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 Alina: a Software Engineer at Duolingo! She joined Duolingo in August 2020 as a New Graduate Engineer!
Why did you choose Duolingo?
I had interned at a big tech company every summer in college, and though the experience was fun and challenging, it didn’t really feel like me, and didn’t quite align with my goals and interests. In fact, I was seriously doubting whether I wanted to be a software engineer at all.
One day, out of the blue, an old intern friend messaged me, and said, “I’m interning at Duolingo, and there’s a lunchtime crossword group — you would love it here.” I had used Duolingo in high school, and thought it was a great product with a wonderful, clear mission. I had always wanted to work in (free!) education, I loved language learning and word games, and a small company where I could get to know everybody (especially fellow crossword lovers) really appealed to me. From then on, the rest of the process couldn’t have gone better; my interviewers and recruiter seemed like they genuinely cared about who they were hiring, the interview tasks were unique and fun, and the Crossword Club members knew their way around a grid. By the end of the process, I knew that I wanted to work at Duolingo.
What do you like most about Pittsburgh?
Before this, I had only lived in one state (California), so I was definitely looking for a change. I was a bit hesitant about Pittsburgh at first, since I knew zero people here and didn’t know much about the city, but I’ve been really liking it! There a lot of great restaurants in the area (some of my favorites are Noodlehead and Cafe 33, and I like to pick up fish from Tokyo Japanese Market), and we often go to rock climbing gyms after work and on the weekend. The office is also right next to a library, so I love to stop by on my way home and pick up books.
I also really enjoyed my first “real” winter; I’m used to wearing socks and sandals year-round, so it’s been an adjustment, but it’s been a lot of fun to go sledding on a trash can lid at a nearby park, and then grab hot chocolate at the Milkshake Factory.
How does team matching and mentorship work at Duolingo?
Going into team matching, my favorite Duolingo feature was definitely Stories, so I was delighted that there was an open role for me on that team. The other positions sounded interesting too, and there happened to be an iOS, Android, and Web position available, but I didn’t have too much experience in any one platform, so I chose solely based on the team. I wanted to work on something user-facing that teaches something to learners, so this was a great fit. I love working on Stories — sometimes when I’m testing a new feature, I get lost in the story and end up just reading the whole thing.
I was extremely supported when I started, especially by three engineers who weren’t even on my team! I had one official mentor, and we had regular check-ins to see how I was doing, and go over general tooling and processes. I also had a platform-specific mentor, who I would talk to about tackling different Web problems, and I had an unofficial mentor who used to be in my role, so he reviewed all my code and gave me a lot of specific advice. I always felt like there were multiple people I could turn to when I needed help.
Now, I have two mentees of my own, and it’s been a great learning and leadership experience to help them get situated at Duolingo.
What was your first project as a New Grad and what growth have you noticed in yourself since you’ve started?
My first big project was modifying a Stories exercise. It required making changes in multiple repositories, writing a Tech Spec, and creating an experiment. It was super exciting to see my changes in the app! It’s funny to look back on, because it felt like such a big project, but now, it would probably only take me a few days.
I’ve had a lot of growth opportunities at Duolingo, especially this past year. I’ve become the owner of a few services (which means I answer questions about them, review code, and investigate when something goes wrong), worked on a lot of features, and had two mentees. Another big change for me was becoming a backend engineer; it wasn’t something I was particularly drawn to, and the code looked super intimidating, but after a few projects, I feel really comfortable making changes, and I find backend work a lot of fun!
If you could have lunch with one Duolingo character, who would it be and why?
I would pick Lily; I feel like I’ve gotten to know the characters pretty well through Stories, and one of Lily’s, “A Pink Dress” (Une Robe Rose in French) was very meaningful to me; it almost brought me to tears! She’s very true to herself, and a good friend.