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Thousands of marathoners are stretching before the race. Among them is Serkan Piantino, who is taking in the moment. The commotion is a bit overwhelming, even by New York City standards—hordes of spectators are already cheering, near-frantic race-day staffers are trying to keep competitors at the start line under control, and TV news teams are jostling for the best position to capture the moment the first official strides are taken.
Piantino will run through the city that was home for him. But after he crosses the finish line, he’ll take another journey, by air, to return to his new workplace 3,000 miles away in Silicon Valley.
His cross-country move would never have occurred had he not been the type of kid who, at age 18, could change direction. Piantino, a Carnegie Mellon freshman, thought he’d immerse himself in the subject he loved: physics. “It turns out, I wasn’t any better at doing problem sets than anyone else,” he says.
Of course, that’s nothing to be ashamed of, but he questioned whether he could be a meaningful contributor in the venerated field. He decided to switch his major to computer science, where a developer’s code can have a profound influence. To help himself transition, he leaned on Mark Stehlik, his advisor at the School of Computer Science. Stehlik became “the guy who was always there for me,” says Piantino. Even, it turns out, after he graduated in 2004.
In 2007, after spending a few years working in finance, he sought Stehlik’s advice. There was a job opportunity with a fledgling company called Facebook. Piantino asked Stehlik: Is this company serious? In Stehlik’s view, it was.
Piantino had a new employer. And, after completing the 2007 marathon, it was back to his new gig.
On the job, he and his team have engineered some of Facebook’s biggest changes. Perhaps the most prominent, Timeline, helps users decide what parts of their histories to put on the highlight reels of their profiles. They can define themselves, Piantino says, much the way they choose what clothes to put on in the morning.
Piantino had an unexpected bonus working for Facebook. He got to resettle in his hometown, where he now heads Facebook’s New York City engineering office. His stature with the publicly traded company, which had $3.7 billion in revenue last year, has led Crain’s New York Business to name him among their “40 Under 40 Class of 2012.”
—Michelle Bova (DC’07)