Tracy Chou

Software engineer at Pinterest, previously early team at Quora

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON October 01, 2015


Tracy Chou@triketora
Hi I'm Tracy! I'm a software engineer at Pinterest on the home feed team. In my 3+ years here I've worked on building many parts of the product, including serving as a tech lead on the redesign and rewrite of the site in 2012, and on the monetization team. Before Pinterest, I was an early engineer at Quora. Ask me anything
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
Hi, Tracy! Career hopping in tech is common with many people switching jobs every year. You've been at Pinterest for over 3 years. Why have you stayed and what challenges fuel your excitement?
Tracy Chou@triketora
@rrhoover For the growth opportunities, and for the culture. On growth: The company has grown from ~10 people when I joined to ~650 now, and it's been an incredible journey. So many learning opportunities not just in scaling engineering, but in scaling the team, product, and business as well. On culture: When I first joined Pinterest, I was pleasantly startled to realize it was the first place I was treated as an engineer and not a female engineer; overall it's just a warm, friendly, collaborative, inspiring place to be. The company has also been amazingly supportive of my work on the diversity front and for that work I find a lot of leverage in being at Pinterest.
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
@triketora wow! I didn't realize you joined around 10. I joined PlayHaven around that same time and over 3 years we grew to ~100. Scaling and changing processes in 10x growth is hard enough.
Matt Mullenweg@photomatt · CEO, Automattic
@triketora You have thirty minutes with a classroom of elementary-age girls, what would you tell or teach for them to be as successful as possible in the world as it exists today.
Tracy Chou@triketora
@photomatt It's okay to be better than the boys. In fact, you should aim to be better than them :) Sometimes people will say silly things that make you feel bad about being smart or creative or "not girly". Ignore them, they don't know better. Make friends when you can, and be friends with girls and boys and people who aren't just like you. Try to see things through other people's eyes. Work hard. Read books. Have fun.
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
@triketora What are you most proud of since starting at Pinterest?
Tracy Chou@triketora
@bentossell Writing, setting up, and helping to kickstart the diversity data disclosures across the tech industry. I give a lot of credit to Pinterest for supporting that work and being okay with me putting our numbers out there in a very public way so early on :)
Steven W@mrwongsteven · Nice guys finish lunch.
@triketora I'm a huge fan of Pinterest and Quora. What inspired you to code and how did you learn the craft?
Tracy Chou@triketora
@mrwongsteven It's hard to say that I was inspired to code, per se... I think the way it went down was more that I had friends who were taking CS classes and recommended that I take them too, and because I never really planned out anything in advance, I ended up in those classes. But I didn't learn much of the craft in school; I studied electrical engineering for my undergrad, and though I did a master's in computer science, it was in AI/ML which was very mathematics-heavy. I learned how to be a software engineer on the job at my first job out of school, at Quora. I had some fantastic mentors there, including Adam D'Angelo (I still remember him staying late at the office with me teaching me how to use the Python shell for debugging) and Edmond Lau (who has now written a whole book on how to be an effective engineer).
Taufiq Husain@taufiqhusainca · Managing Director at Polar Hills.
Hi Tracy! In an LA Times article, it was reported the following: Tracy Chou, 27, a well-known engineer at Pinterest, said she was once bypassed at a previous start-up because her boss thought a new male hire was more qualified. When Chou pressed for an explanation, she recalled him saying: "It's just this feeling I have that this person will be able to get stuff done faster than you." Do you think this type of mentality is ingrained in men's minds? I see that you often talk about gender inequality issues and everyone (including me) agree, but the problem keeps on persisting. How should startups go about recruiting, attracting and retaining more female talent if women are afraid of unfair treatment already?
Tracy Chou@triketora
@taufiqhusainca There is indeed a lot of unconscious bias, and sometimes I sense some defensiveness as well, when people don't want to confront the fact that maybe they don't deserve all the success they've had, that other people who've worked just as hard as they have haven't had the same opportunities to excel. It takes a long time to unseat these very deep-seated beliefs and emotions, but it's not impossible.
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
Hey Tracy! Thanks for joining us. 1) What do you think is this biggest misconception/misunderstanding you see when people talk about diversity in tech? 2) What life advice would you tell your 25 year old self? or , alternatively, if you were 25 in 2015, what would you do?
@eriktorenberg @triketora upvote, as a current 25 year old I'm interested in your answer to question #2 :)
Tracy Chou@triketora
@eriktorenberg 1. That achieving diversity in tech is about lowering the bar. It's not. It's about identifying and unlocking talent even when it doesn't pattern match well against our woefully non-diverse industry now. 2. Hm, 25-year-old me was only 2-years-ago me, so I don't know that I've accumulated a lot of life wisdom since then! I would tell my 25-year-old self to keep working hard but to be intentional about the time you're spending on work versus play and who you're spending time with. On the last point -- someone recently gave me a useful framework to consider the people you interact with: 1s are people you love being with, that give you energy, that make you excited about life. 3s are people that just take and never give, they drain you. 2s are in between. Only spend time with 1s.
Courtney Muniz@cnmuniz · SDR, HackerRank
Hi Tracy! So awesome to see you here - what advice do you have for people who want to get involved with the tech diversity cause but who are not engineers (i.e. I'm a saleswomen at a tech startup). Thanks!
terri harel@terrileeedit
@cnmuniz Love this question! Thanks for asking.
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
HUGE thanks to @triketora for taking the time to chat with us today!
Tracy Chou@triketora
@eriktorenberg Thanks for having me!!
Teresa Hammerl@colazionearoma · Socialmediapreneur
Hi Tracy, thanks for doing an AMA! I started learning how to code some time ago, I joined some workshops and did some online tutorials. But that never really worked out. Do you have any tips how to make it more fun to learn how to code? Thanks!
Tracy Chou@triketora
@colazionearoma I've always found the most gratifying part of writing code to be building things that are useful. Maybe it'll help you to find ideas for simple web or mobile apps that you wish existed and would be useful to you, and try to build those.
Gabriel Song@gabsong · Product Manager
Awesome to meet over AMA Tracy! How would you encourage a woman early in her career who is exploring Software Engineering? What decisions or habits have contributed to your success, both technically and in the workplace?
Eva Zheng@evadoraz · Community Director, Hacker Fund
@triketora What are 3 adjectives you'd use to describe your life right now?
terri harel@terrileeedit
@triketora Hi Tracy! Thank you for doing this AMA. Any advice on communication best practices for nontechnical teams working with the engineering team? I imagined that the engineering team you lead works closely with marketing.
Levi Notik@deleted-23400 · co-founder, grasswire
What do you see as the primary cause for the under-representation of women in tech? Can it be solved, how?
Tracy Chou@triketora
@levinotik It's hard to single out a single primary cause. Issues like the pipeline problem (not having enough girls interested in and pursuing STEM education) and the retention problem (keeping women in the tech workplace) are closely interrelated; for example, the thin numbers of women entering the tech industry mean the culture is imbalanced from the start and as a consequence often less welcoming to women, but when women are exiting the tech workplace at such high rates and not advancing to leadership roles, there aren't enough role models to draw girls in, either. In terms of solving the problem... there's no silver bullet, but lots of lead bullets. There are people tackling the problem on the education side, like Hadi Partovi at, and organizations like Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, etc. trying to foster those communities amongst girls. We also need to take responsibility from the industry angle and try to build more diverse and inclusive workplaces.
Leo Polovets@lpolovets · Partner, Susa Ventures
@triketora Over the last few years, you've done a really amazing job of helping tech diversity issues get the attention they deserve. Are there 1-2 practices that a small org could start implementing today to make sure their diversity efforts are on the right track as they grow?
Tracy Chou@triketora
@lpolovets I'd suggest looking at the recommendations from the "Women in the Workplace" report just released by and McKinsey & Company (, which are really solid. They give five action items, but here are the first two: First, track key metrics so you understand the problem and what the leverage points are for your organization (every company will exhibit bias in its own ways!). Second, demonstrate that diversity is a top priority. The company needs to invest in it and set accountability around diversity targets.
Xiaofang Chen@xiaofangchen · Software Engineer
@triketora Thanks for doing this AMA! What are the 3 things you value most for success?
Hey Tracy, how did you prioritize what features to redesign on Pinterest? A blend of intuition, user feedback, low converting KPI's? Taking on a huge project like that i'm interested to hear how you decided what to focus on rebuilding. Thanks
Alex Carter@alexcartaz · Operations @ 60dB. Ex-PH Podcasts 😻
Hi @triketora! How do you think we can best inspire young girls to code? How important do you think teaching coding at an early age is? What is the most important thing you've learned while working for prominent startups? Thanks!
Tracy Chou@triketora
@alexcartaz A lot of girls and women are inspired by helping people and creating positive social impact. Right now it's not always clear that coding is a means to that kind of an end. It's more obvious how being a doctor, or a teacher, or even a firefighter, helps people. I think it's critical that we build that link between coding and what software can do. I think of familiarity with coding as a new kind of literacy. Not everyone is a professional writer, but virtually everyone can read and write. Not everyone needs to write code for a living, but understanding how software works is important for having a mental model for the world, because so much of the world is driven by software.
Jelle DeTaeye@jelledetaeye
@triketora @alexcartaz "I think it's critical that we build that link between coding and what software can do." what do you think is the best way to do this?
Vanessa Colina@vcolinau · UX Designer and Illustrator
@triketora Hi Tracy! Thank you for doing this AMA! If I may ask (you don't have to answer if it's too personal), How did you feel the first time that you led a project? What challenges you had to overcome to lead and continue leading projects? Was leading natural to you at the beginning?
Tim Johnsen@timonus · iOS at Pinterest, formerly at Flipboard.
@triketora Hey Tracy! I know you've mentioned before on Twitter that you discourage use of the term "guys" in the office for multi-gendered groups of people. I'm trying to change my behavior with that word as well, what do you prefer and use as an alternative?
Tracy Chou@triketora
@timonus In direct address, I've found myself most often using "y'all", though it can feel a bit awkward as I don't quite have the Southern accent to pull it off. Sometimes "hi all", "hi everyone", "hi team", "hi friends" work also.
Tim Johnsen@timonus · iOS at Pinterest, formerly at Flipboard.
@triketora @timonus I've been using "y'all" as well, also feels a bit funny. Thanks!
Tommy Nicholas@tommyrva · CEO @ Alloy
@triketora @timonus embrace Y'all! No accent needed and it's the best alternative. Fight gendered terms and anti-southern west coast bias at the same time.