Meet Our Incredibles
Take a peek behind the curtain and get to know the diverse, passionate team of experts who help make incredible happen.
In honor of Veterans Day, we’d like to thank those who have dedicated their time and energy to serve in the US military. To celebrate veterans both at CyberGrants and beyond, we spoke with our very own Kellie Carlin, Captain USAF, about what led her to join the military, her post-military career journey, and what it means to be a veteran.
Kellie has been a member of the CyberGrants community for over seven years where she earned her crown as the “Reports Queen” for her knowledge and expertise in complex reporting. When she isn’t reigning over the Technical Services Department, she spends her time giving back to the arts through her support of local museums and theaters and embarking on adventures with her three children.
Meet Our Incredible Kellie Carlin
Introduce yourself! Tell us a little bit about you and your role at CyberGrants. Feel free to include how long you’ve been with the company and what your job entails.
My name is Kellie Carlin, I’m a Senior Software Developer and I have been with CyberGrants for 7 and a half years—time flies! I’m in the Technical Services Department and I specialize in solving complex problems and producing complex reports— I’ve actually been dubbed the “Reports Queen.” When I first came to CyberGrants, the department was much smaller. There were only about 8 of us that met every day, but as the product grew, our team grew with us and now we have a group of about 30. I love my role here and the work really suits me because I enjoy problem-solving, I’m extremely detail-oriented, and thrive in a fast-paced environment. One of the first things I worked on at CyberGrants was the Disney Genie Letter, which is sent to Make-A-Wish children informing them of all the activities they get to do—hotels, park tickets, character visits, breakfasts, etc. for them and their families
On a more personal note, I really enjoy traveling and have taken my kids to Alaska, Iceland, England, and France. I think it’s so important for everyone to see more of the world and realize that people are just people, no matter where they live. I have three children, Kristen, Brandt, and Courtney and they are my travel companions! I appreciate art and theater, play tennis, and I have tried paddle boarding, zip-lining, hiking, and white water rafting.
I’d also love to hear a little more about what motivated you to join the military?
My story is quite different from the typical stories you hear from veterans. A lot of people join the military because it’s a part of their family tradition or they felt a calling to serve a greater good. For me, it was a little different. I was born and raised in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa area, but we were quite poor, my mother was very young and we moved around a lot. I had attended about 13 different schools by the time I was 14. There were times where we survived on bread, eggs, and milk because we got eggs from our chickens, milk from the neighbor’s dairy farm and bread was cheap to make. I watched my family, particularly my mother, really struggle so I knew I wanted to go to college, but I also knew we didn’t have the money for that. After I graduated from high school, I applied for any scholarship I could find and ended up taking a test and won a full scholarship with the US Air Force. I attended Iowa State University with a full boat scholarship that included tuition, room and board, books, supplies, lab fees, and a $100 a month allowance. After I finished my college degree, I entered the military as an officer and during my tenure went from 2nd Lieutenant to 1st Lieutenant to Captain. I know this isn’t the glamorous answer or what people expect, but I joined the military because I needed to pay for college and I wanted a guaranteed job post-graduation. But due to my upbringing, I’ve got some really unique skills— I can drive a tractor, milk a cow, muck a stall, bail hay, ride a horse, drive a stick, and now, of course, code!
What was your post-military job-seeking experience?
After I left the military, I primarily worked for companies that did military support. The very first job I had was in air traffic control and radar so it was all very low-level basic machine code. One of the best projects I worked on was the Tactical Microwave Landing System, which was a portable landing system that allowed you to turn a field into a landing space for supply planes. It was used later to install airports in some very tight locations, including the highest airport in the world, Daocheng Yading Airport in the Sichuan Province of China (services Tibet). Previously, the terrain and short approach would not have allowed an airport to function there. A fun fact about that is if you play the old Trivial Pursuit, the answer to the highest airport in the world is La Paz, Bolivia, but you can confidently state what the card says, and then provide the correct answer and amaze your friends! Similarly, I had another job for a military contract company located at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard where I was tasked with managing the system used for tracking radiation exposure for all of the personnel that worked on the nuclear fleet. When the nuclear disaster happened in Japan we almost deployed over there with our system. They actually ended up using a modified/stand-alone version and we managed it from the states.
What drew you to CyberGrants? And what has kept you here?
I actually got contacted by a headhunter for an interview here at CyberGrants and after learning a bit about the company, I just couldn’t resist. It was a half-hour from home, it was within the charitable giving space, and it utilized technology I’m extremely familiar with so I obviously took the job! I was also extremely intrigued by the different types of customers CyberGrants serves and was excited about the varied type of work that I would have the opportunity to do. I’d say what has kept me here is that I excel at the work and have earned the respect of the people that I work with. It’s also such a great team! Our VP of Research and Architecture, Wei-Wei Liu, is scary smart and I really could not ask for a better technical lead—she’s on another level! We have built such an amazing team and I really love the people that I work with.
One of my favorite moments at Cybergrants was winning the Helping Hands Award in 2019. We’re extremely lucky to have a CEO like Mark Layden. He is always genuinely interested in how employees are feeling and truly willing to listen to us. I’ve never felt uncomfortable or worried about approaching him with a problem. That culture has been carried down to the other managers, which is something I really appreciate as I’m known to speak my mind.
What is a challenge you’ve had to overcome?
Starting off with very little in life was a challenge. I knew I didn’t want to be poor and I knew I needed to go to college to make that happen. You have to work extremely hard to bring yourself out of that—there’s nothing that magically pulls you out. In fact, there’s actually a lot of systems in place that are meant to keep you down. I was the first in my family to graduate from college and I used the military as a stepping stone. I would also say being a woman in a technical field is a challenge and you really have to hold your own. That’s actually another really amazing thing about CyberGrants is we have a great representation of women within the company, which is very rarely the case in the tech world.
How have the skills you learned in the military helped you to succeed in your current role at CyberGrants?
In the military, there’s an emphasis on developing leadership skills and confidence through their training. They teach you to stand up for yourself and demand respect, which was especially tricky as a female Lieutenant. For example, if a group of enlisted individuals walks past you, they’re supposed to salute any senior officer. Some of the men wouldn’t want to salute a woman and they’d often try to ignore me. I would have to stop them and say “Whenever you pass a senior officer, you have to salute them.” I’d have to make them do it! This really forced me to develop confidence and learn when to demand respect. Additionally, since the leadership ladder is so well defined within the military, there’s a lot of leadership training and there’s a huge emphasis on developing your leadership skills under pressure and how to effectively navigate certain scenarios. This was just a really important skill to have throughout my career and it gave me a lot more confidence.
What are some causes or organizations that you like to give back to?
The main causes I give back to are the arts, animals, and children. For example, Boys Town and the Home for Little Wanderers both help kids who have no family or are out on the streets. I always support The Humane Society of Nashua because I’ve gotten several of my animals from there and I really appreciate the work that they do. And then I love the arts! I’ve made an effort to support museums and art centers. In fact, on a trip to Europe, I actually joined the Museum Association for a year even though I don’t live there because it got us into every castle and museum while we were visiting. I really care about supporting museums and small theaters, which was especially important as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. I bought gift cards to all of my favorite locally-owned restaurants and memberships to music halls and small theaters. You might not be able to save the world, but you can always do your part to better your corner of it and that’s what I try to do.
What does being a veteran mean to you?
I am really proud that I served. It changes you or maybe instills something in you that you are ‘fighting’ for something larger than yourself, and for all people in this country, and for all freedoms in this country. I think it’s a mindset you don’t develop in any other job and it’s a role I take very seriously.
If you were famous, what would it be for?
My cousin, Jack Horkheimer, hosted the astronomy show Star Gazers. I never knew him personally because he grew up in Wisconsin and was my grandmother’s brother’s son, but my only real claim to fame is that he hosted Star Gazers. He would sit on the rings of Saturn and float across the screen—it was hilarious! A fantasy of mine is to reboot the show and become the new host. It’s fascinating to talk about science and I love teaching and mentoring so I think I’d be really great at that.