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 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! Today, meet Katie, an Engineering Director!
What’s your background and what did you do before Duolingo?
Before Duolingo, I was at Oscar Health, a health insurance startup, for 7 years. While I was at Oscar, I saw the engineering team double in size many times over and got to work on many member-facing features, including most recently leading the area building out their virtual care (telemedicine) product. I loved being part of a growing company, delivering impact to end users and working on a product that I could relate to as a consumer. Those are the values that I brought with me and sought when I was looking for my next role.
Prior to becoming a software engineer, I went to grad school for theoretical linguistics, so in some ways joining Duolingo is getting back to my roots.
Why did you choose Duolingo?
I’ve been fascinated by how people learn languages since I was a kid. At age seven, my family moved to Rome for a year and my parents enrolled me in Italian public school without me speaking a word of Italian. For two months I sat in the classroom everyday and felt isolated and frustrated not understanding anything that was happening around me. Then, it seemed like almost overnight something clicked and I was understanding and speaking. I experienced first hand the magic of how our brain learns implicitly and the power of language for survival, inclusion, and community. This is core to Duolingo’s approach as a company and makes their mission personally resonate.
I’ve been a Duolingo user since 2015 and it’s been really exciting to join such a strong tech team working on a product that I love as a consumer.
What team do you work on? What excites you about what your team is doing?
After three months at Duolingo, I started a new team focused on growing our subscriber base in English-learning markets. Currently, the majority of our subscribers are English speakers in countries like the US, and these paying users help support our mission to keep education free for millions. We have a large opportunity to better understand and serve users in English-learning countries, who tend to be more serious learners because they see economic benefit from improving their English skills.
What are three words that describe Duolingo’s culture?
Kind (and collaborative), talented, scientific (experiment, experiment, experiment!)
What is unique about working at Duolingo?
Coming from an insurance company, we did not have a lot of opportunities to A/B test. I’ve been really enjoying the fast iteration of trying out hypotheses with a tight loop of concrete data to back up decisions. I love how Duolingo combines serious rigor of data and experimentation with the bigger picture with our operating principles of learners first and taking the long view.
What do you think someone needs to be successful at Duolingo?
I believe in starting a new job with a mindset of curiosity and empathy. This has served me well in understanding the decisions and processes that have allowed Duolingo to build such an amazing company and product. One of my favorite projects I’ve worked on so far was a User Research deep dive we did in Japan. We set out to understand what motivates Japanese learners to learn English, and how Duolingo fits into their goals as well as how they perceive the value proposition offered by our subscription. Curiosity, empathy, and strong design principles allows us to continually improve the product and better serve the diverse needs of our global user base.
What is your favorite feature on Duolingo?
Being a language nerd I love that I can learn as many languages as I want at once. I am currently switching between Italian, German, and Arabic. In Italian, where I learned it by immersion, my speaking and listening are very strong, but I’m weaker at reading and writing. German is the exact opposite since I mostly learned it in the classroom, and in Arabic I’m a complete novice. I love how Duolingo has lessons and exercises to meet me at my skill level.