A conversation with a former Autodesk Fellow


Lt. Colonel Cataleya “Cat” Carlson recently spent 10 months at Autodesk as part of the Secretary of Defense Fellowship program, designed to provide leadership experience and development for military personnel in the civilian sector.  Although she didn’t know much about Autodesk before she joined the company as a fellow, she quickly became a big fan, particularly for its employee-first focus and commitment to making the world better. Her fellowship also allowed Cat to learn more about the business and technical world.

We recently talked with Cat about her experiences at Autodesk, what she learned during her 10 months with the company, and her military background and proudest accomplishments – so far.

Tell us about your military background.

I grew up as a military brat and traveled the world before I was six. I initially joined the Air Force as a chemist but was concerned with where that career field was taking me.  I saw a flyer at the gym offering a 20-minute ride for $20 in an Aeroclub plane and decided to check it out.  I instantly fell in love with flying and spent the next year dedicated to getting my pilot’s license.  I got selected for pilot training and I’ve been a C-130 pilot since 2009. Some of my military highlights are circumnavigating the world twice in a C-130 and my overseas assignments in Japan. I’ve been told people in Autodesk will be the highlight of my career second only to my time commanding a squadron in Japan.

Talk about your role as a fellow at Autodesk.

My fellowship at Autodesk was a welcome pause from the constant churn of the military. It’s good to have a break from that pressure and experience something I haven’t done yet in my professional life. I’ve been in the military for 19 years and I grew up in a military family so that’s all I knew.

I wasn’t familiar with what a tech company does or the practice of foresight. After seeing what the Autodesk strategic foresight team does, I recognized some areas of potential improvement for the military regarding its own foresight practice. I intend to continue working with the team to develop a curriculum or best-practices to share with military officers.

How did you learn about this opportunity at Autodesk?

As part of the Senior Service College with the military, I could apply for certain programs ranging from the War College to Foreign School exchanges to multiple different fellowships. There were 17 fellows competitively selected for this track and we each had to rank our top choices based on which companies offered fellowships. I spent a lot of time looking at the list and after doing more research, Autodesk quickly moved to the top of my list. As I learned more about the company, I respected the vision, the mission, the purpose of Autodesk. And once I joined Autodesk, I realized it wasn’t all smoke and mirrors. Everyone I ran into really wants to make a positive change in the world and they’re working hard towards that.

What was a highlight of your time at Autodesk?

I talked often with other fellows at different companies and bragged about how great Autodesk is. When I got to host them, it was fun to show off how awesome Autodesk is. They got the full San Francisco experience and got to see how Autodesk is driving change in the world in a positive way while also taking care of their people.

What’s your proudest accomplishment so far?

While I love my military career and the education I’ve pursued, I’m most proud of being an aunt to my five nieces and one nephew who really look up to me. My brother’s two youngest girls are attached to my hip when I visit them, and I’m proud to inspire and support them in anything from sports to flying airplanes to pursuing their education goals! One of the best parts of my Autodesk fellowship was being so close to my family and getting to spend more time with them.

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