A Q&A with Karen Terrell, Adobe’s Vice President of Public Sector

March 19, 2019

Last year, Karen Terrell, Adobe’s Vice President of Public Sector, was named onto FedScoop’s list of Top 50 Influencers and Trusted Advisors to the US Federal Government. We connected with Karen for an intimate interview to learn more about her role at Adobe, how it felt to be honored on the prestigious list, and her background as a competitive swimmer.

Thanks for chatting with me, Karen. First of all, what initially drew you to join Adobe?

I’d been curious about Adobe for years. At my former job, I even had some reps leave my team to come to Adobe and I wondered why. I knew there must be something I was missing! So when I got a call from Adobe, I took it out of curiosity. After just the first call, I understood this isn’t the Adobe most people think of. I’ve always worked for software companies whose products are “back office” so one reason Adobe became so interesting to me is because the technology is citizen facing. We have a direct relationship with citizens and that’s very appealing. And not just citizens, but active duty military and civil servants as well. Even the sixteen-year-old who dreams of being a Marine. She goes to and has an amazing Adobe experience learning how she can make her dream a reality.  Adobe really can transform how Americans interact with their government and that really excited me.

Once you joined Adobe, what were you most surprised about?

I don’t think I’ve ever worked in a place where people work really hard and are happy at the same time! All the employees here are energized by the hard work.

As the Vice President of Public Sector, what are your responsibilities and who are some of your customers?

In my role, I lead a team that’s focused on leveraging the innovation and power of Adobe technology to support the missions of federal, state and local government organizations. We have customers in all 50 states at the township, city, county and state level. The government’s mission is very diverse.

What are your long term goals at Adobe?

I think of this in terms of internal and external Adobe.  Internally, the team is poised for a growth spurt which is going to be very exciting. Externally, my goal is to be the de facto standard across our government for digital modernization and transformation. I want every citizen and every employee in the government to have amazing experiences with Adobe technology. We can make obtaining services like renewing your driver’s license or filing a claim with social security a breeze. The better the experience is, the more people are engaged and want to get involved with the government.

You were recently named onto FedScoop’s list of Top 50 Influencers and Trusted Advisors to the US Federal Government. How does it feel to be honored?

It’s a huge honor, and that’s because I’m put in a category with industry leaders I’ve been interacting with for over 25 years! I don’t think of them as peers—they’re icons in the industry. To be thought of in a similar way is humbling.

What is the best career advice you ever received?

Two things. First, show up. That means being there for your customers and with your team. You have to show up and be in the game every day. Secondly, and this is cliché but so true, find and hire great people. When you hire talented people, the rest takes care of itself. One of the traits I look for is an acute sense of curiosity—I’ve found these people are relentless in solving customer issues.  

Lastly, I know you have a background as a competitive swimmer. Can you tell me about that and what got you first involved?

I started when I was six years old. I had a lot of energy and I remember there was this cute lifeguard named Randy.  He thought if I could channel some of that energy, I might be a good swimmer, so I tried it and ended up on the team! I swam competitively through college and beyond. It started very innocently but it absolutely shaped the person I am today. Swimming is about discipline and hard work. It’s a lot of grunt work and requires a lot of grit—we worked out more than our college football team! It’s also a really interesting sport because even though there’s an individual component to it, there’s also a team aspect. You win races as an individual, but you win relays and meets as a team, which is very similar to how a sales team works. Everyone has a role, everyone needs to pull their weight and when the whole team is in sync it can be pretty amazing.

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