This article is part of an ongoing series to highlight and promote the technician career — demonstrating to kids, parents, and teachers how becoming a technician is a rewarding career path that can be lucrative and open the door to many opportunities within the industry. Are you a technician who would like to be spotlighted? Sign up!
Name: Carolyn C.
Location: San Francisco, CA
Job Title: CEO, Shop-Ware
Industry Experience: 20 Years
Technician Spotlight: Carolyn C.
How did you get started in the automotive industry?
I don’t have technicians in my family. When I finished my degree at the University of Michigan, I had a problem with my car, and I was helpless. I thought to myself, what did I just spend four years of my life doing if I can’t do anything practical on this car I depend upon? I ended up going to night school for auto repair, and not only did I fall in love with the work, but I met an instructor who was very articulate. I thought, if this guy could be a mechanic, I could be a mechanic. It felt like he had how the world worked in a crystal ball, and I was immediately drawn in. I ended up going to work for him at his shop, and started by taking out the trash because I didn’t have any experience. I decided to move to California to specialize in hybrid and electric vehicles. I established my own repair shop specializing in hybrid and electric cars. I founded a software company where I am still the CEO called Shop-Ware. There are so many things you can do inside of this business. Auto repair is one of the few occupations where you get to help people every single day. You either fix the car, or you don’t. You can get away from all the corporate office situations that can prohibit you from really feeling like you’re making a difference. For folks looking for something real, impactful, and exciting, this is a tremendous industry to get involved in.
What is Shop-Ware, and how did you start it?
I built a software to run my repair shop back when I founded it in 2007. We wanted to align with the culture of iPhones and hybrid cars. When we looked at the existing systems out there, we knew these wouldn’t work, and it wouldn’t provide for our customers. I created a cloud-based, paperless, online management system to run the business. It didn’t have a lot of the things Shop-Ware has today, but it did what we had originally hoped it would do. When this business got scaled up and we were doing the best we could, I thought, “Do I want to invest in more stores, open more repair shops, or go start a new project?” I thought software was going to be so easy compared to starting a new shop. Of course, jokes on me, right? I started this in 2013, six years after founding the repair shop. We’ve got a network of cutting edge repair shops that are able to take some of the learning I had early on and extend it to their customers everywhere. A lot of folks have a very limited view of what shop management is about, and I’m of the opinion you need to have higher expectations.
What is your favorite part of being a technician?
I am no longer a technician, and I miss it very much. If I didn’t have other responsibilities, I would totally be in the shop wrenching. When you fix cars you get to actually do something real, and you get to help people every single day. Software is a big project, and you work on it for years and maybe someone says thank you. You give the car to a customer and have them say thank you. It makes you feel awesome. There are very few occupations that have this type of substance to them, and doing something that is making a difference for folks on a daily basis. There are a lot of really great people in this industry. I think the reason is because folks tend to gravitate towards this type of work. You come across really dedicated people and that’s what keeps you — the people you get to connect with.
What do you wish more people, especially high schools, knew about the profession?
Part of the reason the industry is struggling to pull in more folks is because auto repair has become more invisible. There are two components there. You used to fix cars at gas stations, and that’s not the case anymore. You don’t always see people fixing cars. The car hasn’t helped at all either. It says check engine, but doesn’t mean check engine. You’re basically driving an iPhone. You look at Tesla and these new cars and they have screens and a synthetic driving experience. This is starting to be the most complicated technology I’m going to experience in my life. The struggle for folks to really appreciate what you’re doing is to try and gain visibility, and invest in local high school programs. We need to expose them to what our work really is. At ShopWare, of course, that’s our mission — to pull back the curtain and help the general public see what technicians are doing everyday so you can understand why we’re telling you you need it. Visibility is key. I would absolutely recommend this industry. I think it’s incredibly satisfying to do this work, and auto repair is one of these very unique experiences which allows you to do something meaningful and real.
What can we do internally as an industry to keep people involved?
We treat the young folks poorly. We’re not nurturing younger people and young talent. It all boils down to repair shops not being profitable enough. That’s why they treat people poorly. They don’t have the resources to help them. Having a mentorship program, and getting them excited in your business will help these folks and get them to the next level.
If you knew a kid that wanted to go into the industry but his or her parents or teachers were telling them to go into a four-year college, what would you tell the parents?
Everyone knows Tesla is cool, and their cars are complicated. Cars are tech companies, and the car was the original mobile device. It is in humans’ best interest to minimize the automobile because then it’s less scary. You’ll have whatever your passion is that justifies why you’re drawn to it. You can say it’s a phase or a fleeting interest, but I find engineering or some of the more traditional paths are more disconnected. I don’t know that getting into automotive is unfashionable anymore, and I think auto repair has gotten cool and exciting again.
What advice would you give to people looking to join this industry?
It’s very mysterious, because the work is complicated and cars are getting more and more complex. There is more of a barrier to entry. They still have this antiquated view. It’s the 70’s, and you get grease all over your face and that’s how you work on a car. Realistically, you need to understand the business, understand the cars, technology, and you need to get into a training path. The best way to do that is to get involved in a local training program or community college, and get some training and work at a shop for a while, and learn what happens in a shop. It can be hard to find a good shop, especially for women, that is going to be inviting, welcoming, and secure. It might take some time to find a repair shop that is committed to your success. If you’re not putting your hands on a car, you’re not learning.
Any final thoughts?
Thank you for what you’re doing. This is part of the visibility, communication, and bringing it forward to folks. It’s definitely a team effort, and I think what you’re doing is very important.