Pulkit Gupta

Engineering Leader at Twitter

Pulkit Gupta is a senior leader at Twitter with deep expertise in Privacy, Data Protection, and Product Safety domains. At Twitter, he has worked on scaling products from a handful of users to millions of users. He is a seed-stage investor and advisor for multiple startups. Currently, he is serving as a mentor at Brinc.io, a Hong-Kong based startup accelerator. He is also a Senior member of Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Prior to Twitter, he had short stints at TU Braunschweig in Germany and Microsoft.

Pulkit holds a Masters degree in Computer Science and Engineering from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and did undergraduate studies at Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, India.

Where did the idea for your career come from?

To be honest, I never pictured myself working at the same company for such a long time. It happened organically for me because I regularly found opportunities to work on very unique and impactful problems, and learn from some of the smartest people in the industry. Privacy, Data Protection, and Product Safety, especially for social media, are probably the most pressing issues in my field right now and I am fortunate to have the opportunity to work in these areas.

Another factor that contributed to my long tenure is the agency and space for growth given to engineers at tech companies. You are not forced to convert to the managerial ladder after you reach a certain level as an individual contributor (IC). In fact, there are IC roles that match up in scope to every level on the managerial ladder.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Having a distraction free morning session is very important to me. I try to make the first few work hours as free of distraction as possible. Turning off notifications and listening to music helps. A lot of my work revolves around writing and reviewing technical proposals and I try to get most of that done during this session.

Rest of the work day is consumed by meetings, emails, and Slack messages. I try to take short breaks every 30-60 minutes so that I am not sitting at my desk non-stop for many hours.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Bringing ideas to life is all about having a deep understanding of your customers’ needs. There is a great framework for doing exactly that. It’s called “Jobs To Be Done” (JTBD) and was created by famous Harvard Business School professor, Clayton M. Christensen. JTBD is based on the idea that customers “hire” products for doing certain “jobs” in their lives. If a company is able to identify the specific jobs in the lives of their customers, then they will be able to sell the right product that would motivate customers to buy. For example, a study found that McDonald’s customers hire their milkshake product not because it has a great taste. Instead, they hire McDonald’s milkshakes because it lasts longer compared to bagels or other breakfast items which is great for the long morning commute to the office. Figuring out the jobs to be done is not easy but very rewarding.

Once customers’ needs are figured out, the next step is to build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). It is important to think of the success metrics upfront before launch so that there is an objective way to evaluate success/failure post launch.

After that it is all about closing the loop. Check the metrics, collect user feedback, prototype, and repeat.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I think blockchain related technologies have the potential to transform our society. So I am very excited about them. If you look at the history and pitfalls of fiat money, then the value of a truly decentralized cryptocurrency like Bitcoin would immediately be apparent. But it is not just cryptocurrencies, blockchains are enabling many other applications beyond currencies like smart contracts, de-centralized identities, etc. I am particularly interested in exploring how privacy, data protection, and product safety would apply to decentralized apps. Unfortunately, the industry is also riddled with scams so it will take some time before the real applications and startups emerge and differentiate themselves from the noise.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as a leader?

Before finishing up my day, I review and update my calendar for the next day. I decline any meetings that don’t have a clear agenda or have an agenda that can be discussed over Slack or email. Biasing to asynchronous communication helps minimize the time I spend in meetings. I try to stack meetings as a continuous block. This allows longer uninterrupted work sessions for writing code and proposals.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Find time to workout or play sports almost every day. The earlier you start being active the better. All of the early investment in physical health pays off well when you start your 30s. Without a healthy mind you cannot do creative work and without a healthy body you cannot have a healthy mind.

In the work from home scenario, people can lose sense of time and work for longer hours than the usual work day at the office. Workouts are a great way to avoid being cooped up at home all day.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Confidence is a bigger indicator of success than intelligence. You might have all the answers and insights, but if you don’t have the courage to speak up in a room full of people and occasionally get things wrong, then you won’t get noticed. Therefore, don’t stress about your IQ and instead focus on getting more confident.

As a leader, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Be decisive. Indecisiveness is worse than making an occasional wrong decision. Indecisiveness makes you feel stuck and trains your mind to run away from making difficult decisions in life. Making decisions quickly, facing the consequences and learning from the result overall leads to a more fulfilling and rewarding life. I believe this applies to both personal and professional life.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your career?

Proactively ask for feedback. Humans are not wired to give constructive feedback because evolution has trained us to play well to belong in a tribe. Therefore, you need to take the extra step to elicit feedback from your colleagues and customers. State upfront that you would appreciate any constructive feedback. The relationships that are based on open and honest communication have a greater chance of surviving in the long term. Again, this is true for both personal and professional life.

What is one failure you had as a leader, and how did you overcome it?

“Perfect is the enemy of good” is a well known aphorism but it is easy to forget in daily life. There have been times when my perfectionist attitude has made it difficult for me to design a minimally viable product. Doing a retrospective evaluation after a product launch to see what features could have been avoided in the first prototype helped me improve this shortcoming.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

A data warehouse that can support not only relational data but also non-relational data like media. Imagine being able to search text based content along with images, videos, and audio using a simple query language like SQL with the same latency that is expected from the leading data warehouses today. The applications are boundless.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I recently got an AllTrails Pro subscription because I hike a lot. AllTrails is great for exploring new hikes and recording hikes. I got Alltrails Pro to have the ability to download hike maps offline and get alerts for any wrong turns on the hike. These features have helped me on hikes that are not well marked and have spotty cell reception.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Alfred is my favorite MacOS productivity app. It is a replacement for the default Spotlight experience on Mac. You can summon Alfred by just pressing two keys on your keyboard from any app like the default Spotlight experience. It has many features but I mainly use Alfred to automate common workflows. For example, I can search my Apple Notes through a few key presses instead of opening the Notes app and then using the search bar.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

It is difficult to choose just one. But if I have to choose, I would choose Sapiens, A Brief History of Mankind by Yuval Noah Harari. I had read about different aspects of human history through various articles before but Sapiens felt like the most comprehensive guide to human history. The book provides great insights into the human psyche, especially about the ability of humans to cooperate in large numbers because of their affinity to believe in imagined realities like nations, money, and companies. This outlook can help make sense of so much of the current world we live in today.

What is your favorite quote?

“If we’re growing, we’re always going to be out of our comfort zone.” – John Maxwell

Key Learnings:

  • Work on the most impactful problems with the smartest people around
  • Understand your customer needs deeply through the Jobs to be Done framework
  • Confidence is a bigger indicator of success than intelligence
  • Be decisive
  • Proactively ask for feedback
  • Perfect is the enemy of good