Life Beyond Reed

Kendall Taggart ’09 & Luke Kanies ’96

June 1, 2014

Our recurring series explores how the liberal arts shape the careers of Reed grads. For more, click here.

Kendall Taggart ’09

Data reporter, Center for Investigative Reporting, San Francisco

Taggart crunches numbers for a living, but she’s not an accountant, engineer, or mathematician. She's a journalist—a “data reporter” working on hard-hitting investigations for the Center for Investigative Reporting.

The nonprofit, nonpartisan center produces watchdog journalism that is in short supply nowadays. Taggart is particularly proud of a recent exposé on the exploitative business practices of unscrupulous charities. She spent a year creating a vast database, conducting interviews, and cowriting the award-winning series. (See cironline

After Reed, Taggart worked as an intern and waited tables in her hometown of Cambridge, Mass., before moving to the Bay Area. She knocked on doors until she got a temp job at CIR in 2010, and she has stayed ever since.

“Maybe it’s the Reedie in me,” she says, “but I knew I wanted to be the kind of journalist who was into researching and digging into documents and data.”

Senior Thesis/Adviser: “Torture: The Social Logics of the Exception in the War on Terror.” Prof. S. Tahir H. Naqvi [anthropology]

Why Reed: I visited Reed the first day of Renn Fayre, and I walked out of a dorm room at 8 a.m. to see six naked people painted in blue. I thought that was pretty exciting.  I also liked that Reedies had a genuine curiosity for everything interesting. No matter the hour of the day, you could have this rigorous intellectual conversation with anyone and everyone; there was never a time when you couldn’t dork out.

Childhood career aspirations: I wanted to be a cat at one point, but I don’t think that was a career goal. Maybe a spy. I liked Harriet the Spy and was always writing in notebooks. I remember sitting in my friend’s tree house, diligently noting everything the neighbors were doing.

Why journalism: I got a good hunch of what I wanted to do with my career during my sophomore year at Reed, when my idea of a perfect Friday night was sitting in the bathtub and listening to On the Media on NPR. And then on Sunday waking up and devouring the New York Times before doing anything else. Whenever I got to do both those things, I considered my weekend a success.

Why journalism matters: Government agencies and corporations and advocacy groups are constantly putting out numbers to justify their positions and their claims about what’s going in on the world.  Reporters need bigger and better data skills to make sure those numbers aren’t a lie, and to hold them accountable. 

Best part of my job: It’s pretty unusual to get paid to do something that’s genuinely interesting, and that also makes democracy work better.

Worst part of my job: Can I get back to you if I come up with something?

Luke Kanies ’96

CEO, Puppet Labs, Portland

Kanies quit a corporate job with a six-figure income to start his own software company because, he admits, “I don’t make a very good employee.” 

He struck out on his own in 2005 and founded Puppet Labs, which makes open-source software to manage data networks. He and his wife, Cindy Ellis Kanies ’97, went through some tough years in the beginning, but Kanies built his company from a struggling startup to one of the fastest-growing tech companies in Oregon, with an up-and-coming reputation on the national scene.

As Puppet Labs’ CEO, Kanies takes pride in shaping its maverick culture—a reflection of his own experience at Reed.

“I think of myself as a corporate antigen,” he says. “I believe you should be able to walk into a company and speak your mind openly, and say, ‘This is how things should be different.’” Not surprisingly, Reedies make up 5% of Puppet Labs’ 270 employees—not bad for a college without an engineering school.

Thesis/Adviser: “Attempts at Radical Change in Cytosolic Soy Ascorbate Peroxidase.” Prof. David Dalton [biology]

Why Reed: I eliminated all schools with fraternities, sororities, or organized sports. Then I looked for the best school that was as far away as possible from Tennessee.  While looking at Reed, I learned about the Guerrilla Theatre of the Absurd, and how when Dan Quayle came to town to speak they ingested red, white, and blue mashed potatoes and vomited them up. I thought, that’s the school for me.

Why everything I needed to know I learned playing pool: I like to say I minored in pool at Reed. There’s a strong correlation between programming and the things it takes to succeed at pool in terms of focus and practice, and not necessarily playing to win, but playing to figure out how to win. The game isn’t necessarily about winning tournaments or making specific shots, but about becoming a better pool player.

What makes a successful entrepreneur: Perseverance. Every entrepreneur gets smashed in the mouth; every entrepreneur fails painfully and miserably. What great entrepreneurs have in common is that they can screw everything up, then pick themselves up from the ground, brush off their pants, and get back to work.

Worst thing about my job:
I spend nearly all day working with other people to help them accomplish things, rather than getting to directly do things myself.

Best thing about my job:
I’ve built a machine out of great people who are doing good and interesting and, you know, pseudo-important work.

Advice to the class of ’14: 
You don’t know anything about anything. Your job now is to figure out how you can be useful to society, and that can take a while. Just remember, you’re going to screw up anyway, so be more concerned with how you’re going to react to screwing up then about getting everything right the first time.

Tags: Alumni, Life Beyond Reed, Business, Entrepreneurship, Innovation