In today’s working world, a common question that weighs on employees’ minds across the board is how to be promoted. From putting in long hours to taking on extra tasks, it’s safe to say that most of us know no bounds when it comes to moving up the ladder. But Catherine Ulrich, chief product offer at Shutterstock, took a more straight forward approach: “Instead of worrying about whether or not I would get promoted, I was completely focused on my job—which is solving problems. This, in turn, helped me move up.”
While it can be difficult to let things unfold organically, Catherine’s focused approach has taken her through every promotion from director of financial planning to senior vice president of product strategy at Weight Watchers, to her current role at Shutterstock, one of America’s fastest growing tech companies. Today she’s giving us her best tips on seeing the same steady growth in our own careers, what she looks for when interviewing candidates for her team, and her experience on being a woman in the tech field.
Name: Catherine Randolph Ulrich
Location: Upper East Side, New York
Current Title/Company: Chief Product Officer at Shutterstock
Education: B.A. in engineering from Harvard University and a Certificate in Public Health Policy from Harvard School of Public Health in conjunction with Harvard College
What was your first job out of college and how did you land it?
After graduating, I took a job as a business analyst for a strategy consulting firm in New York. I applied for the job through a career fair at my university.
I accepted any and all tasks, and frantically worked late hours trying to produce flawless work by the sometimes impossible deadlines. Needless to say, I burnt out pretty fast.
What is one thing you wish you had known before you started your first job?
Like most young professionals starting out in their career, I was eager to make a great first impression and “wow” my new colleagues and manager. I accepted any and all tasks, and frantically worked late hours trying to produce flawless work by the sometimes impossible deadlines. Needless to say, I burnt out pretty fast.
Since then, I’ve learned the difference between what’s important and what’s urgent. Dwight Eisenhower hit the nail on the head with his quote: “Urgent things are not always important, and important things are almost never urgent.” I’m a huge believer in to-do lists. If something has been on my to-do list for a couple weeks and I haven’t done it, I’ve learned that thing should probably come off the list or it needs to be delegated properly.
You began work at Weight Watchers as a business analyst in 2006, and steadily worked your way through the ranks to senior vice president and finally chief product officer. Did you actively seek each promotion or did you allow things to unfold organically?
I believe that if you work hard and stay focused, people will notice. Instead of worrying about whether or not I would get promoted, I was completely focused on my job—which is solving problems. This in turn helped me move up.
If you work hard and stay focused, people will notice.
Did you ultimately know that you wanted to work your way up to CPO when you started at Weight Watchers or was it a goal that came to you over time?
I didn’t even know what product was when I first joined Weight Watchers! What I did know, was that I’ve always been passionate about solving problems—and that is exactly what someone in product does. Again, I believe that the key is to work hard and stay focused. Things will happen organically.
In December of 2014, you joined Shutterstock as their chief product officer—the same position that you held at Weight Watchers. When do you think a lateral career move makes the most sense, in terms of your title and responsibilities? How does your role at Shutterstock vary from your previous one at Weight Watchers?
I think it varies. In my case, I had been at Weight Watchers for eight years when the opportunity at Shutterstock came up and while it might appear to be a lateral move, moving into an entirely new industry was an exciting challenge for me. I believe Shutterstock has the potential to disrupt the industry again and I wanted to be a part of it.
Shutterstock also encompasses a number of brands and collections. In addition to our core Shutterstock brand, we also own Bigstock, a value-oriented stock media agency; Offset, a high-end image collection; PremiumBeat, a curated royalty-free music library; Rex Features, a premier source of editorial images for the world’s media; and WebDAM, a cloud-based digital asset management solution for businesses.
Tell us how you landed this position! What are your primary responsibilities as CPO at Shutterstock?
I actually landed this position though my mentor. He left Weight Watchers to join Shutterstock and connected me to the team. Sometimes I think of chief product officer as “chief experience officer.” I’m responsible for all of the products and experiences that we sell and constantly improving them. This includes running the product and UX team across all our brands and businesses.
How can a candidate who applies to work with you stand out in the interviewing process? Anything they should not do?
There are four things I look for when interviewing candidates: 1) Did the candidate do their research ahead of time about our company and industry? 2) Does the candidate have new ideas about how we can improve? 3) Is the candidate passionate about our product? and 4) Does the candidate give direct answers in response to questions?
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Building products that make people’s lives easier is the most rewarding part of my job.
In a field that is thought of as being predominantly male, have you encountered any related obstacles in advancing your career? If so, how did you handle them?
Personally, I haven’t felt any discrimination as a female in tech. In fact, two of my mentors are male, and they’ve been instrumental in furthering my career by pushing me to pursue opportunities. That said, I think that confidence is key. Don’t hold yourself back and make sure you embrace that confidence.
Confidence is key.
What is a typical workday like for you?
In product, there’s no such thing as a typical workday. Most of my day is filled with meetings. I’m always discussing new product releases, reviewing UX, or having one-on-oness with my team. We operate in two-week sprints at Shutterstock, which keeps the pace fast and energetic.
Best moment of your career so far?
Any product launch is exciting for me. Most recently, we launched Shutterstock Editor—a simple and fast way for customers to edit photos before downloading. It’s incredibly fulfilling for me and my team to see a product finally come to life and be used by customers all over the world.
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
Work hard, help others, be humble—and everything will fall into place.
Catherine Ulrich is The Everygirl…
App you can’t live without?
I’m newly addicted to Pocket and love to catch up on articles throughout the day.
I wake up around 6:00 a.m. then try to work out at the gym for 45 minutes. I’m usually done by the time my 19-month-old son Wyatt wakes up at 7:15. My husband makes us coffee while I get ready and I’m usually out the door by 8:00 a.m.
Favorite NYC neighborhood?
My favorite neighborhood is the one I live in—the Upper East Side. There are beautiful parks, playgrounds, museums, tons of activities for kids, and great restaurants… what’s more to love?
Brunch or Dinner?
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
Either Sheryl Sandberg or Grace Hopper. I’d order lobster—but only if they ordered it as well so I am not the only one making a mess cracking open shells!