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Life at Pinterest Profile: Aayush Mudgal

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Written by Life at Pinterest Team

Meet Aayush Mudgal, Staff Machine Learning Engineer

Team / Location: Monetization Engineering in Palo Alto, California

Tenure at Pinterest: 6 years, started at Pinterest in March 2018 

Currently Pinning: Travel Itineraries for Europe (Poland, Amsterdam, Stockholm) and Costa Rica, and Painting Ideas

Pinterest Engineering Blogs authored by Aayush: 

Discovering the opportunity:

I joined Pinterest as a new graduate after completing my Master’s in Computer Science from Columbia University. Before coming to Pinterest, I was intrigued by Machine Learning (ML) and its application. All of my prior experiences motivated me to pursue a career in the industry with a focus on realizing Machine Learning skills to practical problems.

As I was looking for my next opportunity, I was more focused on mid-size companies, who were utilizing cutting-edge ML work. Pinterest had been a pioneer of Graph-based models and also had a diverse multi-modal content comprising visual, textual and graph based signals, which was the major reason for me to join in 2018. Pinterest was one of the few mid-size companies with a good foundation and advanced ML technologies. Additionally, I knew a senior from my college, who was working on the same team. He referred me and ultimately motivated me to join. 

The interview process:

The one thing that really sold me on the opportunity was the interviews and the interviewing panel. The questions that were asked were much different than typical standardized questions. They were practical and seemed relevant to the work at Pinterest. Moreover, the interviewers were very flexible to evaluate the performance based on my prior experiences. I do remember that given no systems background, I was really struggling in the questions being asked on system design. However, the interviewer was kind enough to acknowledge the directions and insights I shared, which made the interview experience really great. The questions asked were practical but one of the more challenging interview processes I went through. 

Joining Pinterest Monetization:

Although my background predominantly involved theoretical Machine Learning, NLP and Computer Vision, I joined the Monetization team at Pinterest, lacking specific expertise for the role. Nonetheless, the welcoming environment fostered by a supportive team that was eager to learn and grow together made my transition seamless. The Monetization team was a prime focus for Pinterest, adding an exciting layer of urgency and challenges to all projects. An exceptional trait of Pinterest's product is its full-funnel approach, seamlessly guiding users from inspiration to execution through shopping. Unlike other platforms, where advertising might feel detached, Pinterest incorporates ads into the core product to augment the user experience. In essence, Pinterest's ads serve the user's journey. 

Growing a career you love:

I joined the Ads Ranking team as one of the founding engineers. This role proved to be an excellent springboard for my career as it fostered the development of various skills. I’ve stayed on the same team for over six years now. There have been two major reasons for staying on the Ads Ranking team. 

  1. The challenges and opportunities the field presents has resulted in continuous learning and impact. There is always so much to learn and contribute towards - making an immediate positive impact for our Pinners, partners and product. It's enriching to see how over the time, we have made numerous improvements to the recommendation systems through better machine learning models and the creation of new products. I feel proud that I’ve contributed towards our revenue growth and how each of the small contributions and iterations helped grow the business, especially as someone who’s been on the team since the beginning. 
  2. The opportunities at Pinterest have helped me drive my continuous growth and push the boundaries of comfort.  Over the past few years, I have constantly continued to grow into a Senior Machine Learning Engineer followed by being a Staff Engineer. During my time at Pinterest, I have been very fortunate to learn from my peers and managers and advanced both my technical and leadership skills. 

Advice to candidates:

One key piece of advice I’d give my younger self is to embrace challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. The path may feel unfamiliar and daunting, but every experience shapes you as a professional. Stay open to learning and eager to adapt. Venturing out of the comfort zone often brings the greatest personal and professional growth. Given the fast-paced evolution of the Machine Learning landscape, it's essential to continuously enhance one’s set of skills to stay at the forefront of innovation. Also embrace failures, not as setbacks, but as opportunities for enrichment. Learning from mistakes can foster resilience and improve problem-solving abilities, ultimately leading to stronger performance. Lastly, always value humility. In a collaborative environment like Pinterest, effective teamwork and the respect for diverse perspectives are as essential as the individual contributions. 

Overall experience:

In reflecting on my tenure at Pinterest, I've found the company to be exceptionally accommodating and supportive of innovative ideas. I've often been driven to undertake individual projects, ones characterized by both substantial risk and potential impact. In these instances, Pinterest's supportive ecosystem enabled me to develop such initiatives, transitioning them from mere concepts to properly implemented projects. This approach simultaneously fosters personal career development, and holds us accountable for delivering impactful results. Thus, Pinterest's flexibility, coupled with its commitment to ensuring accountability, has been instrumental in my professional evolution.

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