When you ask most folks how they got started in their career, the story usually spans a few years, if not a few decades, but ask Kat Howenstein when and how she knew STEM was her true calling, and she can provide a much more specific answer.
“Third grade,” Howenstein said emphatically. “At that time, we spent a lot of time on drill work for multiplication tables. My teacher, Mrs. Collins, stood out from the rest of the teachers in her bright power skirt suits and pumps. She dressed smart and she was smart - leaving no doubt she took pride in her work. You didn’t want to disappoint her because she was also the first to reward students who met her high expectations. One of these rewards was being the first to finish the minute drill practice with a perfect score, you would get the job of checking the other students’ work as they finished. That gave me not only the satisfaction of being fast and accurate, it gave me a chance to play teacher myself - rewarding my classmates when they also had perfect scores or helping them to make corrections. I don't know if I realized it at the time, but looking back I can see, ‘Oh, I was clearly meant to teach.’”
Kat has been a part of Women & Hi Tech since 2017, she enjoys volunteering for committees who need extra hands on deck for the Leading Light Awards and representing Women & Hi Tech at sponsored events. It was clear to Women & Hi Tech leadership her deep-rooted personal drive, combined with that undeniable passion for teaching and connecting with others, would make her a perfect fit to grow the organization’s membership through the Community Outreach Committee.
Following Mrs. Collins was a succession of passionate math teachers who continued to develop Howenstein’s love for the subject and set her on a career path to secondary math education. Though she has gone on to serve companies like DeveloperTown, and now Codelicious in different capacities, Howenstein credits her professional life to a passion for getting people plugged into STEM careers like her teachers did for her.
Attending a small college like University of Evansville meant class sizes were compact and it was easy to get to know classmates and professors. Through undergraduate internships and student teaching, Howenstein benefited from a supporting cast of strong female teachers. This sense of camaraderie and support continued after she achieved her bachelor’s in secondary math education and eventually found her way to Pike High School and later led the high school math team at Indiana Connections Academy.
“Because I was teaching foundations and often had students who had previously failed, I wanted to make the lessons and practice as engaging as possible,” she said. “I didn’t have to spend 15 minutes working through a single problem, so I could take the time to make activities relevant and fun. I wanted my class to feel like a celebration of math.”
After almost ten years teaching, Howenstein took on a new challenge joining DeveloperTown as an engagement manager. Her husband had been working with startups for several years and suggested she talk to their leadership about what skills might be transferable to software. Howenstein admits she had very limited knowledge of software development, but took a leap of faith to challenge herself. Once again, her passion for mastering fundamental concepts paid off in the form of nurturing and long-lasting professional relationships.
“Coming into tech from teaching, I expected to be more annoying than helpful for many years.” she said. “But from the very beginning, people I worked with encouraged me to jump in and help them tackle hard problems using skills I brought from a career in teaching. Developers are typically a quiet bunch; so as I was starting out, I didn’t expect their verbose enthusiasm for helping me understand basic concepts. The most generous of my team often were the most senior in experience, genuinely interested in explaining specialties they’d spent decades mastering. When I needed more context, they'd enthusiastically offer it from a new perspective or map the details on a diagram.”
As Howenstein began her role as engagement manager, she earned her Agile coaching certificate and took on the role of scrum master for the marketing team as well as several development and internal projects. She credits her continued growth to DeveloperTown’s COO, Julie DeSutter, who “As a lifelong learner herself, wasn’t afraid to take a chance on someone outside of tech. She’s always encouraged me to explore where my skills brought value in tech and how I could add to them.” With Julie’s encouragement Howenstein joined the business development team where she leveraged her knowledge of design and development processes to make new connections with industries investing in digital innovation. Again, it was Howenstein’s sense of passion creating positive growth towards new horizons.
Although she noticed there were many fewer women in software compared to education, there was no lack of hospitality from the rest of the staff. “I don't know if developers had been told- ‘Guys, there's no women here, so if any of them show up, be super nice’.” she said with a laugh. “It didn’t feel like a forced effort to make the team more diverse by including me, but that they recognized the imbalance and were waiting to make room for me.”
It was also during this time Howenstein’s tenure at Women & Hi Tech began. Like many of our members, her journey began with a little push from a friend with some inside information. “I was introduced to them through a friend of mine, Sena Hineline,” she said. “As I was moving from my project management role into sales, I was looking for ways to network and learn about my new community outside of teaching. Having spent her career in tech marketing, Sena knew how valuable connecting with other women in this space would be. After attending a few Executive Women’s Forums and meeting so many wonderful people, I knew I wanted to help with Women & Hi Tech’s growth.”
Having spent 10 years teaching and over 4 in software, Howenstein is now joining Codelicious as an Account Executive where she’ll be combining all of her career experience. She’s quick to acknowledge her career path - from teaching, to project management, to sales - seems unusual, although she never felt alone along the way, thanks in no small part to the growing coalition of women in her industry.
“What’s really great about being a woman in STEM is having the chance to welcome others and give them a place to share their passion. As someone with a variety of career experience, I’m able to help other women discover how they fit, why they fit, and what we can do to make these fields accessible for the next generation. Even as someone new to tech, I can still be a positive influence to get others interested and involved.”
Reflecting back to her times spent with Women & High Tech, Howenstein has no uncertainty the work of the organization is transforming Indianapolis. When asked what the next 20 years may hold, Howenstein is excited about the chance to yet again utilize her passion and commitment to bring about forward progress.
“Bringing focus on diversity and inclusion is the topic on everyone’s mind. We've started to get a foothold as women, but we need to hear more about the experience women of color have in the tech industry and what we can do to promote their efforts. The buzz phrase about having different voices at the table doesn’t stop with gender, it will be a continued effort to bring diverse perspectives through race, life experience, and socio-economic backgrounds. If I can take the time to listen and learn as an individual from others, I hope that affects the people around me and our tech community at large.”