Karen Catlin

Tell us your story.

Growing up, my family had little disposable income, and my parents instilled a strong sense of frugality in all that we did. We canned vegetables from our garden, made jam, hand-crafted gifts, and learned to sew and knit. I especially loved making my own clothes; it saved money and gave me a wonderful creative outlet.

In 1980, when I was a junior in high school, my dad showed me a magazine article of a young woman earning more money than I could have imagined. She had been good in math and science in high school (like me), and she had studied computer science in college. My dad suggested I could do the same, and I was definitely enticed by the potential salary. Growing up in such a frugal household, I knew I wanted to pursue a career where I’d be able to support myself.

A year later, I was accepted at Brown University and declared computer science as my major. In hindsight, this was pretty risky—I had never even touched a computer! (Remember, this was the early ‘80s.) Fortunately, I enjoyed my classes. Just like sewing and knitting, building software met a basic need I had to make things. I found it fun, fulfilling, and frankly addictive, and I’ve worked in the software industry every since.

What do you most want other women and young girls to know about being a woman in our digital culture?

Whatever your age, if you haven’t yet “tried tech on for size”, give it a try. Attend a coding camp or take a coding class. You might find that you like it!

Pass it on!

My college-aged daughter inspires me every day, and I think the feeling is mutual. She is studying computer science, just like I did, and I love her enthusiasm for learning and building software. In addition to her tech skills, she’s an awesome writer, and she has inspired me to focus more on my own writing. Love you Emma!

I also want to give a shout-out to the Anita Borg Institute. After attending my first Grace Hopper Celebration in 2006, I started actively looking for ways I could “pay it forward” and help the next generation of women in tech. Now I do this full time, and I feel I have the best job in the world.

The Women in Tech campaign exists to help redefine what women in technology means in the 21st century. Started independently by a group of professional women who, after many impassioned discussions about women in tech knew we wanted to expand this definition beyond 'traditional' technology skills. To us, it includes most every current, emerging or evolving role within an organization. By featuring leaders and emerging leaders across industries who embody this we hope to collectively 'stand up', be proud of our place in the digital world and inspire young women or those new to the 'tech space' to get involved.