“We’re big believers in the power of public speaking and the career doors it can open. Even though it can be scary, don’t shy away from speaking about your work.”
Poornima Vijayashanker and Karen Catlin are co-authors of Present! A Techie’s Guide to Public Speaking. Poornima is the founder of Femgineer, an education company that helps tech professionals advance their careers, and was the founding engineer at Mint.com. Karen is an advocate for women in tech and a former vice-president at Adobe Systems.
Years in tech industry
Karen, 25+; Poornima, 10+
Who or what inspired your career in tech?
For both of us, it’s our dads! Back when Karen was still in high school and trying to figure out what to major in at college, her dad told her about the then-brand-new discipline of computer science. (It was a long time ago.) He pointed out to Karen that since she was always making things by knitting, sewing, and crafting, and since she enjoyed math and problem solving, maybe she would like making software. And that conversation sparked Karen’s interest in computer science and tech.
Poornima’s fascination with technology began at the age of three when she discovered that her father made “chips” and “wafers”, or in other words, “potato chips” and “cookies”. After visiting her father’s fab (fabrication lab), nine-year-old Poornima learned what chips and wafers were and became inspired by technology’s potential for humanity.
What’s your best hack (strategy to help you better manage your professional or personal life)?
Karen’s is the “Not To Do List.” We’re all so good at saying “yes” to everything, and it’s important to identify what to say “no” to as well. For Karen, this meant saying no to mailing out holiday cards and replacing it with a social media post, helping her to be less grumpy during the holiday season. Poornima’s best hack is speaking. She never liked the concept of networking being petite (not at most people’s eye level), and unsure of who to speak to. Instead of going to events to network, she started speaking at them. It made it easier to break the ice and form deeper relationships with people.
What has been your greatest career challenge and how have you handled it?
For Poornima it’s trusting her gut and not second-guessing herself, even if more experienced people or ones who mean well say otherwise. Karen struggled with the imposter syndrome throughout her career. She fortunately has been able to surround herself with people who believe in her more than she believes in herself, and convince her to say yes to opportunities that come her way even when she questions her own abilities.
What is your biggest career success to date? While we’re both proud of the cred we list in our bios, our biggest career successes are the companies we each founded to help others in tech. Poornima started Femgineer initially as a blog where she wrote about her experience being a woman in tech, and she turned it into a successful education company helping techies and entrepreneurs level up their skills. Karen created her leadership coaching business to help women working in the tech industry grow their careers. We took these ideas from scratch to the thriving businesses they are today, and we’re proud of what we’ve built.
What are the top 3 pieces of advice you would give to women who are starting out in the tech industry?
Because we met at a women’s networking lunch hosted by Andreessen Horowitz, you can probably guess we’re big believers in building your network before you need it. Take the initiative to meet people, both at your workplace and out in the community. It will pay off. We’re also big believers in the power of public speaking and the career doors it can open. Even though it can be scary, don’t shy away from speaking. Volunteer to give a talk at a casual lunch and learn at your company, look for a meet-up in your area where you can give a brief lightning talk, or submit a talk for a larger conference. You’ll get career visibility that will lead to more opportunities for you.
Who are your role models?
We’re always thankful for the women who have paved the way throughout history to give us the opportunities and privileges we now enjoy.
What do you do when you’re not kicking butt at work?
We both like good food, and enjoy sharing meals with friends and family. And we both like to stay active. For Karen, that means walks and hikes, ideally with her husband and two college-aged children. Poornima loves the yoga studio along with weekly rock climbing with her husband.
Flats, heels or kicks?
Anything we can walk in quickly and looks good on a keynote stage.
Best career advice book?
Well, we wrote the book we wished we had earlier in our career, so that’s the one we’ll recommend! It’s called Present! A Techie’s Guide to Public Speaking. Whether you’re brand new to public speaking or want to up your game, we wrote it to help you. And we look forward to seeing you on stage sometime soon!
Who are the women in tech that you most admire and why?
Every. Single. One.