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Career advice from the guy who helped Instagram turbo-charge growth

Key Points
  • Kevin Weil left a Stanford Ph.D. program in physics to join a bunch of other "dropouts" and launch a mega-successful career in tech.
  • His first big break came when Twitter asked him to count how many users it had.
  • Since Weil and several other new execs joined Instagram, its user growth took off.
Kevin Weil

Eleven years ago, Kevin Weil was headed down a path he had long envisioned for himself: earning a doctorate degree in theoretical physics, with plans to become a full-time professor.

But shortly after he started his Ph.D. program at Stanford University, where he earned a master's degree in the field in 2006, he suddenly changed course.

He dropped out and became an engineer at Tropos Networks, a maker of wireless networking products that "no one had heard of," whose ranks were then filled with "a bunch of physics Ph.D. dropouts," Weil said, according to a video interview he gave at his alma mater this spring.

He joined Twitter in 2009 and soon got his first big chance in the tech industry.

They asked me, "Kevin, can you figure out how many users we have?'" he says in the video.

"I came in at 3 a.m. to do a SQL (database) query," because Twitter's servers were so loaded with traffic at all other times, there were no computing resources for his task.

The resulting analytics package eventually became the company's first ad product, starting Weil's rise up Twitter's ranks that in 2014 put him in charge of all product development.

Why the switch from academia to the business world?

Weil says that after talking with his wife, now a venture capitalist, he "got hooked" on the idea that working at a company meant he could "create ... and ship something to millions of people."

More like 700 million.

That's how many people are monthly users of Instagram, the Facebook-owned social network where Weil has been head of product since March 2016.

His journey from Tropos to Instagram has bestowed upon Weil a mix of aphorisms and advice that he shared in the video interview with Stanford professor Tina Seelig.

"No one creates anything in a vacuum. Everything you accomplish you accomplish in teams."

"Success is surrounding yourself with other great people."

"The best companies have a mission that inspires people."

"If you follow your nose and do things that are exciting to you, good things will happen."

"People (have) bet on me and I've wanted to make (those bets) pay off."

"Good ideas come from everywhere."

"Remember to focus on the customer."

See Weil's full video interview at the bottom of the story that is linked here.