From Pixar to people: How Katelin Holloway’s career brought her to Reddit
Katelin Holloway, vice-president of people and culture, Reddit. Image: HR Tech World

From Pixar to people: How Katelin Holloway’s career brought her to Reddit

11 Dec 2017907 Views

Careers editor Jenny Darmody caught up with Reddit’s VP of people and culture, Katelin Holloway, to discuss Pixar, taking a pay cut for her dream job and Reddit’s non-negotiable salaries.

We all end up on different career paths that lead us to our passion. Some of us know it straight out of school. Others explore the world to discover what they really want from life.

Meanwhile, others have to experience a number of different industries and careers to figure out their calling. Katelin Holloway is one such example and Siliconrepublic.com caught up with her at HR Tech World earlier this year.

Holloway is currently the vice-president of people and culture at Reddit, and she has an extremely colourful career background.

Her CV includes working in law enforcement, teaching and, what many might consider a dream job, script supervisor at Pixar.

Finding her dream job

“Every step along the way, I took the job that was right for right now, not necessarily the grand plan, because I didn’t have one,” said Holloway.

“As I developed in my career, I took a series of right turns and every single time I took one, I thought, ‘Oh, this is it. This is my destination, this is what I want to do.’”

She said that once she landed at Pixar, she thought she had found her forever job. While she loved it there, she knew the role itself wasn’t what she wanted to do.

‘There were quite literally puppy dogs and rainbows and candy’
– KATELIN HOLLOWAY 

“When I made the very hard decision to leave Pixar, it was really more around structuring my story and what the common denominator was.”

After taking the time, she said she was able to say: “It’s people. I love people and I want to be of service and I want to help people along their journey.”

So, Holloway completely overhauled her CV to downplay the roles she had and focus on the things she had done in those roles that reflected people operations.

Company culture

People might easily draw conclusions about what it might be like to work at Pixar based on its family-friendly vibes.

“Certainly, working for Pixar was a dream and it was everything that people would expect from the outside,” said Holloway. “There were quite literally puppy dogs and rainbows and candy. It was a very carefree, childlike environment where people could be creative.”

Similarly, Reddit is an enduring icon of the internet age, so it’s natural for people to have perceptions about what it’s like to work at the company when its product is so outward-facing.

However, Holloway said she believed there was a preconceived notion about what the team at Reddit was like in terms of demographic or personality, but it didn’t ring true compared to Pixar. “Reddit has changed my perception,” she said.

Using her background

With such a diverse career background, it might not seem like Holloway could use much of her previous experience in the HR industry she’s in now.

However, she said her varied career history has often bled into her jobs in tech and people operations.

“The first job that I had in tech was for a company called Klout,” she said. “Without even knowing my law enforcement background, the team almost immediately started calling me the sheriff because I was firm but fair in the way that I operated.”

Now in Reddit, Holloway finds herself using her teaching skills a lot more: “Being able to think back to my curriculum-building days and how I would design something in the way that I would when I was teaching.

“I’m tapping a lot more into my education days, building our learning and development programmes because that’s something that is really important to us right now,” she said.

Taking a pay cut for a job

When Holloway found her way to Pixar, she had to take a pay cut but, because it was Pixar, she was happy to take the cut.

Often, jumping into new industries or finding a way into your dream job can mean you have to take a drop in your salary. Holloway said the first thing anyone has to think about before taking a pay cut is to make sure it’s feasible.

‘I highly recommend [taking a pay cut] but make sure you can afford it’
– KATELIN HOLLOWAY

“First and foremost, we need to take care of ourselves. So, do the maths, figure out what you can and can’t afford,” she said.

“For me, it was a very humbling experience,” she said.

People often associate where they expect to be in life with the level of compensation they are getting. However, it was a good career move for Holloway because, not only did she earn her way back to where she thought she should be, but taking the cut helped change her perspective on her own career.

“Instead of focusing on money as success, [you should be] focusing on development as success,” she said. “I highly recommend it, but make sure you can afford it.”

Non-negotiable salaries

Reddit operates a no-negotiation policy with salaries. “I experienced it first as a candidate,” said Holloway. “Something that I am personally very bad at is negotiating on behalf of myself.”

She recalls what she thought was her first salary negotiation with the CEO of Reddit. He asked her what her salary expectations were and she told him what she was currently at. “I more or less was asking not to take a pay cut.”

Holloway warned that this was certainly not the right approach for people negotiating their own salary: “You should definitely take a class on negotiation,” she laughed.

Holloway received her job offer letter from Reddit a few days later. It came with a significantly higher salary than what she was currently earning.

“They said: ‘We pay our executives at x level, it’s a non-negotiation, so congratulations.’” This made her feel valued for her work before she even started.

“It was a very lovely thought that I would be paid according to my peers and according to the industry, as opposed to how well I could or could not fight in favour of myself.”

She said that while the non-negotiable salary system has its flaws, she believes the perks outweigh them. “I’m not concerned at all now about my pay being leaked internally. People understand that we pay fairly,” she said. “Everything is mathematical as opposed to emotional, which feels really good.

“Do we lose candidates because of it? Sometimes, yes, but we are at the stage where we want to attract true leaders, so it’s a trade-off we’re willing to make.”

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny is the Careers Editor at Siliconrepublic.com, although she prefers to be known as Careers Overlord. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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