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May 14, 2019

Kira Booth on building Plaid's engineering office in Salt Lake City

Madeline Perretta

Updated on November 19, 2019

What was your first job in tech?
I started as a developer at Qualtrics—a market research and survey software technology company that helps companies make data-driven decisions. In my first six months there, I saw that the incident management and on-call process was broken, so I worked with senior management in the company to change it. From there, I started owning a lot more responsibilities. Because of all of my work with operational improvements, they eventually appointed me team lead of another service that needed improvement, and that launched my leadership career at Qualtrics. By the end, I was managing three teams building the text analytics and data processing platforms that power analysis for enterprise companies across the globe.

How did you get into the tech industry?
When I started college, I was pre-architecture. Then, somebody at my school gave a presentation on a new computer science program focused on video game development. I loved video games. I played about four hours of Halo or Call of Duty a day at that time. The program seemed to involve the math and creativity that I really loved about architecture plus video games. That sold me.

What led you to Plaid?
It was a cold email that caught my attention. I started researching the company and thought that it sounded really interesting. After talking to some people about the problems Plaid was trying to solve, it also sounded like an amazing operational challenge, which is how I built my career at Qualtrics. How do you have a healthy product that supports more than 9,600 financial institutions when they make few guarantees about their own health? That seemed like a really interesting problem to me. Also, the opportunity to help build an office from the ground up was very appealing. After talking to a bunch of people and visiting the headquarters in San Francisco and seeing the culture firsthand, I knew that I wanted to bring a special version of that to Salt Lake City.

Why did the company make the decision to open in Salt Lake City?
We just weren't able to hire fast enough to achieve our goals, so we opened the Salt Lake office to access other pools of talent. The company looked at a couple different options but ultimately liked that there is an under-the-radar, rapidly growing tech scene in Salt Lake, so we have strong candidates locally. It is also an hour flight from San Francisco, which makes it really easy to hop between offices and for the information to flow back and forth. In Salt Lake, we currently focus on the integration piece of Plaid products—talking with the banks, setting up the logic to get data from the banks—but we work very collaboratively with San Francisco.

What is your day-to-day like?
My number one responsibility is finding the right people to grow the team. I have anywhere from two to six interviews each day. I am also helping drive customer loyalty initiatives at Plaid this year, which requires a lot of meetings and cross-functional brainstorming sessions on how we can delight our customers and make changes to internal processes to better enable customer satisfaction. I've spent a good amount of time this year meeting with people across the company to figure out how we can make improvements.

What do you look for when you’re evaluating potential hires?
The things that I look for most during interviews are a strong sense of ownership and good problem-solving skills. I don't necessarily care what technologies a person knows, because anybody can pick up a new language. One thing that I love about our team in Salt Lake is that everybody comes from a completely different sector of tech, and that has made us much stronger as a whole. If someone is stuck on something, we work through it together, and almost every time, somebody else has a solution due to our diverse experiences and different ways of thinking. It really helps us get unblocked.

How would you describe yourself as a manager?
I’m passionate about working with people and leading from a place of vulnerability. Regardless of job title, I think you should be able to talk about the mistakes that you’ve made and the hurdles in front of you instead of always having to seem like you know exactly what you're doing. I hope that my openness and honesty has created an environment where everybody feels comfortable doing the same, so we can grow together.

What excites you about coming to work every day?
I look forward to the stand-up meeting we have every morning, where we talk about what we did yesterday and what we're doing today, because I love hearing all the amazing things that my team is accomplishing. Every now and then, I sit back and look at what we've done in only six months—how we've turned around some key business metrics for Plaid—and I'm just in awe of our amazing team of smart people who are willing to share their knowledge with me. It's also deeply fulfilling to work for a company that’s changing tech. I know beyond a reasonable doubt that, without Plaid, the space we work in would look nothing like it does today.

You mentioned that an appreciation for creativity drew you first to architecture and then computer science. Do you still manage to indulge your artistic side?
When it comes to programming challenges, there are many ways to arrive at a solution, and I think that creative thinking really helps you solve those problems. So, I find myself exercising my creativity a lot at work. Outside of work, I like to paint things. I don't necessarily paint on canvases, but I have a bunch of furniture in my house that I've worked on. I've painted on my bedroom door. I've done murals on other people's walls, and I paint a lot of shoes. Almost all of my painting is focused on some sort of nerdy fan base. I do a lot of anime. I've done Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Supernatural—TV shows that people go wild about. Whatever my friends’ or family member's favorite thing is, I try to paint them something related to it.

What else keeps you busy?
I do yoga at home. I practice yin mostly, which focuses on stretching and flexibility. You hold a single pose for five or six minutes and let gravity do the work for you. I have yoga night every Tuesday with my sister. We watch “The Great British Baking Show” and then practice. I aim for three or four sessions a week. I'm also really into cooking with whole foods and making healthy eating delicious and exciting. I'm passionate about constant self-improvement and developing better personal habits. I try to do meditation on a daily basis. It helps me manage some of the more stressful moments in my life. I'm also really big on disc golfing and leggings.

Leggings? Do explain.
I have 187 pairs of leggings that I track in a spreadsheet. I have different categories: the name, a link to the product online, the hashtag to use on Instagram, the last time I wore it, and how many times I've worn it so that I can focus on getting equal wear across my entire collection.

What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of doing things that I never thought I would have the guts to do. Like being a leader at work and walking away from my stable job for a new adventure. That’s something that the younger me never would've done. I was very, very shy, and I never would've guessed when I started college that I would have been capable of building what we’ve built here.

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