Photo Courtesy of Intuit.
Bridget Kimball has had the engineering career many dream of. After working on space satellites and early digital TV systems, she elected to continue her career innovating iconic technologies as the VP and Chief Architect of Intuit’s Consumer Group, where she leads teams that work on popular consumer products like TurboTax and Mint.
As both a technologist and leader, Kimball sets herself apart by taking an agile approach to a clearly defined vision. She says both knowing what you want — for your career and from your team — and being unafraid to ask for it is a key to success. As is being flexible in your approach, because technology is always evolving.
Kimball had a lot of other wisdom to impart during her recent conversation with Fairygodboss, including how she knew Intuit was a great place to begin a brand new chapter of her career in a completely new market sector. Keep reading for her advice on adapting to changing business needs, prioritizing mentorship and advocating for yourself.
How long have you been in your current role, and what were you doing previously?
I’ve been the Chief Architect in our Consumer Group — which includes TurboTax and Mint — for a little over two years. Before joining Intuit, I worked in a wide range of industries, from satellite communications to cable and satellite TV and telecom networks. More recently, I was SVP of Engineering at Comcast, where I led a team chartered with building next-generation control access systems that provide security for broadcast and IP (internet protocol) streaming video platforms.
One thing I’ve learned from my experience in so many different verticals throughout my career is that engineering, at its core, is about solving problems. You’ll always need to learn new tech to adapt to a given industry or role, but it’s easier than you’d think to transition your skills if you’re willing to put in the work.
There are a few reasons why I was interested in joining Intuit. First of all, it's a true SaaS (software-as-a-service) company. During my time at Comcast, we had some early forays into cloud-based services, but Intuit had made the move to the cloud. I wanted to be part of that innovation and learn more about the space.
Secondly, FinTech is an exciting market sector and Intuit has earned a stellar reputation as a mission-driven company and a great place to work. Most of the products I worked on previously were not consumer-facing, so it was a great opportunity to join a company that’s focused on helping consumers, small businesses and small business customers make better financial decisions — using data for good.
What I’ve been able to bring to my role at Intuit is systems-based thinking — an end-to-end perspective that’s crucial for building successful platforms like our AI-driven expert platform. And, I understand the importance of working collaboratively across business units to align goals so our engineers can focus on product-specific challenges. These skill sets have helped me thrive at Intuit and continually grow my career.
What first interested you in a career in technology?
I come from a family of scientists and engineers and I always liked math in school. I started as a chemical engineering major in college, but realized I was more interested in aerospace and switched my major to computer engineering.
My first job after college was at Hughes Space and Communications, where I worked for several years on communications payloads for satellites. During that time, I got my Master’s degree on a fellowship. After I left Hughes I worked on video compression, helping build the first digital TV systems at Comcast. It was a big switch and an exciting time to work with really smart people to figure out if this could even be done to make real products. At the time we weren’t quite sure it would. But today, if you’re streaming Netflix on any device, you’re using some of the tech I worked on in the ‘90s!
What projects or programs are you currently working on? Can you provide a few examples of challenging engineering problems your team is most focused on solving? What about this work most excites you?
As Chief Architect, I lead a team of architects who work with all Consumer Group product teams on software architecture, with a focus on building platforms that can be reused easily. I also work across business units on larger Intuit initiatives as we evolve into an AI-driven, expert platform company.
Over the past year I’ve spent a lot of time working on our mobile technology strategy, furthering our mission to be a mobile-first platform. Mobile is really an ecosystem of all of the back-end services that work with our apps, so I’m especially proud of what we’ve accomplished on this effort so far. I also recently led one of our initiatives to determine our API (application programming interface) technology strategy for both internal customers and third parties, a crucial tool for helping our partners interact with us.
Right now we’re putting significant effort into how we can use technology to enable rapid experimentation. To better understand how our customers use our products, and how to improve them, we run a lot of experiments. We’re building foundational technology to be able to rapidly create experiments so that we can innovate quickly for our customers.
In addition to leading our architect group, I’ve recently assumed responsibility for a team of developers that focus on building horizontal capabilities to drive product development across the Consumer Group organization. This includes security, site reliability, productivity and quality initiatives, as well as engineering teams that run our systems in the public cloud.
When business priorities change — or are disrupted by external market conditions — what’s your strategy for pivoting with your team? Can you provide any examples to illustrate this?
Technology is constantly changing, so our team approaches everything with a flexible, agile mindset. When a situation changes in real-time, my approach is to assess past learnings, ground my team in a strategy for moving forward and then never look back. There’s no time to waste looking in the rear-view mirror and very little to be gained by it.
How would you describe your leadership style?
The leaders I’ve most enjoyed working with in my career have set a clear direction, described desired outcomes and given me the support and freedom to handle the rest. As I’ve grown as a leader, I’ve tried to take the same approach. I want my team to know I’m there to support them with anything they need and empower them to own the process of getting to the best solution. This not only affords them an opportunity to learn and grow, but for me to learn from their expertise and experiences.
How do you check in with your teams in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Before COVID, we’d meet every couple of weeks and catch up regularly in hallway and coffee bar conversations. Now, we have a daily stand-up on Slack. Every day at 3 p.m., we all share what we’re working on to stay connected and up-to-date. Our team Slack channel is very active. We use it to distribute information, reach out to each other for help, share things we’ve learned and have an ongoing conversation throughout the day — almost as if we’re all sitting together in the office.
What’s one strategy you’ve used when managing a team that you think has been particularly effective?
I think it’s important to let your team know that you’re available to give them the support they need to do their best work. Just as importantly, to give them the autonomy to think freely and take ownership of their work. I always make it a point to acknowledge successes and recognize great work by individuals and teams.
How do you encourage continuous learning in engineering?
Within our product development organization, I run a weekly architecture roundtable where engineers and architects discuss technology topics, share what we’re working on and learn from others’ experiences. Many team members run brown bag sessions and meetups. And, I’m always supportive of individuals taking advanced courses to build their skills or attending conferences to stay up-to-date with industry trends.
How have you used your role to help bring up other women behind you?
I'm active in our Tech Women @ Intuit initiative, as well as our formal mentoring program, and actively participate in events throughout the year. I also informally mentor several early-career women.
I'm particularly passionate about this because the percentage of women in tech starts to drop off deeply once you get to the mid-level, and we need to figure out how to encourage women to stay. As a senior tech executive, I’ve made it a priority to offer my perspective (when sought) and to share how I’ve reached my position in the industry, navigated my career and balanced my personal and professional life.
I’m also on the board of Athena, which is a nonprofit focused on empowering women in STEM. It's been a great opportunity to network and collaborate with an amazing group of women who are leaders in their respective fields and it really energizes me to give back to others. Recently, I moderated an Athena webinar on how to “Gain a Competitive Edge in AI/ML Applications with Good Data” with experts from CureMetrix, IBM, Intuit and Sony Electronics, with a focus on the core attributes of useful data and how companies can set the stage for quality data acquisition.
How do you build time into your schedule for this kind of work?
Honestly, it can be a challenge. In the past, I’ve said “yes” too much, so I'm trying harder to maintain a healthier balance to avoid burnout. This means saying “yes” to what will be most meaningful and impactful, and being comfortable saying “no” when I just don’t have the bandwidth.
What’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve received?
The best career advice I’ve received is to never hesitate to ask for what you want. If the answer is no, you’re still in the same situation. No big loss. But if the answer is yes, you’ve moved forward.
For example, when I first joined Comcast, I didn’t have the job title that I really wanted. On my first project, my team worked relentlessly for several months to successfully deliver a product for an important public event. There were a lot of congratulations in the hallway and everyone was very pleased with the outcome.
When my boss expressed how happy he was with the project, I thanked him for the opportunity and then told him that I would like to have my title reflect my level of accomplishment. I told him that I didn’t expect him to do anything that day, but I expected there to be a resolution in the next three months. Within a month I got that promotion and a nice raise to go along with it! I don’t think I would have had that outcome without asking for it.
What advice do you have for women in tech who want to take their career to the next level?
Believe in yourself. Don’t let self-doubt keep you from moving ahead. If there’s something you want to achieve you’ll figure out ways to make it work, but you’ll never have the opportunity to do that if you don’t try. It’s often not easy, but you just have to keep pushing.
Also, find someone who can be a sponsor for you. Not a mentor, but someone who can actually advocate for you. Nurture these kinds of relationships and you’ll have the help you need as you move forward in your career.
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice at the beginning of your career, what would it be?
Don’t let insecurity or fear keep you from going after what you want. Just do your best work and keep pushing. And, always gravitate to work that’s interesting to you. If your work is interesting, you’ll always learn things you can take to your next role.
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