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Building a Safer Internet: Meet Pinterest’s Sev Guardado

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February 8th is global Safer Internet Day. The day calls upon stakeholders around the world to join together in making the internet a safer and better place for all– especially children and adolescents. At Pinterest, our Trust & Safety (T&S) team works hard to create a safe and inspiring online environment for Pinners. At the helm of this work is Sev Guardado, Senior Head of Trust & Safety Operations on our Community Operations team. In recognition of Safer Internet Day, we sat down with Sev to learn more about his experience as a T&S leader, and the steps he’s taking to keep Pinterest safe.

How did you get started in Trust & Safety?

Since the beginning of my career, T&S always seemed really meaningful and important. I got into this space by getting my foot in the door with standard user support work, and then made my way to T&S related areas. I was a counselor in college, and there was an opportunity to work on child safety and self harm prevention  within the operations department, so I applied. From there, I loved the mission, the people, and how challenging the work was. Every year since then, I’ve made the decision to keep doing it.

You’ve spent some time in T&S at major tech companies throughout your career– why did you join Pinterest, and what keeps you here?

When thinking about my next career step, I knew I wanted to go to a place that put people first, and join a team that is focused on helping people. By talking to team members and cross-functional partners throughout the interview process, I knew that Pinterest was that place, and the Trust & Safety team was that team. It was clear that so much care and thought goes into every decision, and that if I came here my voice would be heard.

I stay not only because of the work culture and the mission, but also because there is so much important work that lies ahead. I’m a person who loves figuring out what we need to do and rallying people behind that, and there is plenty of opportunity to do that here.

Can you share some highlights from your experience at Pinterest so far?

I’ve really enjoyed interviewing and hiring, despite having gone through the process myself just a year ago. We hired a lot last year (and are hiring even more this year!), and that process really helps you reflect on why you’re here and what your team’s mission is. As an interviewer and hiring manager, I’ve talked to so many amazing people from a variety of backgrounds: investigators, vendor managers, data analysts, consultants, Trust & Safety professionals. I always come out of those conversations energized and excited about who will join us on the journey ahead. Like so many important things, it’s a lot of work, but I absolutely love it.

Additionally, I think going through our performance review processes has been a highlight, because it gives me such deep insight into how much amazing work my team is doing, despite the challenges of the pandemic. Everyone has stepped up to keep Pinterest a safe space for Pinners and Creators, and so much has been built, improved, or overhauled. It’s clear that each manager knows their reports’ work in detail, and cares deeply about their success; I’ve been really proud to see how much work and thought our teams put into coaching, feedback, and growth. So while performance review season is a very busy time of year, for me it’s incredibly important to reflect, reward people for their hard work, and provide helpful feedback.

What keeps you inspired in your work?

For me, it always comes back to the people. Of course, we’re inspired to create a place online where people feel safe to share and build their own inspiration, so there’s always a mission-driven aspect of my inspiration to do good work. But there are also countless moments where my team inspires me: people who work hard to improve our support and enforcement, people who really show up during an escalation and impress you with their depth of knowledge and resiliency during a key moment, people who speak up when they think we can do better. When you see this on a regular basis, it inspires you to be a better leader, because you want the best for them and to see them grow.

Pinterest is a values-driven company at its core. Can you share some ways you live our values in your day-to-day?

I’m a big fan of our company’s value Aim for Extraordinary, because while we invest in people’s wellbeing and work-life balance, we also set ambitious goals and push ourselves to always do better. So when we set our goals for the half or the year, I have big things I want to build or rebuild: better dashboards, playbooks, programs that will set us up for success in the years to come. Sometimes we’re tackling new issues and we don’t know exactly what the end result will look like; but that’s what I love about Trust & Safety work, and for me the journey is really motivating. All of that is in the ambition to build a world-class team and program that anyone would be proud to be a part of.

Pinterest has industry-leading positions on content safety, and we invest heavily in measures like machine learning technology to detect and enforce problematic content at scale. We’re always adapting. We constantly review and update our policies and enforcement methods to better support our mission.

T&S can be an emotionally challenging discipline. How does Pinterest support our T&S employees? What are some best practices that you set for yourself and your team to ensure mental and emotional well-being is prioritized?

I’m really proud of the relationship with the People Team that we have at Pinterest, specifically the Benefits Team. A lot of work went into building that relationship, which has led to a really thoughtful and thorough approach to how we support people who do T&S work. When I joined the company in April of 2021, they immediately reached out and got on my calendar, and we met within the first week.

As a result of this strong relationship, and Pinterest’s general prioritization of employee well-being, our content moderators receive a lot of specialized training and we also have a big focus on moderator wellness. We provide counseling services and a monthly stipend to pursue any personal activity that promotes wellbeing, and we partner with outsourcing companies who meet our standards and requirements for employee wellbeing.

All of that is to say that it’s a good start. This year, we’re thinking about how we can continue to improve our wellness programs and be forward-thinking in how companies can do this work: what to measure, how to build a great program, and how to scale responsibly. One of the people I’ll be hiring this year will be working just on Wellness for Trust & Safety and related teams.

What do you consider your favorite part of your job?

I’ve really enjoyed the engagement and collaboration with partners both within and outside of the company. Trust & Safety is such a busy space right now, and you can’t do it alone; so you make a lot of contacts and friends along the way. Whether it’s industry groups, professional associations, or cross-industry working groups, Pinterest is always showing up to share knowledge, learn, and collaborate with others in the field. I love how much of that is ingrained in our culture, and how many opportunities folks have to do that on our teams. I think this year and going forward, you’re going to see companies being collaborative in the Trust & Safety space, even if they’re competitors in other domains.

A partnership I’m really proud of is with our Policy Team, and by proxy the network we have with impact and civil society groups. We absolutely rely on them to bring in information from experts outside of Pinterest when we’re developing and improving policy and enforcement, so we’re not solely relying on what our experiences or expertise are. As a result, I think we make better decisions, we have better perspective on what these issues mean to people in the world, and we also learn a lot in the process.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

We’re hiring! Throughout the year we’ll be posting a number of roles focused on content safety, intellectual property, government requests, privacy, and program management. So definitely check in through our careers site, as well as LinkedIn!

As I think about how to further grow our team, I think about people who are curious, who love to build, and who are proactive. I don’t think these qualities map to a specific technical skillset or degree, and any number of experiences and backgrounds can build these skills or potential. So as a result, you see people from all different types of backgrounds in the space. And that’s what I think makes T&S teams so interesting and great!

What are some core qualities that the team looks for in T&S job interviews?

Some good core qualities for people in trust & safety work are people who are:

  • Curious – they explore questions, they ask why particular abuses or trends are happening, and they investigate
  • Builders – they’re willing to dig in and stand up processes, or write playbooks that haven’t existed before
  • Proactive – they speak up when they see something, or they think something is risky

We welcome all kinds of talent to join Pinterest’s Trust & Safety team. We value different backgrounds and perspectives in order to get a more holistic lens that helps us keep our community of Pinners safe.

To close, we’d love to know what you’re currently Pinning!

I’ve long been a foodie and a bread baker, so you’ll rarely catch me on a day where I haven’t Pinned a recipe that is soon to hit the weekly menu. @carolinagelen is a favorite Creator!

I’ve also been doing a good amount of house planning. So lots of Pinning to boards for garden planning (CA native drought-tolerant plants!), and most recently, curtain ideas!


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