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If the social media platform Pinterest seems wholesome to you, that’s thanks in part to Jud Hoffman. The head of community operations leads the company’s efforts to moderate content, identifying quality versus poisonous content while drawing (and often re-drawing) the line in the sand between the two. Hoffman hosted 12 LSA students this week for day one of the Hub's five-day flash internship in tech, giving them an inside look at career paths for liberal arts grads in the industry.
Here, the 1993 economics grad shares his path from bond trader to tech.
What did you imagine you’d grow up to be when you were a child?
I thought I was going to be a lawyer. I was obsessed with fairness.
And you fulfilled that dream, graduating from law school at Michigan in addition to doing your undergrad degree in economics at LSA.
Yes, though I didn’t go to law school immediately. I thought, before I invest that time and money it seems like I should know for sure that’s what I want to do. So I decided to wait. I thought I was going to get a consulting job, and that didn’t work out, so I ended up an assistant to a bond trader in Chicago, and later became a bond trader myself. I realized a few years in that law school was the thing I really wanted.
How does your law background inform what you do now, as head of community operations at Pinterest?
The obsession with fairness I think has been tempered, but it does influence my work. I love the policy arguments and discussions. I think that’s part of the reason why it’s so important to me to get it right: I don’t want it to be unfair.
What moments along the way were really pivotal to where you are now?
I was working at a law firm in Ann Arbor, focused on a deal document of some kind, and the phone rang. Usually, I’d never pick up a call that absentmindedly because three or four times a week, those calls were from head hunters trying to get you to do the exact same work under a different letterhead. But on this day I picked up the phone without looking. It turned out that it was a woman hiring for AOL. I hadn’t been called about a tech related job ever, nor did I know anyone who had. It wasn’t long into the call that I started to find it intriguing. It was 2007. AOL became my first tech employer.
That call changed the course of your career?
No question, if I hadn’t taken that call, I wouldn’t be at Pinterest today.
You’re working with LSA students interested in careers in tech this week. What advice do you have for them?
I think often times people think tech and think they have to be technical. But there is something super valuable about being able to effectively communicate and do so through narrative—to bring a kind of history and precedent into account and make a case for something. That’s a hundred percent of what I do. I learned that in English class, I learned that in history class.
Your liberal arts and law education advanced you in this industry as much as an engineering degree would have.
Maybe half the company is what we consider to be technical track. The other is communications and finance and marketing and design and all of those other areas that require context and the other things you gain in a liberal arts education.