In an email back to our new Geek of the Week, who happens to have a PhD in linguistics and once helped build spell-checkers at Microsoft, I told her I’d be editing her submission. And then I misspelled her name.
But Kieran Snyder, co-founder and CEO of Textio, made it all better by using 2016’s universal language in her reply: a smiley face emoji.
Textio, a Seattle-based startup which uses text analytics to help companies craft better job listings or candidate emails, was founded in 2014, and Snyder says, “This is the job that all the other things I’ve done prepared me to have. Although I didn’t know that until I’d gotten started.”
Snyder has a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania, where she focused on natural language processing and computational linguistics. After she graduated, she spent a year writing before deciding she needed a job.
“I started at Microsoft building things like spell-checkers and language detection for developers, and software hooked me,” Snyder said. “All told I spent about nine years at Microsoft and Amazon in a variety of product and engineering leadership roles, mostly in natural language and search.”
Snyder has also done her fair share of writing, much of it focused on the kind of statistical natural language processing they do at Textio, which last December raised $8 million from Emergence Capital, Bloomberg Beta and others.
“I’ve written about everything from gender bias in performance review language to why job listings in San Francisco contained more than twice as many uses of the word ‘awesome’ as the rest of the country.”
Beyond her fascination and expertise around language, Snyder says she’s also spent time along the way coaching girls basketball, designing a preschool computer science curriculum, and hustling Scrabble for money.
Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Kieran Snyder:
What do you do, and why do you do it? “I’ve always been a language nerd and a math nerd. My whole career has been about combining those two things. Textio is very much about combining those two things.
At Textio we are changing the way people write. What if you could know how your doc was going to perform before you ever published it? What if you could fix it ahead of time, before sending it out into the world?
Textio uses machine intelligence and large data sets to tell you how your doc will perform and how to fix it. Write your job posts so that the best and most diverse people will apply. Craft emails so that you get the responses you want.
Our whole vision is about amplifying your voice. Textio doesn’t write for you. It takes your own voice and helps you become the best version of yourself. Whether in the classroom, in the workplace, or on the basketball court, I am a long-time teacher and Textio’s vision here is very much drawn from that.”
What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “Eskimos don’t really have 200 words for snow.”
Where do you find your inspiration? “My 6-year-old daughter came home a few months ago and announced that she’s going to start a math company when she grows up. Whatever I manage to accomplish professionally, when I hear that, I feel like I’ve won.
I draw a ton of inspiration from my daughters and how they see the world: what they expect to do with their lives, how they relate to technology, how their language develops.”
What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “Slack. It’s the command center of our company. It hasn’t just replaced email. It’s the way we file bugs, the way we monitor code checkins, it’s even the place we check the weather and read xkcd.”
What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “At home I work on my laptop on the couch most of the time, if I’m being honest! It is the opposite of our work space at Textio, which is open and dominated by light.”
Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “Go to bed early on Friday nights. (25-year-old me is dying a little on the inside right now.)”
Mac, Windows or Linux? “I can roll with whatever. I use Mac most of the time.”
Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Can I switch franchises on you and do a write-in vote for Starbuck?”
Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Invisibility Cloak all the way.”
If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “Someone did! I am grateful every day.”
I once waited in line for … “Seeing the Go-Go’s reunion concert.”
Your role models: “One thing that the last couple of years has given me is a profound admiration for founders who have managed to grow their company from the beginning all the way through to a large and successful enterprise.
“It’s almost impossible to fathom the range of skill and judgment that’s required to do that, because the CEO job changes so much at every stage of company growth. What it means to will something into existence when you’re just a few people in a room the size of a closet is different from what it takes to run a Fortune 500 company — and all the steps in the middle are different, too.
“So I look at people like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg — hard not to hold their achievements in incredible esteem.”
Greatest game in history: “Super Bowl XXV. That missed field goal! And New Kids on the Block at halftime.”
First computer: “My dad’s TRS-80 in our basement. I discovered ELIZA. The rest is history.”
Current phone: “(800) 898-1401.”
Favorite app: “Strava, because it kicks my butt.”
Favorite cause: “YMCA, Girls on the Run — anything to do with girls and sports.”
Most important technology of 2016 “Can I say Textio? Seriously, the new wave of learning loop apps in the enterprise.”
Most important technology of 2018: “Maybe by then someone will finally have created videoconferencing technology that doesn’t take 15 minutes to set up at the start of every meeting! Here’s hoping.”
LinkedIn: Kieran Snyder