From 9 Years at Sea - To IT Woman of the Year

Updated: Feb 19, 2020

Carolin Solskär is a former sailor who after nine years at sea - and crossing the Atlantic nine times - changed direction by entering the world of technology.  

In 2017 Carolin initiated and co-organised #metoo Sweden - a demonstration against sexual violence and harassment - as a response to the global #metoo movement. The rally was organised in 14 different cities with thousands of people attending and millions watching live on TV.

Today, Carolin is a sought after lecturer and podcaster who talks about equality, sustainability, empowerment, the power of dreaming big and how to permanently position yourself outside your comfort zone. 

Due to her engagement and proactivity in encouraging more women to work in the tech industry - and her overall fight for an equal society - Carolin was awarded the title "IT Woman of the Year 2019". In addition to this she has been named "Super Communicator of the Year 2018", "The Great Communication Honor Award 2018", "Challenger of the Year 2017" and finalist for "Future Leader of the Year 2017".

Carolin has a double major in Computer Science and Business, and during her studies she founded a nationwide organisation for entrepreneurship at all universities in Sweden - Unipreneurs Network - as well as initiated Sweden’s biggest entrepreneur hackathon for students, Create Squared.  We caught up with Carolin for an interview.

Photo: Marilia Bognandi

Tell us a little bit about you goals, what would you like to accomplish?

My goal is to save the world. That might sound silly, but that's what I'm aiming for. I don't know how yet, but everything I do is a step in that direction. "Saving the world" is a big mission, and looking at the world and our society, there is a lot of things that needs to be saved. Environmental issues, poverty, animal cruelty, inequality and the list goes on. I want to be part in solving at least one of these issues. I know that won't happen today or next week, but by always having that mission in the back of my head, I know that all my decisions will lead me in that direction. 

If you wouldn’t have chosen this job and business, what do you think you would work with? 

I've always wanted to become an actress or an author. I like to think, and hope, that if I hadn't been working in the tech industry, I would have followed one or both of those passions. 

What would say are the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your journey? 

I'm suffering from depression and that is something I've been struggling with all my life. Sometimes I'm the happiest woman alive, and then there are episodes of my life where I can't see the meaning with anything. When I have that "down time" I find it very hard to motivate myself to keep doing everything that I'm doing, and most of my energy goes to coping with myself and my feelings. I think this is why it is so important for me to work with something with a true purpose, and that's why my goal is to save the world. Because I know that even when I'm depressed and not feeling great, my motivation for making the world a better place will never disappear. 

What are the top three factors you would attribute to your success?

Firstly, surprisingly maybe, my depression. Because of it, I always seek happiness. Whatever I do in life is a result of me trying to find something that makes me happy. I see so many people trying to be successful by all the wrong reasons, some of them succeed, some of them fail. But in the end, they're not happy. Not all the money or acknowledgment in the world can buy you happiness. Due to that, I feel that I can't fail, because as long as I do things that makes me happy, I'm doing the right thing.

Secondly, as a result of being driven by happiness, I've always been quite daring. I've done a lot of stuff that has had a high risk of failing (and many have). You can't win big if you not take high risks. I think that if you're to focused on your career and "making the right strategic choice", you'll most likely be less risk averse. If you want to be successful, you have to find a way to stand out from the crowd, and that means doing things that no one else has done before.

Thirdly, I've never been afraid of getting my hands dirty. I got my first job when I was 12 years old, and have been working hard ever since. Working as a sailor for 9 years taught me a lot about that. When you're on a boat you have to do your job no matter what the circumstances. Even if the weather is horrible and your caught in a storm for weeks, or if you're having a bad day or feeling sick, there is no one else there to do your work for you. When I want something done, or see something I want to change, I'm not waiting around for someone else to fix it, I take matters into my own hands and make stuff happen.

What do you do to get ”in the zone” if you feel out of focus? 

I take a break and go for a walk, on a run or goes to the gym. To be outside getting some fresh air and some sunlight is the best way for me to find my focus again. 

What is your best memory? 

When I was 22 I lived in a Maya village in the jungle of Belize. There I met a woman named Fredrika. She was 27 at the time and a mother of 3. She invited me to her home and asked me all types of questions about my life. "How does it feel to ride a train?" "How does it feel like flying an airplane?". She told me of her dream of building a second floor on the hut she was living in, which felt like such an innovative thought to have while sitting there in the middle of the jungle. She took out a big piece of paper on which she had painted her business plan, which she told me about. In the village where she lives, the Indians made a living by the cacao field they owned. Fredrika had realised that the cacao beans they sold, was then made into chocolate. So she thought; why not make the chocolate myself? She had started making her own chocolate bars and told me that she had a friend living 2 hours away that had a computer and internet. She was gonna make a website and distribute her chocolate all over the world.   

Is there something you would like to get better at?

Taking time to celebrate and enjoy the present. I always run very fast, and sometimes I find myself not even taking the time to enjoy everything great that is happening around me, because I'm so focused on what will be happening next. But I'm working hard on being better at that. I actually resigned from my work this week - as Head of Innovation at Nordic Tech House - and will now take some time to just figure out my next steps and focus on my well-being. As mentioned, my main focus is to be happy, and I feel that I need some time for reflection and to understand what makes me happy right now. Humans are not permanent, we're always changing and developing. What made me happy a year ago is necessarily the same as what makes me happy now. 

Do you have any fears?

I'm afraid of being involuntary alone. I'm a true individualist and enjoy my own company as much as I enjoy being with a small group of friends or in a big crowd of people. I have no problem spending a Friday night by myself just reading a book, but that is something I chose. Everytime I hear a story of an old person who died in their home and they didn't find the body until the smell went into the neighbor's apartment, I get so sad. I feel sad for that human and I feel very scared that I will end up like that. That no one will love me or miss me. 

How are you as a leader? 

I believe a lot in ownership and taking responsibility. I'm not the type of leader who tells you what to do. I tell you what I need from you, and the rest is up to you to figure out. Whenever we start up a new project at work, we start of with a meeting where I ask everyone with the specific domain expertise how much time they need to solve their specific task and what they need from me and the rest of the team in order to make that happen. By doing so, I give everyone the freedom to work in the way they as the expert finds most effective, but I also put the responsibility on them to keep their word. Everyone own their part of the process. I'm of course always there supporting and helping out when anyone need me. I always make sure to hire the brightest and most talented people I can find, and see myself as the person who just need to make sure we're all moving in the same direction. 

Photo: Marilia Bognandi

10 Quick with Carolin:

Work alone or with a partner?  - With a partner Movies or Series? - Series Sour or salty?  - Salty Pizza or hamburger?  - Pizza Morning or evening?  - Morning MacBook or PC? - MacBook Cat or dog? - Dog Beach life or City life? - City life Apartment or House?  - Apartment Winter or Summer? - Summer



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