I started an informal job search around November last year. After four years at Spotify, I felt it was time for a new challenge. Being in a fortunate position of being employed and happy in my job, I began to reach out to my network to meet with as many people as possible and get a feel for what was out there (remember pre-Covid?). Being happy at my job also meant that there was a very high bar for me to consider making a switch.
A few months later I had narrowed down my options and was moving into the interview stage with three companies. They were all very different sizes and at different stages in their journey. I was genuinely excited about all of them, but then a fourth contender came out of left field.
Severin Hacker, Duolingo’s co-founder and CTO, and I had met in 2015 while I was at SoundCloud. Union Square Ventures is an investor in both Duolingo and SoundCloud, and we got paired up as part of a peer mentorship program they have for portfolio companies. I really enjoyed our conversations at the time, and I remember having a great impression of both him and Duolingo.
We stayed in touch ever since, and I was happy when he reached out inviting me to visit Duolingo’s new NYC office. He told me about the growth plans for NYC and how they were looking for people to make it happen. It was a really interesting opportunity, and before I knew it, I was on a flight to Pittsburgh to meet the team.
And that’s the moment when Duolingo jumped to the top of the list.
The interviews were not easy. Everyone was very warm and friendly, but they definitely didn’t make it easy for me. I remember using every break to walk around and try to clear my head to focus on the next conversation. I kept reminding myself that it was a good sign that the team cared about keeping the bar high.
Second, and equally important, based on the vibe I got from everyone and from the conversations I was having, it was clear that people genuinely liked working there. They all had good answers when I asked about things they didn’t like about the company, but even then it was easy to see that they were happy there.
On the flight back I was feeling tired but really excited about the possibility of joining the team. The next morning, I was at home talking to my wife about the trip and remember telling her: “I haven’t seen all the offers yet, so I don’t know which one will be the best financial decision, but I do know that Duolingo is the one where I’ll be happy.”
Thankfully everything went well and I joined Duolingo at the end of March.
Today I lead an area called New Initiatives as Engineering Director. We are a group of four engineering teams exploring product ideas that can expand the current Duolingo offering in new directions. Some of our products include an app focused on teaching kids how to read, a platform to help learners connect and practice together, and tools to support teachers and students who want to use Duolingo for language learning. I love that I get to participate in the entire lifecycle of an idea, from when we envision a solution, to when we’re scaling it to all learners. On the engineering side, that means a lot of experimentation, fast iteration, and focus on what will deliver the most value.
Looking back on the last seven months, I feel very good about my decision. The product is helping a lot of people, especially throughout the pandemic when many are spending more time at home and schools are trying to adapt to the new reality. The company has a data-driven engineering culture, where every change is tested and has to demonstrate impact on business metrics. And finally, I found that everyone is extremely compassionate and supportive. I joined right when the lockdown started, and everything from onboarding to Parliament (our weekly All-Hands meeting) to our HR policies reflects a company that is doing their best to look after employees.
Every job will have good and bad days, so at the end of the day what I was looking for is a place where I feel like I can have an impact, I like the people that work with, and I trust leadership and their decisions. I found all that here and can’t wait to see what the next seven months – and beyond – have in store.