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Sonoman pinning a promising future at Pinterest

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Carly Wallace was a senior at UCLA when she first heard about Pinterest from a classmate who lived off campus who was using it to find dinner recipes.

“I downloaded the desktop version and was immediately hooked,” Wallace said. As she prepared for “adulting” she started to use it in a more aspirational way – pinning home decor ideas and work outfits.

Fast forward seven years and that early (p)interest in the platform helped the Sonoma Valley High School grad land her dream job with the company.

Wallace, now 29, was born and raised in Sonoma, attending St. Francis Solano from kindergarten through eighth grade, and graduating from Sonoma Valley High School in 2008.

She says she loved Sonoma Valley High and her favorite classes were with AP English teacher Allison Manchester, who inspired her to get involved with the school newspaper, and with Ken Bystrom, who made calculus “surprisingly fun, considering that it met at every day at 7 a.m. senior year.”

She was a competitive soccer player on both school and club teams until she tore her ACL the summer before her senior year. She made the best of it and took on reporting on soccer games for the high school’s Dragon’s Tale school newspaper.

College loomed on the horizon and Wallace found herself unsure… Would she prefer a big school or a small school? Did she want to be on the East Coast or the West Coast?

“As a high school student it’s tough to know what you don’t know,” she said. She ended up focusing largely on small New England liberal arts schools like Connecticut College and Boston College but ultimately chose to attend UCLA.

“I fell in love with the campus and its liberal arts programs, and a few of my friends were already there and loving it,” she said.

Her advice to current juniors and seniors is to be open to all possibilities.

“Get comfortable with being uncomfortable because you don’t really know how anything is going to be until you try it,” she said. “I visited as many schools as I could because it really helps to be able to visualize yourself on campus.”

Wallace is the middle child, with an older brother Jack, now, 30, who studied finance at Northeastern and a younger brother Sam, now 27, who studied physics at U.C. Davis.

At UCLA, Wallace studied abroad through the Semester At Sea program (think junior year on a cruise ship) and majored in sociology, captivated by analyzing why groups of people behave the way they do. She managed to snag a summer editorial internship at Teen Vogue in New York City, where she said she learned about more about the storytelling aspect of brand management and “really understanding your consumer.”

When graduation rolled around, however, she found the process of choosing a career as nerve-wracking as choosing a college.

She interviewed for advertising jobs and landed an account management position at one of New York’s biggest agencies, Saatchi & Saatchi.

“I was drawn to account management because it is part client services, part creative problem-solving and part strategic planning,” she said.

She loved the job and stayed more than four years, working primarily on General Mills brands, including Cheerios and Lucky Charms. She traveled around the world overseeing TV commercial shoots, working alongside celebrity talent that ranged from Usher to Grumpy Cat. But the highlight of her time was working on a Super Bowl ad. “That’s kind of the crown jewel of advertising,” she explained.

From Saatchi & Saatchi, she moved to a smaller agency and transitioning from account management to brand strategy.

“My job was to develop the brief that inspires the creative team to develop a client’s ad campaign,” she said. “It is research and then turning information into knowledge or insight that is unique to specific brand and its consumers.”

While at the agency, her boss nominated her for a program that placed her at Google for six weeks and she got her first taste of the tech world.

Last year, Wallace found herself missing California, so she moved to San Francisco and quickly landed a job that she loves so much she sometimes has to pinch (or perhaps poke) herself into believing it’s real.

Wallace is now a creative programs manager for Pinterest.

“From the moment I interviewed, I wanted this job so badly,” she said. For those who have been living off the grid for the past decade, Wallace describes Pinterest as “a platform that is all about inspiring people to discover and do the things that they love.”

Seven months into the job, Wallace continues to be in heaven.

“I feel so lucky to be here,” she said. “The company culture fosters the idea that what makes wonderful employees is people who are really engaged with life outside of work and have the courage to pursue their passions.”

On a daily basis, Wallace works with the Pinterest sales team to help advertisers to create content and creative campaigns.

“We push our advertisers to think big and to really challenge us to push the boundaries of the platform and to make the experience on Pinterest as engaging and inspiring as possible for our ‘pinners.’”

“Pinners” who are looking for decorating ideas can click on a pinned image of someone’s home and see where they can buy that product online or at a brick and mortar store.

“We want the experience to feel very natural and for pinners never feel like they’re being sold to,” said Wallace.

In addition to loving the work, Wallace gets to enjoy the perks of working for one of America’s most successful tech companies.

“We are very, very well taken care of,” she said with a laugh, citing free breakfast, lunch “and dinner if I am still at work.”

Her office is in the Pinterest headquarters in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood, and she enjoys the three-mile walk to work most days from her apartment in the Panhandle.

“I turn on a podcast and get my steps in,” she laughed.

She heads home to Sonoma to see her parents, Tim and Patsy Wallace, a few times a month and she is still close to her grade school and high school friends.

Her mother and her aunts, who are all big Pinterest fans, were excited to visit her at work recently and get a tour.

“They came in for lunch and loved seeing where I work. To be honest, I think they would come in for lunch every day if they could,” she laughed.

Email Lorna at lorna.sheridan@sonomanews.com.