A Surprising Twist of Events

Each week, Startup Edition poses a single question to a group of bloggers from the startup community. This week’s question is “Why are you working on your startup?” Karen’s answer? To multiply my efforts to help women in the tech industry. And the dudes as well.

Logo for AthenticaYou may have noticed that I’ve been writing less frequently for “Use Your Inside Voice.” While I wish I could post at least weekly, I simply don’t have the bandwidth. Why? I’ve gone through a significant and unexpected career pivot. I’ve joined Athentica, an early-stage startup.

Before Athentica, I was a leadership coach, speaker, and blogger focused on helping women have great careers in the software industry. And I wrote regularly about the intersection of leadership and parenting for my blog. I was doing what I loved, and I was happy. I wasn’t looking to make a career change.

Yet I did. Earlier this year, a friend invited me to lunch to discuss a business idea he had. Over the next six months, we met every so often, and I saw his business idea grow into what it is today—a social learning site that helps online learners identify and complete a curriculum of online courses to meet their career goals. Along the way, I started seeing connections between his idea and women I met through my speaking engagements.  These women were taking online classes to improve their technical skills. Many told me that they liked online classes because they could fit them into their busy lives, but they didn’t think they were learning enough to apply to a real-world programming need. They knew they needed to take more classes and get more experience building software, but they struggled with next steps. As a result, I knew my friend was on to something.

In a surprising twist of events, my friend asked me to be the CEO of his company. I wasn’t looking for this kind of role, but I decided to consider it seriously. As I evaluated the opportunity, I became really excited. I realized that, by joining the startup, I could help more women than I ever could as an individual. With the support of my husband and kids, I decided to lean into my career once again. I’m now the CEO of Athentica. And I’m having the time of my life.

Will I continue writing “Use Your Inside Voice?” Absolutely. Just not at the same frequency as before. If you have suggestions for parenting and leadership topics you’d like me to explore, please leave a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you!


NOTE: This post is part of Startup Edition, weekly wisdom from founders, hackers, and designers who answer a single question each week. Click here to see other answers to this week’s question: ”Why are you working on your startup?

© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

A heartfelt thanks

It’s been six months since I launched “Use Your Inside Voice” to explore the intersections of leadership and parenting. As I take stock and celebrate, I want to acknowledge and thank the people who have inspired and contributed to my blog and web site. I couldn’t have done it without you!

To my husband, who I love dearly. Thank you for your encouragement and patience. About fifteen years ago, you first suggested I write about leadership and parenting. It took me a while, but I’m finally doing it!

To my children, who provide the spark for many of my blog ideas and dutifully review posts when I mention them. I love and admire you both.

To my mom, who was my first teacher and role model. I love you.

To my good friend and editor, Mary Ann, who reviews my posts, cheers me on when my inner critic is speaking its mind, and vetoes the drafts that really belong on the cutting room floor.

To Norm, my friend and mentor for almost thirty years, for your unconditional support, your keen design eye, and for teaching my kids to drive.

To my best friends from college, who inspire me, make me laugh, and push me forward.

To Paula, my colleague and friend, who brainstorms with me and gives the best constructive criticism.

To my co-workers over the years, who helped me define my leadership style and find my inside voice.

To my readers, who give me a reason for writing this blog. Your time is precious, and I appreciate that you spend some of it with me.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you.


My Lean In Story

Lean In LogoA few months ago, the Anita Borg Institute asked me to write a story about a time I chose between fear and leaning in to my career. They wouldn’t tell me why, except that they were working on a confidential project about women leaning in, and that it would be announced in March. Right away, I knew the project was for Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In movement. And I was thrilled. I wanted to show my support for the movement, and I now had the opportunity.

Here’s the guidance I received for writing my story:

A Lean In Story is a tension point in one’s career that offers two possible outcomes: “leaning in” or “leaning back.” Examples are: asking for a raise and getting it, realizing a need to switch departments and doing it, motivating yourself to reach a difficult work goal, etc.

And here is the structure I should follow:

First-person account that follows a traditional story arc, in 500 words or less.

a) Set the stage – offer a short account of details leading up to the tension point

b) Introduce the tension point – this is typically when fear, vulnerability and doubt appear.  Make sure to outline what the paths of leaning in and /or leaning back looked like

c) Decide to lean in or lean back – stories are more likely to be about leaning in but they could also be about leaning back

d) Share the resolution – how did you feel after the decision was made? How did the situation play out?

e) Show the future – how did your decision impact you, both personally and professionally.  Share a positive ending about what you learned from the experience.  Don’t be afraid to weave in some closing advice or words of wisdom.

While I have dozens of examples of both leaning in and leaning back over my career, I knew immediately which story to tell: when I decided to move from a great part-time job into a full-time role with a lot more responsibility. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, and I wanted to share all the reasons I didn’t think I should lean in, and why I finally did.

You can read my story at http://leanin.org/stories/karen-catlin/. While there, be sure to read some of the other stories. Each one is a pocket of inspiration in 500 words or less.

If you have a story you would like to share, visit the Lean In site and follow the steps to submit your story. I look forward to reading it!


© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

Five Reasons Why My Husband Was My Most Important Career Decision

Photo of Karen and her husband TimI’ve been following Sheryl Sandberg for a few years now, starting with her TED talk in 2010. While all of her messages are powerful, I think my favorite is: “I truly believe that the single most important career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner and who that partner is.”

I’m so very thankful for my husband, and I whole-heartedly believe marrying him was the most important career decision I ever made. Here’s why.

1 – He makes me less fearful. Our daughter, who is now looking at colleges, recently asked me how I decided which college to go to. I told her I chose the closest one to home that had a great reputation. I really wasn’t adventurous back then. Since marrying my husband, however, I’ve grown less fearful of change. As a young married couple, we moved from my life-long home of Rhode Island to England, where I got international work experience. From there, we decided to relocate to the San Francisco Bay Area to pursue our careers in technology. This morning, I joked with him that we should apply to be the middle-aged married couple to go on the 501 day journey to Mars. Knowing we’re in it together, I’d do almost anything!

2 – He helps me when the going gets tough. The most stressful job I ever had was when I was 30 years old and just started at a new company. I was a localization project manager, a job I had never done before, and I was the only person in this role at my company. I had more work than I could possibly do, which caused an overwhelming amount of stress. Over dinner one night, I started crying as I told my husband about my day and how far behind I was. He then helped me think differently about my work, and how to justify I needed some more people to help me. He helped me create a model for estimating how many hours any given project would take, and therefore how many additional people I needed to get it all done. He spent his whole evening helping me. And it paid off. The next day, I presented the model to my manager, and who agreed that we needed to hire another person. My stress level dropped overnight.

3 – He shares in parenting responsibilities. Like most working moms, I complain about having to shoulder most of the parenting responsibilities for our family. However, when I needed it the most, my husband equally shared the duties. Just before having my second child, I interviewed for a new position at my software company. I got the job, even though I was about to go on maternity leave for three months. When I went back to work, I knew I would need to put in some extra hours to learn the ropes and show my commitment to this new team who were putting in long hours on a software release. So, my husband and I took turns being home by 6pm to feed and bathe our kids. Knowing I could work late, if I needed to, every other day made all the difference.

4 – He often believes in me more than I do. In the mid-2000’s, I was working part-time for a software company, and we were acquired by a larger company. As part of the acquisition, I was offered a significantly larger role, if I agreed to work full time. As I considered the new role, I started thinking of all the reasons I shouldn’t accept it. I’d have less time with my children. I‘d never managed a group of that size. I’d have a longer commute and would get less exercise. I’d have to lay off some people. I lacked experience in some of the technical areas that I would be managing. The list went on and on. My husband helped me recognize that I could and should seize the opportunity. He convinced me that we could handle the logistics of our both working full-time. He reminded me that I had the foundation to learn new technologies and that I was a talented leader. Thanks to his support and encouragement, I was able to set aside my fears. I allowed myself to envision succeeding in the new position, and I got really excited. I found the confidence to say yes.

5 – He provides balance to my aversion to risk. I’m now building a consulting business from ground zero, something I’ve never done before. My husband, bless him, is telling me not to worry about paying clients right now. He believes it’s okay to take some risks, that the money will come, and we’ll be fine in the meantime. His support and confidence is encouraging me to explore options, to invest time in networking, and to attend many events. And I’m feeling more confident every day that all of these activities will pay off.

I’m so very grateful for my husband and his unwavering support of me and my career.

Tim, for these reasons and so many others, I love you.


© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

What’s in it for me

I’m thrilled with the initial response to “Use Your Inside Voice.” I’ve heard from so many people — family, friends, colleagues, and even some new acquaintances — who have reached out to thank me for starting the blog. If you are wondering why I’ve signed up to spend a significant amount of time each week writing articles, responding to comments and emails, and promoting my blog to grow readership, let me explain.

First of all, I am passionate about leveraging the skills we learn as leaders and parents at both home and work, and I want to make a difference to a lot of people. While I have shared my two cents with my staff and people I’ve mentored individually over the years, I now want to have a wider reach.

I’d also like to earn an income by writing this blog. I recently read an article on how the top travel bloggers make a living, and I was drawn to one in particular: Chris Guillebeau. Not only is he a travel blogger who has a personal goal of visiting every country in the world, he also has an interesting philosophy about non-conventional careers and how to change the world by achieving significant, personal goals while helping others at the same time. His blog is called The Art of Non-Conformity.

In one of his articles, Chris challenges his readers to answer the two most important questions in the universe:

#1: What do you really want to get out of life?
#2: What can you offer the world that no one else can? 

Well, here are my answers:

#1: What do you really want to get out of life? At this phase in my life, I want to have a flexible job that allows me to be the kind of mom and wife that I want to be, to not be in a rush all the time, to exercise often, and to have time to pursue creative hobbies. At the same time, I want to help others and be known for something.

#2: What can you offer the world that no one else can?  I think I have a unique, down-to-earth perspective on leveraging leadership and parenting skills. Understandably, most of us complain about work-life balance, yet we rarely talk about work-life efficiency. I want to change the discussion from concerns about the lack of balance to how to become more competent at both home and work by utilizing overlapping best practices. I want to celebrate the intersection of leadership and parenting.

By answering Chris’ questions, I hope I’ve given you some insight into why I’m writing this blog. If you find yourself thinking about how you would answer his questions, be sure to share. I look forward to hearing from you!


p.s. A big thanks to Chris Guillebeau for his inspiring articles!

© 2012 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.