Prakash began his career as a software engineer at Excite@Home in 1996 before moving into engineering management at Shopping.com and Epinions. Prior to Nextdoor, Prakash spent nearly three years at Google, where he managed engineering teams for Google Maps, Google Base, and Froogle.
Prakash is from Hayward, California, and attended the University of California, Berkeley.
This week we sat down with our Chief Architect to get the lowdown on what makes him tick. Prakash is known for his charisma both in and out of the office. He has the unique ability to put a smile on anyone’s face, but can cut to the core of burly technical challenges without batting an eye. Let’s learn more about him.
How did you get to where you are today?
I’m here today, as a co-founder of Nextdoor, because of the incredibly talented people I met along the way in my career. Every job I’ve worked at, I’ve always prioritized learning above all else; the best way to learn in your career is to work with really great people who are generous with their time. At my first job out of school at a company called Excite, I had the privilege of working closely with David Sze, who I consider a dear friend and mentor — he’s now on our board of directors. I was fortunate enough to meet my co-founders Nirav Tolia and Sarah Leary at a company called Epinions back in 2002 which Nirav had co-founded. Through the ups and downs of that company, we got to experience firsthand what working in the trenches with one another looked like and we developed a strong bond. Our first few employees at Nextdoor were all close connections, either people who had worked for me in the past or were referred by close friends. It may sound trite, but building your network of great people ultimately is one of the greatest investments you can make. Every opportunity I’ve pursued since my first job was introduced to me through people I had worked with previously.
What got you interested in software?
My father was the one who introduced me to programming back in the 1980s, first on a tiny microcomputer called a Timex Sinclair 1000, and later on a more powerful IBM PCjr. Despite working in finance, he was always interested in computers — building them, programming them, reading about computing, going to computer expositions. He actually wrote a program that trained me on how to touch type, he taught me how to write my first programs in BASIC when I was just 9 or 10 years old, and then later he introduced me to Pascal and C programming. What really got me excited about programming was discovering a predecessor to the web, bulletin board systems (or BBS for short). We would use dial-up modems to access these BBS sites and exchange software — usually video games! Through doing so, I met a whole community of folks who were actively developing BBS software on an open-source platform called Forum-PC. I soon began to operate a BBS of my own, running a customized version of Forum I’d hacked up. By the time I got to college, I found myself well ahead of the curve in terms of my understanding of how to write software — all thanks to the early exposure my Dad had shared with me.
Describe your favorite part of Nextdoor’s engineering culture.
One of the specific parts of our culture that I really love is our Engineering Co-Ops. We encourage our engineers to self-organize into small teams that work on various aspects of our engineering culture. Through our co-ops, we’ve given rise to our engineering blog, organized events for women in technology, brought greater focus and attention to performance issues, and developed new features and functionality for our service. Unlocking the latent creativity of our team and tapping into their inner motivation is a powerful tool for improving our product and our company together.
Tell us about your favorite Nextdoor moment.
I very fondly remember the day of our public launch, back on October 26, 2011. Our small team had been cranking away for a little over a year building the product and tapping our network of friends and family to bring their neighborhoods online. At the end of that first year in private beta, we had 176 neighborhoods in total, and it felt like we had worked really hard for every single one of them. By the end of our first day publicly launched, nearly 200 additional neighborhoods had come online, thanks to some great press in the New York Times. Watching our map of neighborhoods start to light up and observing the traffic to our site increase was a really proud moment for the team. I remember going home that night feeling really inspired and feeling like we were on to something big.
What are you passionate about outside of the office?
I love sports, especially basketball. My wife and I have had season tickets to the Warriors for over a decade now, and it’s been incredible to watch their ascent to NBA Champions. I’m also a supporter of the men’s basketball program at my alma mater, UC Berkeley, and it’s been great to see the resurgence of the team this year as well. Anyone who knows me well knows I bleed blue and gold!
What advice would you give to aspiring founders or CTOs?
Like any other discipline, it’s important to continually find ways to stay inspired. For me, that means spending time with people who are in similar roles at other companies who I can learn from and trade experiences with. Having a community around you where you can authentically ask questions, no matter how banal, and get help and advice without judgement is really important. We’ve all made our mistakes, and it’s great to be able to learn from one another. Secondly, staying connected to the core technology and understanding how new technologies can give your company any advantages in efficiency, scale, or development velocity is really important. Find time to read and stay abreast of what’s happening outside of the four walls of your office!
Any advice for building a great engineering team?
As you’re building a team, you always feel the urgency to get the next seat filled and to bring a productive new employee online. But finding the RIGHT person often takes time. Articulating your core values and being able to quickly pattern match incoming candidates to those core values is tremendously helpful for finding people who aren’t just functionally strong, but are great matches for your team and culture. There’s plenty of people who can write code to satisfy the requirements of a spec; but you need ways to evaluate their ability to communicate well, collaborate with others, make decisions autonomously, and come up with great new ideas. I look for engineers who are intrinsically motivated, rabidly curious, great communicators, hard working, and resourceful. At startups, all of these traits are particularly important in a world where you’re often resource constrained, having to innovate quickly, and needing to find creative ways to achieve goals that often seem difficult to achieve.
If you want to join the fun, we’re hiring!