviewing for new roles in 2020, Duolingo was on my radar for that reason. During the interview process, the panel of interviewers gave off vibes of being genuinely nice people who cared about education and the work they did every day. The opportunity to work on a product like the Duolingo English Test (DET), which is close to my heart, was exhilarating. Being an immigrant, I know the process of going through English proficiency testing. I wanted to work for a company and a team that is relentlessly trying to change the face of this archaic industry. And finally, I continue to choose Duolingo every day, month, and year that I’m here because all the feelings and thoughts that made me come here in the first place have only solidified further with my experience of actually being at the company.
What are three words that describe Duolingo’s culture?
Productive, fun, and communal.
What do you like most about Pittsburgh?
I think whether or not you like a city, any city, depends on what you care about. I personally care about community, nature, good food, cost of living, and good weather. The community aspect is much stronger here than the places I’ve lived in before. I’ve lived in “tech hubs” of other cities, and found that I was surrounded by too many people who did exactly what I did. I found that claustrophobic, because I like having friends from all walks of life. I've found people to be much friendlier in Pittsburgh as well. Plus, it helps that so many people I know live in houses, rather than apartments, and are able to have proper dinner gatherings etc. Nature is accessible and good food is plentiful. There's no ocean here, but tons of rivers, forests, and mountains are close by. The weather is certainly different from what I am previously accustomed to! Yes, winters are cold, but to me the (much) lower cost of living, the strong community, and access to nature and good food allow me to ignore the downside of less-than-optimal weather.
What are the advantages of working in tech outside of SF?
The biggest advantage, to me, is living in a community of people from all walks of life. It’s so refreshing to be able to interact daily with people who aren’t working in tech. The cost of living, as I mentioned before, is also a huge benefit. Duolingo pay is competitive to the jobs in San Francisco, but you get to save literally tens of thousands of dollars on rent and overall cost of living. It’s also just fun to be able to see more of the U.S. as an immigrant. I’ve seen the New York and California crowds, so moving a bit more inland felt like a good next step.
What is unique about working at Duolingo?
Duolingo offers a unique opportunity to work at a small company and demonstrate incredibly outsized impact. For a company of around five hundred people, the valuation of the company and the size of the user base is huge. A single person can work on the problem at the scope of multiple teams.
What are some of the technical challenges you face as an Engineer?
The team that I work on has a few unique technical challenges. First of all, we use a wide variety of programming languages, so it takes a good amount of time to ramp up on everything. Secondly, we are part of a business unit (The Duolingo English Test) that was recently spun off into its own product. This means we have some technical debt we need to pay off because we had a lot of rapid growth. Our team also tackles ambiguous problems requiring research and development. We brainstorm and try various ideas until we have a working solution.
What is management like in Engineering at Duolingo?
Engineering management is engaging, challenging, and different from most other tech companies. Engineering managers are expected to be technically involved with the day to day work of their team. I spend a set amount of time coding every sprint, as well as doing code reviews for team members. I also give feedback on technical documents written by the team. This idea of technical involvement applies to not just managers, but engineering directors as well. We have a strong belief that the managers for any role should have a deep working knowledge of projects for the people they manage.
An overwhelming majority of Engineering management at Duolingo is home-grown. As someone who was an industry hire, I also feel like I have a more unique perspective on how this culture is different from other companies. I personally really like the fact that I am given the time and space needed to keep my technical skills sharp enough to be useful to the team.
What is your favorite feature on Duolingo?
My absolute favorite feature is Stories! I wish there were more stories and in more languages as well. Completing a fun story on Duolingo feels like a reward rather than work.
Stay tuned for more Q&As with our employees, and remember to check out our careers page for our current open roles!