inspiration · women who reign

Women Who Reign: Kacey Coughlin

“Cherish forever what makes you unique, cuz you’re really a yawn if it goes.” -Bette Midler

Tell us about yourself along with a fun fact!
I’m currently a UI Engineer at LinkedIn in Mountain View, prior to that I was a Web Developer at a few small companies in San Diego. I work on the Internal Tools team, where I essentially wear 3 hats: developer, designer, and PM. I went to UCSD for Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts, and have an AA in Visual Arts. I am an active member of LinkedIn’s Women in Tech group, as well as their Accessibility Task Force. I also speak at conferences from time to time.

Fun Fact: Cats love cucumbers. LOVE them. If you have a cat, you should get a cucumber, wait until the cat is busy eating, and place the cucumber on the floor slightly behind the cat. You can thank me later.

What # would define your life journey?
A hashtag? Do I have to? Ok, fine, uh, #hashtag. Is that too trolly? Ok, #DIY. Wait no, #lifehacks. Wait, #hacktheplanet— that one makes me laugh. Ok I’m done.

Favorite website / app:
Well, before I go to my favorite, I feel I should list some honorable mentions:

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, I think my favorite non-work website is Reddit. My favorite app, or the app I’m the most addicted to? I think my favorite app might be Monument Valley; that game is beautiful. The app I probably use the most is Swarm. Yes, I have to check in everywhere I go, collect as many useless coins as I can, just to sit on them and do nothing. And I like saying “I’m the Mayor of this place!”

Someone who inspires you and knowledge they have imparted (if any):
I’m sure most people who know me are expecting me to say Steve Jobs, but no! I’m not really inspired by celebrities or traditionally famous people, they always seem to be in a separate, bizarro world that I cannot relate to.

I’m inspired by people I know and work with. Beau Smith, Chris Eppstein, and Jonathan Snook are awesome with CSS and functional styling. Nathan Hammond is like an Ember and Javascript wizard who consistently blows my mind. John Lewis is a ridiculous fount of tech knowledge, with virtually unending compassion for others and doing what is right. Gloria Kimbwala is an unstoppable force for women and minorities that all companies should be taking notes from. Brett Stalbaum and Beth Simon are wonderful professors at UCSD who seem to always know just what to say to push me further. My sister, Keegan Kistenmacher, is an amazing mother and caretaker who I am secretly taking notes from for later use. And so many more people that I love dearly, and slowly make me a better person just through knowing them.

Song that makes you want to dance:
Both dancing and singing tends to happen whenever I hear Rio by Duran Duran, or Zombie by The Cranberries.

Technical challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it:
I think the biggest technical challenge I’ve faced was actually getting a job in tech. Sure, it’s hard for everyone to get work in The Valley, it’s not unlike making it in Hollywood; but given my background, upbringing, and age, I consider myself extremely lucky to be where I am today, doing what I’m doing. Also disclaimer: I am white, and my life has not been as hard as it could have been; I do not mean undermine or discount anyone else’s experience. I have had to ‘put my balls on the table’ at every place I’ve worked, and establish my expertise, just as I know a lot of women have had to do if they want to be respected or trusted in the workplace.

My parents divorced when I was 12, and I am the oldest of 4 children in my family. When my dad left, it quickly became my job to fill the void of the missing parent. We spent a few years on food stamps and WIC checks, and I worked as much as I could doing whatever I could. My parents never went to college, worked very blue collar jobs their whole lives, and I didn’t know what to look for in a college when it came time to look. I worked full time while I went to college, or some semesters full time. I wasted a lot of time trying to figure things out, feeling like an outsider in most areas.

When I was finally accepted to UCSD at the age of 26, I felt out of place since I was both much older than my classmates, and came from a much poorer background. You don’t see a lot of ‘low income’ students at the University level, they tend to drop off at the Junior or State College level. Since I was older and working full time, I couldn’t afford to do any internships, which seemed more and more like the gateway to getting any decent job in tech. It was also taking me far longer to finish than my classmates who weren’t working, and as they all filed up to the Bay Area, I felt like I would never make it out.

When I was accepted into Square’s Code Camp, I was in shock. I didn’t want to tell them they had made a mistake (because clearly they had: I wasn’t a full time student, and I was way older), but I also really, REALLY wanted to go to San Francisco. When I told coworkers that I was accepted into and was going to Code Camp, they laughed. I was already working a full time job for a Semiconductor, why was I going backwards, to this ‘camp’ that is probably meant for people much younger than I? Out of 20 women engineers, I was astonished to find I was one of two over the age of 25. Hell, over the age of 30! Code Camp was a great experience, and really solidified that this was what I wanted to do: be an engineer in Silicon Valley.

When I finally got a call from Google, I also got a call from LinkedIn. No, they didn’t literally call me, no one does that anymore. I had interviewed with tons of companies in the past, but none of them prepared me for these interviews. This was the Big Leagues; and I studied as if this was the Final Exam on my life. I ran through Javascript and HTML 101 tutorials online, I researched typical interview questions on Quora, Glassdoor, Github, Google, and StackOverflow. I read Cracking the Coding Interview twice. I could whiteboard a function for the Fibonacci sequence at the drop of a hat.


When I received the offer from LinkedIn, I was over the moon. Of my family and friends, few people truly knew just how big of an accomplishment this was. It was like I was going from a no-name college team to play for the Los Angeles Clippers, and my name is Grant Hill. Ok, maybe that’s a bad analogy. To anyone who wasn’t technical, I had just gotten a new job. To anyone who was technical, or kept up with tech news, I had somehow hit the Konami code of life and skipped 2 to 3 income brackets. I had broken out of the low income quagmire that traps so many people, and ensure that my kids will have a better life than I did.

Ideal Job:
My dream job has changed several times over the course of my career. At one point, I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything other than acting, specifically as a cast member on SNL. Then I was going to be a lead penciler for Marvel Comics. Then it was all about working for Apple, doing anything really. But as I learn more and grow my skill set, that naturally changes what I want to do.

I want to be a leader in a technical capacity and inspire others to push themselves further than they thought possible. This isn’t really connected to any specific role or company. I like to think I’m good with people, communicate well, and know enough about a wide range of topics that I could reasonably do a good job leading a team. Being a subject matter expert for a particular area of tech, skill set, or particular job sounds like the most fulfilling thing I could think of.

What knowledge would you impart to women in order for them to REIGN their lives?
Trust your gut and do what makes you happy, or at the very least comfortable. I think women especially have a hard time putting themselves first, and work harder at making other happy. I know I did for far too long, and it feels like I wasted a good chunk of my life doing so. There is a difference between doing something that scares you because it feels wrong, and something that scares you  because it’s new and uncharted territory. They might both make you feel sick to your stomach, but there is a small difference there; and the sooner you can recognize that, the sooner you will be conquering the world around you.

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