An Unexpected Challenge
When Cathleen Poulsen’s husband got laid off from work, she lovingly waited for him to find another job. As time without a paycheck wore on, however, her patience wore out. Amid increased frustration and rising anxiety, she got an unexpected answer to her earnest prayer for help: YOU have skills.
Taking the hint, she dusted off her computer science degree from 1995 and watched a few online videos to re-engage with the technology she had mastered in her pre-mom days. Then figuring she had "nothing to lose," Cathleen applied for a software development position at Family Search, a nonprofit genealogical organization run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The hiring process seemed promising until she got to the interview.
It didn't go so well.
Cathleen recalls, "It was a technical interview. It was me and eight engineers who were sitting there just throwing all these technical questions at me."
After the meeting, the hiring manager kindly took Cathleen aside and said that her skills were not where they needed to be to fill the software development position. Then, to her surprise, he offered her an internship instead.
Thrilled with the outcome and grateful for an opportunity to update her expertise, Cathleen still had to prove herself--a challenge she did not take lightly.
An Unexpected Blessing
Because she hadn't worked in the tech industry for several years, Cathleen got quickly overwhelmed with how much had changed. She shares, "The first two weeks at the internship, I think that I cried every day on the way home from work. I came into it confident because I didn't know any better, but I realized how much I needed to learn."
She had to overcome hurdles at home too. "When I was done I still needed to make dinner and then I still needed to help with homework. Then I still needed to get people to bed. Then I still needed to try to do some learning so that I didn't appear so dumb the next day," she laments.
But Cathleen did not give up. She devised a plan at work to ensure she never asked the same question twice which increased her confidence. Her husband took on the after-school activities at home, and they held family councils with the kids to discuss more ways they could all work together.
With time, Cathleen settled into her work and the family settled into a new routine. When the internship ended, Family Search offered her a full-time position as a Quality Assurance Engineer. She happily accepted the job.
At first, I thought it was just the right thing for me, but I think that it was the right thing for my husband as well. I think he needed some time to figure out what he wanted to do, and this gave him a chance to breathe.
- Cathleen Poulsen -
But Wait, There's More...Blessings
In this interview, Cathleen shares the many ways in which her family has been blessed by this experience.
Spoiler alert: she loves her job, her husband got an opportunity to be more intentional with his career, and the kids became more independent. She saw the hand of God in the transition and recognized He had been guiding her towards a career reboot the entire time she'd been out of the workforce.
Listen to the interview to learn more.
It's good stuff.
Mentioned in this Interview
Download the Transcript
Rebooting a Tech Career Two Decades Later
Guest: Cathleen Poulsen
Shelley Hunter: You're listening to the Faithful Career Moves podcast, I'm your host, Shelley Hunter. This is the place where we talk to people who have found the career they were born to do, and recognize God's hand in the process.
Thank you for joining me on Episode 28. Today, I'm talking to Cathleen Poulsen. When I first asked Cathleen to be on the show, she said something like, "I don't know if my story is podcast-worthy. What I'm doing isn't all that special."
I said, "Well, do you like your job?"
She said, "Oh yes, I love my job."
I said, "Have you seen the hand of God guiding you there?"
Cathleen sighed and she responded, "I feel my entire journey has been divinely led.”
Which is exactly why she is my guest today. The stories that “aren't all that special” testify to me over and over again that God is in the details of our lives. He cares about our ability to provide for our families. He doesn't just want us to make money, He wants us to use our talents to serve our families and serve others, which leads to feeling happy and fulfilled in those jobs.
And if you are new to this podcast, I want to make it clear that I am not advocating for women to return to the workforce, start businesses, work from home or be stay-at-home moms. I am simply saying that God is in the details of our lives—and that includes our careers. We are all expected to get as much education as possible and to develop our talents. For some women, a paycheck may also be involved. But that’s not for me (or anyone else to decide)…that’s a conversation for you, your family, and the Lord. But if you DO feel inspired to go back to work…I can help.
So back to Cathleen…
This story begins when Cathleen's husband got laid off from work. Now, you may have already jumped at the conclusion that she had to go back to work for financial reasons. That is partly true, but as Cathleen shares her story, I want you to ask yourself if there's any other reason she may have needed to go back to work.
We start off this interview, when I ask Cathleen what it is she does for work.
Cathleen Poulsen: Well, currently I'm a QA engineer at Family Search. It's software development and it is so much fun.
Shelley: For people who are not members of our faith, what is Family Search?
Cathleen: Family Search is software that helps you find your relatives, create your family tree. It has one big family tree, and everybody can put themselves on it and their ancestors, and they can look things up and find out information about them. There's places that you can store pictures and documents, and it is just fascinating. No matter your religion, I think everybody has this wonderful, innate desire to connect with their family. It provides people a way to document that and do research on it.
Shelley: I love Family Search. I just realized though, I never even asked you, did you always work?
Cathleen: I have always done something on the side, I don't know how far to go back. I got a degree in computer science and then I worked in a small software startup for five years. Then I went home to be a mom and take care of my kids. My husband had a good job at that time and it felt right. Anyway, we could go into all of that journey, but basically what brought me to Family Search is that my husband was laid off from his job and he started looking, but it was taking longer. He was getting frustrated and I was anxious. I realized that instead of becoming frustrated or angry, not quite angry, but just frustrated with the situation. I would get frustrated when my husband wasn't looking for a job, I would go, "Oh, why aren't you looking for a job?" This is important, this is what you should be doing.
I realized that it was creating these negative feelings in me because having those negative feelings and that feeling of a victim in a way, even though it's not, and it's not, it never intended to be that way, but all that does put me into a downward spiral.
Shelley: Yes. Once you recognized that then, what did you do?
Cathleen: I just decided that I had skills, and rather than keeping being frustrated with it, that I would just put out some feelers and see what was there. I was just looking at jobs and noticing that there was a lot of jobs that were available in software development, since that was what my degree was in and what I'd worked in. I'm like, "Oh yes, I can do that. That's no problem".
I filled out an application with Family Search and I was actually a little surprised when they invited me in for an interview, and I told them- we had a little phone interview first and I said, "I'm really rusty, but I feel like I could do this, but I just need somebody to give me a chance to do it." At that point I had started going online and trying to get my skills where they should be.
Then I went in for this interview and in my mind, I had this expectation that it was just going to be me and the manager. It was going to be like, "Oh, tell me about your experience. Do you have skills of talking to people and learning things and all this?" But no, it was not, it was a technical interview. It was me and eight engineers who were sitting there just throwing all these technical questions on me. After I realized that's what they were doing, I just went, "Oh, no, there is no way." I did the best I could. My answer used to be, "But I can learn."
Afterwards, the manager who had given me the interview, he didn't even talk to the rest of the team, he just sat down with me and he said, "Well, your skills are not quite where they need to be in order to fill this position," he was very kind, "but there was a possibility that you might be able to get an internship." I thought, "Oh, that's perfect," because when I had been thinking, what do I need to do, the thought came to me, "If I could just get in somewhere and learn what needs to be done, it's so much better than just going to the classes and trying." I needed a more specific information.
Shelley: Isn't it interesting how those little thoughts that you have, and they just feel like passing thoughts at the time, bubble back to you and you think, "Oh, I did have that thought."
Cathleen: Very true. I've seen that over and over in my life, especially when it comes to my career, that there have been so many times when it's like, "Oh, just go talk to this person," or, "See if this might be open. What have you got to lose?" I really feel those promptings have been crucial to guiding my career and what it is that I feel like is the right thing for me to do.
Shelley: Yes, I love that. Back to the moment he says, "We might have this internship."
Cathleen: Yes. I said, "Oh, that would be great. I would be very, very interested." He said, "But it probably wouldn't start until later in the summer." This was springtime and so in my mind, I'm like, "Okay, great. I am just going to get myself geared up. I'm going to start working fulltime." In my mind, of course, I'm like, "I'm going to clean my house."
Getting all ready.
Shelley: Meal prep. Yes.
Cathleen: That's right. Then I called him, I hadn't heard from him for a while, and called him July timeframe. He said, "Oh, I had lost your number. We had actually put somebody else in that internship, but then they backed out at the last minute. That still might be open for you."
He checked, and they were able to put me into an internship and I started back to work. That first day it just hit me like a ton of bricks how outdated my knowledge was. I think it really hit me when they handed me a Mac and I had always done PC.
Shelley: [laughs] Yes.
Cathleen: I didn't even know how to minimize the window. I went into full screen. [laughs]
Shelley: Oh my gosh. Were the people helping you like 27?
Cathleen: Oh yes, but they were very kind, and they were very patient. I couldn't have asked for a better group, and they treated me so respectfully even though they knew that I was coming into this like a deer the headlights.
Shelley: I know so many women are going to identify with this. Tell me, how did the family adjust?
Cathleen: My husband was substitute teaching during that time. He got home shortly after the kids got home. At this point, it was just my two sons. He got home, and they hang out, and he helped him with their things while I finished up work, and we made it work.
Shelley: I love that. Were there some personal adjustments you needed to make?
Cathleen: It meant that I needed to be a little bit more organized as far as making sure that everybody got out the door at the same time, including me. I think for the most part, everybody adjusted pretty well. I think that for my husband and I, we had to learn how to work together and kind of juggle things, but I think that as far as the kids go, I don't think that they really had a huge adjustment. When they came home, then they would call or text. I was so grateful that I was in a position where I could still manage things from my desk.
There were a few things, not being able to go to some of the daytime activities that I had-- I'd always gone in and volunteered in the classroom and been a part of their school lives a little bit more and not being able to do that was hard. I had to find other ways to be able connect with them and make sure that they knew that they were loved and to take care of them after work hours.
Shelley: Yes. They're still a priority, it's just that things have shifted for a little bit.
Cathleen: Yes. I think that they were very supportive because they were aware of the stress going on in the house.
Cathleen: They saw this as, "Hey, you know that's great, we're working together. We had a family council there that said, "Okay, mom's going to be doing this, dad's going to be doing this, and you guys do your part by coming home and getting your homework done. We're all just going to work together on this."
Shelley: Did you have the feeling that it might have felt initially like this was plan B, but really this needed to happen?
Cathleen: Yes. I feel like it was the right thing. At first, I thought, well, maybe it was just the right thing for me, but I think that it was the right thing for my husband as well. I think that he needed some time to figure out what he wanted to do, and this gave him a chance to breathe. I think it was the right thing to do at that time.
Shelley: I just love this part of the stories because I know when you're in the throes of those moments, it's super uncomfortable and it seems like the worst thing ever, but then when you get through it and you realize, "No, this was for me, and for him, and for the kids," it's just my favorite parts of these stories. Okay, you complete the internship, how do we get to be working full time?
Cathleen: Actually, someone from that initial team reached out said that they were looking for a QA engineer as a contractor. At first, I'm like, "Nah, I'm good." [chuckles]
Shelley: I did. It did what I was supposed.
Cathleen: "I'm good." Then it just, "Oh, they wouldn't hire me." I think that we oftentimes doubt ourselves. I just was like, "Oh, what have I got to lose? I'll just see what they do."
I was able to get that contractor position and it has opened up even more doors for me and been wonderful. I've decided I really like QA. I think that it is a more in line with a lot of my skills. I've been having so much fun doing that. I did QA contractor work for a year, and then they hired me on as a full-time employee.
Shelley: Given everything that you went through to return to the workforce, is there advice that you give to your daughters differently than maybe you would have before this experience?
Cathleen: That's a big question. I think that what I would tell my daughters, of course, besides to get all the education that they can, is to look for opportunities to get the education that isn't from a university. Look for opportunities to do online classes, or just to meet people, because all of those connections lead to something else, they can. I think that's probably the main thing that I would tell my daughters, is to never underestimate yourself and always be trying to learn, and find that new thing that you can learn. Find those things that bring you joy and listen to the Spirit.
Shelley: Before I ask the questions that I ask all my guests, what haven't I asked about your career though that I should have.
Cathleen: I just think the things that I've been pondering about is just how hard it is sometimes to get out there and try something new. The first two weeks at the internship, I think that I cried every day on the way home from work. I came into it confident because I didn't know any better, but I realized how much I needed to learn. Balancing family was hard thinking that, oh, when I was done I still needed to make dinner and then I still needed to help with homework. Then I still needed to get people to bed. Then I still needed to try to do some learning so that I didn't appear so dumb the next day.
It's real. I don't know whether this is the pressure that I put on myself, but I felt like as a woman in a predominantly male workplace that I really didn't want to appear like I didn't know something. I didn't want anybody treat grant giving me this opportunity so I put a lot of pressure on myself that was probably not necessary, but that was actually one of the great things that I learned, that it is great to ask questions and find out things that I may not know but that it was my responsibility to make sure that I wrote down the answers, so I didn't have to ask the same question twice.
That was one of the things that helped me to be able to gain more confidence in me. I don't think they would've cared whether I asked them again, but for my own confidence, I needed to know.
Shelley: That's good. Can you tell me a leap of faith you had to take to get where you are now?
Cathleen: The thoughts of going to work full time was difficult for me. I knew that it was the right thing. I knew that God had given me that opportunity, and that it was the right thing for my family, but I also knew that it would not be easy. That was a huge leap of faith for me. Part of that was, will I able to balance the demands of my family? Because they had always been my priority. How can I possibly take care of them? Are they going to feel like they aren't valued? Are they going-- How can I make sure-- Which should then, of course, adds a extra mom burden on top of trying to go out.
At the time, looking at the mountain in front of me, it was overwhelming and it was a leap of faith to just go, "Okay, Heavenly Father, I'm going to trust you that this opportunity was put in my way for a reason. I'm just going to start going forward in the darkness and I'll have faith that you are going to light the path ahead of me. [chuckles]
Cathleen: For me that happened. It didn't mean that it was easy all the time, but for my family as well. I think that my daughters have seen that you don't have to just sit there and worry about things. That there are times that you really can take charge of the situation in a way to help your family instead of just depending on your spouse to take care of all the problems.
Shelley: I think that is so powerful and one of the most important reasons that you're on this show today, because I can see how it's so frustrating in the moment because you're waiting for your spouse to do something, but [chuckles] I can't help but think that the Lord was waiting for you to do something.
Cathleen: I think that that's probably right. I think that there was a time when I felt that the Lord was telling me, "This is how you need to go forward. This is the best thing for you and for your husband and for your family."
Shelley: What is an unexpected blessing? Something you just could not see for yourself in making this move.
Cathleen: I didn't realize how much I would enjoy it. When I first started this, I thought it would be hard. I could see that part of it, but I didn't see the position that I'm in now is something that helps other people. I feel like there's a worthwhile cause, and I get joy from that. I think that it has helped me because the purpose of my work is helping connect families. That's also helped that be the forefront of my own family.
I think that it's also has helped my kids to become a little bit more independent, to be able to know that they can solve some of these things. They don't need me to be there to do homework all the time, that they can walk up to the school if they have to without having me driving them. Just little things like that. Which are good things because before that, I was very much at their beck and call.
I think the other thing is just that whenever you try doing something like taking that leap of faith, you have to try to stay close to the Lord. The quality of my prayers, I was looking for answers in different places. It wasn't just going through the everyday things, it was I just really need this help. I felt the help not just with the family things and not just work with the work things, but I felt that personally that He was close.
Shelley: How have you seen the hand of God in your career?
Cathleen: I think even just getting that position was a miracle, [chuckles] but I feel like it wasn't just the part that is played in the last three or four years, it's from the time that I graduated from college and the opportunities that I was given, and the connections that I was given. Then growing through that, there was an opportunity when we lived in Colorado for five years, and then we came back here and my plan was to just be a stay-at-home mom and focus on my kids. I had two at that time, just two, and a newborn, which is what I did for a while.
Then I just had this feeling that I needed to connect with a past employer because I had written some programming courses. I thought, "Why would I want to do that? I'm fine." Then I just felt this strong feeling, "Just go connect with them see if they need something, because that's something you can do at home."
It wasn't like I was bored, this was the right thing for me to do. I went and checked in with them, and no, they didn't have any courses for me to do from home, but they were actually looking actively to find someone to teach Java to some programmers. They said, "Would you be willing to do that for three days a week for three hours a day?" Which was perfect. It was perfect for me, it was perfect for my kids. My parents met me halfway and they would pick up the kids and then take me back to their house. Then after I was done teaching, then I would go down and get them. That gave them some fun time with my parents. It was the right thing for me to do.
Then when we got to the point where my oldest daughter started preschool and everything, I said, "This isn't the right thing anymore." I stopped doing that. However, having that opportunity gave me some ins for when I started working at Family Search, that I could show them that I had taught Java before. I knew the concepts, even though it had been a while, that I had been a successful teacher for three years. We can't see too far in the future.
Cathleen: But following those simple promptings, you never know what good is going to come from them in your life.
Shelley: I love that. Cathleen, thanks for sharing your story with me.
Cathleen: Thank you. It's been very fun.
Shelley: Well, that suddenly feels like a really compact, short story, but to me, there is so much more in there. Something I've seen in my own career is that money moves me to action, but I don't mean that I'm chasing money, it's the opposite. Whenever we've struggled financially, and somebody asked me to do something, to take on a project, or start a podcast, or help them write some website, I say yes, even though I don't necessarily feel qualified to do it, but I say yes, out of desperation.
Then later on I realized that that thing I agreed to, because I was feeling the pinch of financial stress, is exactly the skill or experience I needed for something else that was coming up ahead. I've learned to trust that feeling.
I see that in Cathleen's story as well, and frankly in so many of the stay-at-home moms that I've worked with. They feel prompted or nudged or actually even pushed back to work. There's a resistance at first, but once they get where they're going, they discover the job to be so much more than they could have imagined it to be, and it benefits their families in so many unexpected ways.
On the surface, Cathleen needed to go back to work for financial reasons, but again, I have enough faith to believe that her husband could have just found a job that would've saved her from making that move, but it didn't work out that way. Instead, she found a career that she loves, she's found the benefit to her family and she could see that all along, God had been giving her little breadcrumbs to follow, when the moment arrived, she was ready for it. Once again, thank you, Cathleen, for sharing your story, and thank you for listening.
Thank you for listening to the Faithful Career Moves podcast. If you want to know more about how to connect your natural talents and abilities to job opportunities and business ideas, then visit our website at faithfulcareermoves.com.