Kieran Snyder is shaking up the space where technology and language meet
The Crosscut Courage Award-winner is an unapologetic disrupter.
Growing up the daughter of an engineer father and a writer mother, Kieran Snyder consistently found herself blurring the line between words and numbers.
As a child in the late 70s and early 80s, she was learning to code while learning to read. She won her town’s poetry and writing contest every year in elementary school. For her eighth grade science project, she used the programming language BASIC to simulate the explosion of a supernova. In college, she majored in both linguistics and math, then followed that up with a Ph.D. in natural language processing. She held leadership roles at Microsoft and Amazon, and contributed articles to Slate and Fortune digesting observations from senior-level tech meetings to compare how often men and women interrupted each other.
Snyder may not have known it at the time, but it’s likely her lifetime mixing technology and language set the stage for her most recent venture as co-founder and CEO of Textio, a company that merges computer insights with the written word to help companies calibrate job descriptions and other written communications. And while Snyder is busy reimagining the way we use our words in a professional setting, she’s leveraging her expertise and position as a woman in tech to empower girls and young women seeking success in a male-dominated field.
Snyder will be recognized as Crosscut’s Courage in Technology award winner at an awards breakfast Oct. 17 in Seattle. Seats can be purchased here.
Snyder launched Textio in 2014, and the Seattle company has since grown to 150 employees. The company’s primary product is an augmented writing platform that acts like a writing coach, suggesting alternate words and phrases that appeal to a particular demographic or skill set, for instance. Many of the company’s clients use Textio to streamline recruiting. The program can predict who might apply, giving employers a chance to augment the posting to appeal to the type of applicants they want to attract. In short, Textio determines what phrasing gets one group to engage while another walks away.
It’s a novel approach to the often-imprecise employee search game.
“We have created software that helps your document look pretty, we have software that might help you collaborate with somebody, but none of it really does the most important thing that writing software could do, which is actually make your words work better,” Snyder said. “So we [invented] Textio to help people find words that would work better.”
For example, network hardware company and Textio client Cisco found that writing job postings that used the phrase, “We change the world” — one of Cisco’s values — filled 10 days faster. Jobs posted by tech company NVIDIA filled seven days faster on average when language encouraging people of all genders and sexual orientation to apply was included in job descriptions.
Building up the next generation
Snyder’s role as a leader and disrupter in technology has positioned her as a role model for the next generation of female prodigies. She’s one of several mentors with The Ella Project, an online collection of stories of successful women in tech designed to encourage kids, specifically girls, to pursue careers in coding, science, engineering arts and entrepreneurship. She’s also coached girls’ recreational basketball since she was a teenager, and currently volunteers through the Seattle YMCA.
“There’s something very special about 10 kids at the start of a season — many timid and uncomfortable — becoming comfortable in their own assertiveness,” said Snyder of the elementary-age girls she instructs. “Girls at this age are young enough that they don’t have the negative self-talk narratives they have in adolescence. It’s a critical time. You can impart a lot of confidence.”
Despite Snyder’s success both on the court and in the corporate world, she’s perhaps most proud of the positive influence she’s had over her own daughters, ages 8, 9 and 10. She recounts a recent conversation she had over breakfast with her 9-year-old. They were discussing the concept of “grit,” with Snyder explaining resilience, tenacity and other traits Textio looks for when hiring new employees. Snyder’s daughter quickly drew a parallel.
“She said, ‘That sounds like you, Mom!’” Snyder said. “That stopped me in my tracks.
“I felt very seen by her in that moment. It made me really proud of the influence I have.”