An Interview with Carol Bartz
Photo of Carol Bartz

Interview by Jill Wolfson, San Jose Mercury News; and Monique Talitenu
School

Interview photos by Len Lahman, San Jose Mercury News

Transcribed by Jean Ricket, Tech Museum volunteer


Monique Talitenu

Carol Bartz, 48, became chairwoman of the board and CEO of Autodesk Inc., the world's fourth-largest PC-software company, in 1992. Since her arrival, the Sausalito-based company has increased its net revenues from $285 million to more than $534 million.

Prior to joining Autodesk, Bartz was vice president of worldwide field operations and an executive officer of Sun Microsystems, where she worked for 10 years.

Before that, Bartz held product line and sales management positions at other high-tech companies. She is an honors graduates in computer science from the University of Wisconsin and has an honorary doctor of science degree from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

The mother of an eight-year-old daughter, Bartz spoke with writer Joyce Gemperlein and high-school student Monique Talitenu from her Marin County office.

Talitenu :   You went to college at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in the 1960s. What was your college experience like?
Bartz :   Well, I was getting a computer science degree at the time that was considered establishment. Wisconsin was very active in Vietnam War protests. It was a wild time to be in college. But I must say I look back at it -- as we all probably do -- fondly. I look back at the experience both in learning the political activism side as well as really getting a great education.

Gemperlein: So you did both?

Bartz: You could not be politically inactive in Wisconsin.

Gemperlein:. Did you demonstrate against the war?

Bartz:. I did.

Gemperlein: Were you arrested?

Bartz: No, no, no. I wasn't that active.

Gemperlein: Do you have any arrests you want to tell us about right now?

Bartz: No! (laughing)

Talitenu :   What's the first computer of any kind that you ever laid eyes on?
Bartz :   The first computer that I laid eyes on was an IBM 1620, and that is an old punch-paper-tape computer.

It was in 1967. And it turned me around. I was headed down a path of getting a math degree. Unfortunately, that would have probably meant being a teacher, which I doubt I was as qualified for as I should have been. So I took my first computer class, and I was hooked.

Gemperlein :   By the way, what does it say about you in your high school yearbook?
Bartz :   Oh, my heavens. My high school was in -- it was Elma High School -- in Elma, Wisconsin. There were 50 graduates in my class, biggest class ever, then and now. It was so small. My home town is actually smaller than my company, AutoDesk.

I loved math. I just loved it. I think, frankly, what happened is nobody told me that I wasn't supposed to like it or wasn't supposed to be good at it, which I think happens a lot -- way too often -- with young girl.
It had only 800 people. . . .I don't recall what it says about me. I was class president and cheerleader and majorette, and all those sorts of things. But in a small school, everybody has to do everything.

Gemperlein: Were you from a big family?

Bartz: No. I have a brother. I was raised by my grandparents. So it was a nice, small Wisconsin farming community.

Talitenu :   Can you pinpoint in your childhood when you got interested in math or computer-type things like math and science?
Bartz :   It's hard to pinpoint. I think I always was. My daughter's in 3rd grade, and just recently I was going through my old report cards and I found my 3rd grade report card. And the teacher had noted that I was the best math student in the class.

Did you ever have problems with self-esteem?
Sure. I still do.
I loved math. I just loved it. I think, frankly, what happened is nobody told me that I wasn't supposed to like it or wasn't supposed to be good at it, which I think happens a lot -- way too often -- with young girl.
Talitenu :   Did you ever have problems with self-esteem?
Bartz :   Sure. I still do.

Talitenu: How do you deal with it?

Bartz: I would consider it more as self-confidence than as self-esteem. I think a bit of low self-confidence is healthy because it keeps you on your toes; it keeps you trying to do better; it keeps you trying to improve yourself and in a lot of ways. I think where a lack of self-confidence or low self-esteem gets debilitating is when people start thinking that they can't be good at anything. And that everybody's somehow better, everybody's talking about them. I don't recall that part personally. And perhaps it was because I came from a pretty small environment where I don't recall that much of that going on.

Gemperlein :   Is it OK to fail?
Bartz :   Oh! You must fail! You must fail. If you don't fail, you don't know the degrees of success. It's like, say, skiing. You have to fall down to learn how to be a better skier. I happen to be a big gardener, and if you don't kill a lot of plants along the way, you don't know how to garden. (It's the same) if you don't have failures in school, in business. I'll give you an example.

I graduated with an A+ average in high school, so I thought I was pretty big stuff. And I went to college, and my first exam in Honors History, I got a D. I had never gotten a D. I think I had gotten one B in my life. And I had gotten a D on this first exam.


I think a bit of low self-confidence is healthy because it keeps you on your toes; it keeps you trying to do better; it keeps you trying to improve yourself and in a lot of ways.
I could not believe it. I didn't know what went wrong. It was one essay question. Obviously, I didn't know how to do a one-essay question test, and I blew it. And it really made me sit back and say: 'Oh, my gosh. There's always a possibility of not doing well here. So I better concentrate a little bit more.'

I think failure's a very important part of life.

Talitenu :   Did you read a lot?
Bartz :   I read constantly. I used to check out as many books as I could carry from the library, and read two or three books a day.

Gemperlein: Do you read the same type of things now?

Bartz: No, no. That was then, and now is now. I, ah. I read periodical; I always read the news.

I read the hot business book kind of thing. And then once a year on vacation, I try to pick up some kind of irrelevant novel to read. Yeah, yeah. Trash. Well, one person's trash is another person's --you know, what do they say? -- jewel or something.

Gemperlein: When you were a kid, what did you read? Tom Swift? Nancy Drew?


Oh! You must fail! You must fail. If you don't fail, you don't know the degrees of success.

Bartz: Oh, I did a lot of Cherry Ames. Nancy Drew. Now I'm showing my age. Loved mysteries. Loved biographies and autobiographies.

Did a lot of reading on the queens in the British empire and a lot of reading on the czars in Russia. I don't know what got me into the historical stuff but I really enjoyed that.

Gemperlein :   When you were in high school science classes, did you ever blow anything up? Or at home? Did you ever . . .start a fire?
Bartz :   No. I don't think I ever blew anything up. I mean a lot of times I didn't get the right results. But I don't recall ever getting close to having that kind of accident.