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Behind the Glasses: Meet Kat Kennedy

Degreed has a pretty basic philosophy: the people behind our company are the real secret sauce. Like soylent green but less morbid. Our ranks are full of talented all-stars who constantly question, tinker, challenge, and make Degreed work for our customers and users. Behind the Glasses pulls back the curtain and shines a spotlight on some of the individuals who keep our engines running.

Meet Kat Kennedy

From rancher to computer programmer to Degreed’s brand-new Chief Experience Officer, Kat Kennedy has had one heck of a journey — and one heck of a story to boot. Whether putting up fences or helping to create Degreed from the ground up, Kat’s been building things since she could walk. She’s like our Frank Lloyd Wright but with a killer mani/pedi. And by toeing the lines between experience, product, and technology, Kat’s become the backbone of so much of what happens at Degreed, and we wouldn’t be where we are without her.

Let’s take a deeper dive and get to know one of the masterminds behind the company.

What was the motivation behind picking your career?

I grew up on a cattle ranch, so part of that was building. We were always fixing tractors and building fences, so I was always using my hands and creating things — and I loved that. I wanted that same feeling of creating but I also really like my nails, so I needed some middle ground. I stumbled across a [computer] programming class in junior high and realized I got the same thrill from programming as I did when I was building something on the ranch. I fell in love with programming early on and realized “Hey, I could do this as a job!” I declared my major in computer science and information technology as soon as I got to college and the rest is history.

What was it about Degreed that made you want to jump on board?

Again, I’ll call back to my rural roots. As David Blake and Eric Sharp (Degreed’s co-founders) sat me down and pitched the company and their vision of how the world should look, it really resonated with me. Growing up in a rural community, there were people all around who had brilliant minds but didn’t have the credentials they “needed” to succeed outside of what that community offered. A lot of them felt stuck and limited, so it became a sort of personal mission. I wanted to make the world look like how David and Eric described — and I still think we can do it. 

What do you love most about your job?

The people. I learn something new from someone at Degreed every day. We’ve built such an incredibly talented team and I believe you can steal a little bit of everybody’s brilliance if you just pay attention to them. I try to do that and I feel lucky that I get to do that.

But truly, getting to interact with everyone across different teams is my favorite thing about the company. And, of course, that’s quickly followed with what we’re trying to accomplish. But first and foremost, it’s the people. They make it great. 

Who’s your favorite expert and why?

Alex Blumberg. As he built Gimlet (a digital media company and podcast network), he had a podcast called “Startup.” I learned so much from it. Now, he hosts “Without Fail,” and it’s become an incredible podcast. He talks to people, not about their successes, but what they’ve learned from their failures. He speaks to things in such a vulnerable and open way, which makes him easy to learn from.

How do you enjoy spending your FlexEd (a monthly stipend that’s given to Degreed employees to promote learning)?

Books. I’m a huge bookworm. My shelves are stocked with books and I have a process where I’ll listen to the beginning of an audiobook and if it sounds good and I find it interesting, then I’ll buy the hardback. So FlexEd powers that expensive habit of screening through Audible and then buying the books I feel are valuable enough for my library.

What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned in the past six months?

I work with an executive coach and we’ve been spending a lot of time focusing and reading up on peak performance and authentic leadership. It’s made me reflect back on what I’ve learned from the people at Degreed. I’ve realized that the leaders I trust the most enable people to fully be themselves. They give people permission to be authentic at work. It may seem obvious but it was very poignant to me. It means striving to make people feel safe being themselves and actively working to bring out the authenticity of others.

Since joining Degreed, how have your learning habits changed?

I’m more intentional about my learning time. Before Degreed, learning was a hobby for me and I had to make a specific time for it outside of my “work” time. At Degreed, we practice what we preach, and realize that learning is critical to all of us accomplishing our goals. So I carve out time —  usually a couple of hours a week — to learn during the day. That’s something I no longer feel guilty about. In fact, I feel guilty if I don’t do it.

What’s the most useful skill you’ve ever learned?

Ranch skills are the most practical that I’ve developed. So whether that’s tying a knot, welding, or changing a tire, those are wide-ranging life skills. I learned those skills as a kid, especially welding, which is an art. If you’re not paying attention [while welding] you can really hurt yourself and damage the project. And while I no longer weld or work on a ranch, I can still apply those principles in my daily life.

You were recently promoted to a new role, can you tell us about that new role and how it’s going to affect the company?

I’ve moved from Degreed’s Chief Product Officer to the Chief Experience Officer. Degreed is now able to benefit from having a Head of Product, a Chief Technology Officer, and my role– which is to enable both of them. My core responsibility is enabling those teams to operate with clear processes, along with fixing the areas that are experiencing strain so we can continue to scale. That means working with product, technology, and all of our people to ensure we’re working in the most effective and efficient way possible.     

Tech is a male-dominated field, which might seem daunting to other women in your position. Do you have any advice for them?

I’d give this advice to anyone in or out of tech, and I’d give it to both women and men: you have to know and trust yourself. Part of that is knowing the goals you have for your career and your life and also how your strengths can help you reach those goals. So if you’re drawn to technology and you know that’s your goal and where your strengths can be applied, then rely on them to drive you through. It will help you throw off distractions and blockades.

If I press rewind, I was the only woman in class pursuing my degree, and I never thought anything of it. I was too excited about my goals and the strengths I knew I could apply. Putting that as my aim allowed me to stay focused by what could’ve been distractions. 

There’s No “I” In Degreed

Changing how the world learns and builds skills isn’t easy — but it’s necessary. Fortunately, we have a team of experts who are passionate and up to the task. With people like Kat Kennedy leading the charge, we know we’re in good hands. 

To learn more about our team and our company, go to degreed.com.

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