7 Years, 3 Teams, 1 Company: Proof That Growing a Career Doesn’t Have to Mean Changing Companies

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Stephanie deWet

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April 14, 2024 at 1:43AM UTC

While a lot of people believe that developing your career means changing companies, Stephanie deWet, a machine learning engineer at Pinterest, has only changed companies once (she started out building flight simulation software) — however, her job title has changed many more times.

DeWet has been a machine learning engineer at Pinterest for more than seven years but, throughout those years, she’s worked in several spaces. She spent the first three on the Pinterest Homefeed team, where she worked on improving personalized recommendations and the order of content. From there, she spent two years working on ads targeting, building technology to help advertisers find new customers. And, now, she works on problems related to machine learning and user privacy.

“I’ve found that supportive managers at Pinterest have encouraged my growth,” she tells Fairygodboss. “I’ve worked on many different projects and have always been encouraged to work on something that’s just a bit of a stretch for me.”

While long-term career planning has never come easy to her, she’s found that focusing on what she’s learning in her current role and what she wants to learn in the next year ahead has helped her grow in her career.

Here, we chat more about what that growth has looked like — and the support she’s had along the way.

Can you identify anything you said or did that earmarked you as someone ready for advancement?

Communicating proactively with my managers has always been really important for my advancement. I try to make sure that my manager is aware of any potential risks or problems very early, so that they can make informed decisions.

Clear communication has actually been my most important professional skill! I’ve worked really hard to make sure that I can effectively share the main ideas behind my work with a non-technical audience. This skill has helped enormously as I’ve grown into positions that involve working with people from other disciplines. It’s a fun challenge to figure out where the knowledge gaps are in myself and others, and how to bridge those gaps.

What was the best quality of the best boss you’ve ever had?

I’ve been lucky enough to have many good managers. The quality that is most important to me is active support. It’s important that a manager is supportive of their employees, not just in 1:1 conversations, but also in taking actions to help them when needed. My best managers have demonstrated their commitment to their team by taking concrete actions to help remove obstacles and resolve tricky issues.

My ideal manager would also ask me if I wanted to solve a problem myself, or if I would like for them to solve it. If I wanted to solve a problem myself, they would help me to brainstorm solutions but let me apply the solutions myself. If not, my ideal manager would solve the problem and share with me the steps they took so that I can learn how to approach it next time!

What’s been your most valuable career mistake?

Early on in my time at Pinterest, I was asked to write some glue code to connect two systems. I expected it to only be used for a few months, so I built a short-term solution. It worked, but it wasn’t very intuitive. Unfortunately, there was never time to go back and fix it — so for the next three years, I had to support this code and explain it repeatedly to coworkers.

This was a very valuable lesson. Now, when I make decisions, I always remember that I’ll have to live with the consequences! I try to always build systems that I am comfortable supporting for years in the future.

What’s the one career move you’ve made that you’re most proud of?

Deciding to go back to school to get a masters degree! In my first job out of college, I had good coworkers, but I realized after a few years that I wasn’t learning very much. I spent some time trying to figure out what work I wanted to do next — and, eventually, I realized that I didn’t have the academic background that would let me do that work.

I’m proud of myself for realizing I needed to prioritize my own learning and for making a big change in order to pursue the job I wanted in the long term.

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