Makinde Adeagbo: Software Engineer. Challenge seeker. Track coach.

Pinterest's engineering manager, Makinde Adeagbo, talked to TechRepublic about his jobs at Facebook and Dropbox, working best under pressure, and taking breaks from the tech world.

Makinde Abeagbo is Pinterest's engineering manager.
Image: Makinde Abeagbo

Makinde Adeagbo laughs a lot. It's a great laugh -- hearty and genuine, and it comes fairly often as he tells his story, which is a winding, fast-paced, random one.

If one thing's obvious from his tale, it's how much Adeagbo, the engineering manager at Pinterest, enjoys life and all of its experiences, especially the thrill of change and the challenges change brings with it.

"That's what gets me going -- some unstructured problem in front of you and you're responsible for figuring it out, and often it hasn't been solved before and it is unique to your situation," he said.

Born in Nigeria, Adeagbo moved around quite a bit because his father was a professor. They made stops in Canada and then Louisville, Kentucky, where he completed high school. He attended MIT, where he ran track.

Adeagbo interned at Microsoft and Apple while in college. After he graduated in 2007, he applied online to be a software engineer at Facebook, and got the job. At the time, Facebook only employed about 300 people.

"My first day my manager was like 'hey, the site's going to go down in a few days if we don't fix this class of issues, so could you just do that?' And walked away. I was fresh out of school, and basically had no idea what I was doing," he said.

But those are the situations Adeagbo said he thrives in. He stayed at Facebook for just over three years, working on various large projects to update the site. After leaving the company, he wasn't sure what to do, so he jumped at the first thing that appealed to him. He moved to Kenya.

Working with Bridge International Academies, which builds and runs low-cost schools in Nairobi, Adeagbo was hired as a software developer for three months. He worked on various projects to streamline the process, like building Android applications for school management.

A theme of his work life seemed to be appearing, and he liked it. "I thought, 'what can I do now that I won't be able to once I work at another startup,' and repeating that pattern has been a lot of fun," he said.

After returning to San Francisco, Adeagbo was ready to immerse himself in the tech world, and was hired as a software craftsman at Dropbox. He worked there a year before realizing he wanted to try his hand at leadership roles, but Dropbox was too small at the time to offer any path to higher level positions.

So what did he do? Became a track coach at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, a tuition-free private college prep school for students who are the first in their family to attend college.

It seems random, but he easily related the coaching job to his previous work at Facebook and Dropbox. He went through a process to solve a problem with a group of people, everyday.

"I didn't realize that's what I'd be doing with the track team, but at the end of the day that's what it is," he said. "You have 20 kids who are all motivated, and some people have goals they know they want to achieve, other people no clue what they're doing, but you put together this puzzle an hour and a half each day and figure out how each person can get the most out of it."

After five months there, Adeagbo considered starting his own company, but wanted to expand his skillset first by learning through a leadership role. He joined Pinterest as an engineering manager in July 2013. Adeagbo heads the "pins" team, which focuses on what people should see in the homepage, in close-ups, and on various boards. Another part of the job is onboarding the engineers Pinterest hires, which is at 150+ and growing every week, to make them comfortable and informed. He's also trying to incorporate an engineering boot camp to integrate them faster.

Adeagbo is passionate about this current gig, so he isn't looking too far in advance, but he wants to expand his horizons even more, so there's no telling what's next.

"What I realize more and more as I go along, is that being in the Valley, it's easy to get sucked into this world where things that matter are pokes and snaps and tweets," he said. "Every time I travel and get anywhere more than 50 miles away from the bay area, and see the real world and more so traveling internationally, so I'd love to focus on regular problems in the world with a more fundamental impact on how people live, and apply these skills to a broader set of problems."

In his own words...

What are your hobbies?

"Running is a big part of my life. In high school and college, as a track athlete, I was a triple jumper -- if you rank athletes on laziness, that was pretty high on that list. I ran 83 feet 6 inches, so 100 meters was long for me. [Then] I got more into marathons, triathlons, Ironman competitions. I did one ironman and one 50 mile run. Now I've transitioned into fitness and fun, I go swimming, play ultimate [frisbee], and soccer."

What do you like to read?

"I'm looking at my bookshelf right now. There's a fair number of standard business books, some about running, some about poker...I play a decent amt of poker, at each company I've gone to.. Facebook got me into poker, then at Dropbox, I got the company into poker the second week in."

What advice do you have for engineers?

"Try not to limit yourself -- by that I mean when I applied to Facebook, I read the job description for software engineer and it said you need six years experience with PHP, and these lofty requirements. I wasn't anywhere close, and I applied. When I got the interview, I thought 'they're going to destroy me,' and I did well, and none of that would have happened if i thought that when I read the description [of the job."

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