If you think a lawyer's path is all written in the stars, you may be surprised by the twists and turns in this story.
A lawyer with a French degree and a German heart, Caroline Mollet left everything she had built in over a decade – her flat, her career, and her family – to start anew in Berlin.
If you're searching for your true calling and can't find the courage to pull the plug on what's not working, this is just the pick-me-up you need.
Get comfy. It's a long but worthwhile read.
Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself. What's your role at UP42, and how did you get there?
A: Hmm... Do you want the short or the extended version?
Q: Let's go with the full story!
A: All right! My name is Caroline Mollet, and I am a Senior Operations and Compliance Manager at UP42. I grew up in Troyes, France, with my parents and two sisters. I can already tell you this made me who I am today. My old journals show that I've wanted to be a lawyer since I was a teenager.
In France, in my last year of elementary school, I had to choose between English and German. My grandfather, whose childhood had been affected by the Second World War, used to say that as French, we must be friends with the Germans and understand each other. So, learning German was just what I did.
My parents wanted me to attend a private high school, but there was no German language in the all-girls school. So I went to the all-boys gymnasium. Still, I didn't really want to stay in a private school, and when I saw a public school that offered a specific program on the German language, I thought, "Hey! I want to do that!"
When I decided to go to law school, I didn't want to stay in my hometown, so I looked around to explore other options. I learned you could get a double diploma in French and German in Paris. I didn't want to choose the easier path, so I moved to Paris to study French and German law at the Université Paris Nanterre. And in my fourth year, I did an Erasmus program in Berlin at the Humboldt-Universität. It was the best year, not just at university but in my entire life!
Q: What did you like so much about Berlin?
A: It was so different in 2003. At that time, people were already saying that it was no longer the Berlin of the 80s or 90s, but for me, everything was new. New bars were popping up everywhere, Neukölln wasn't a trendy area yet, and Tempelhof was still an airport. I loved the freedom and the mix of cultures.
It was the first time I met people from Eastern Europe and classmates from different backgrounds. I was out of Paris' bubble of privileged people. Compared to Berlin, where everything changes and is resilient, Paris felt immobile.
Q: What happened after your Erasmus?
A: When I returned from Berlin, I finished law school at the Université de Paris Cité with a major in business law, took the bar exam to become a lawyer and did my two years of articling. The last internship turned into a job offer at a big law firm, and it was one of the most interesting but challenging years of my life. It wasn't a healthy work environment, but I learned a lot from a professional point of view.
I learned to never be afraid of what's coming at you, no matter how difficult it looks. I learned to work in a team. If another intern had to work until 2:00 AM, we all stayed with them to help. I then moved to another law firm that gave me more confidence and responsibility and a more positive experience.
Q: But you had left your heart in Berlin...
A: When you climb the career ladder as a lawyer, at some point, you have to become a partner. That's basically running your own business, and I wasn't sure I was cut out for that. I love to make things happen, but I can't sell or negotiate prices. I discovered the hard way that entrepreneurship was not for me. But that doesn't mean you're bad at what you do! And the sooner you realize and accept that, the sooner you can find your true call.
So I was facing a wall. Do I continue on this path, or do I make a change? That's when I decided to take some time off. Friends were telling me to travel the world, but I just wanted to spend more time where I'd already had the time of my life: in Berlin! So in May 2019, I rented my flat in Paris and moved here.
After a few months of thinking, I started looking for a job. I didn't want to be a lawyer and didn't know if I could even be one here in Germany, so I explored the startup environment and liked it very much! My first work experience was as a legal counsel for a French affiliate in a recruitment agency. For the first time, I worked in an international environment where everything was new. Even terms like "compliance" were new to me! I was like a sponge, soaking up everything I could. It was also the first time I wasn't working with other lawyers, so the human interaction was very different. Nobody could do your job, and everyone had a complementary, essential role.
Unfortunately, as happens in many companies, some people fight, and there was conflict that I didn't want to be a part of. So when I started looking for other positions, I came across UP42. The job ad was a mix of financial skills and compliance. I met some requirements but wasn't sure I could do everything on the task list. But one thing was immediately clear to me: I loved the interview process. For the first time, I was speaking with people from sales, partnerships, product management, and customer support. I talked to the CFO and the CEO. It was great to see how we could fit in and understand each other's expectations.
I like that, at UP42, there are so many people from different backgrounds. We all speak English, but not everyone is a native speaker, so it made me feel more confident during the interview. I wasn't super clear about what I was supposed to do, but I certainly had the energy and curiosity to think, "Let's do it. Let's work together!"
Q: In hindsight, what makes UP42 different from all your other experiences?
A: I was in a lonely one-person team for the first year. Now there is a team around me, and everyone has space to evolve, improve and propose changes. I was surprised to see how easy it was to chat with our CEO, and he would always have 5 minutes to speak. Everyone cares about what they're doing, which always brings positive energy. Of course, we can't be happy all the time, we are not perfect, but I've never heard someone say, "I don't care" or " I don't want to do it". No one seems to be here just to pay the bills. And this energy is contagious, even when times get hard.
Q: And how did you find the geospatial industry? That was also new for you, right?
A: Yeah, I knew nothing about it. I loved that whenever I stumbled upon something I didn't know, people took the time to explain without making me feel silly. They even tried to explain things in a way I could easily understand. Now I know what an API is, and I understand the difference between a frontend and a backend engineer. I learned the important points about how we're building access to data and algorithms and why it's so important. Even if it's not a direct part of my job, I'm curious and want to understand.
Q: What's the most interesting fact about your job?
A: I like to investigate and can do that very quickly. I want to know who our customers are and what they do, and apply our process without letting prejudices or biases interfere. Something I learned during my articling years, and that I'm still doing today, is to approach my job without blinkers, but with an open mind, and double-check everything.
Maybe because I'm a lawyer, I'm used to advising on decision-making. Now, after gaining some experience in a company, I am sometimes in a position to encourage our leaders to make decisions and not just offer suggestions.
Q: Why did you want to become a lawyer in the first place?
A: Because we were all daughters, I feel that it was really important for my parents to make everything possible for us. They encouraged us to be curious, remove all barriers, and care for others. Being the older sister, I was also really caring toward them.
If you think about it, the primary role of a lawyer is to defend. Sometimes you defend people, sometimes businesses. In my case, I have to protect the company in the best possible way, and help our leaders make the right decisions to ensure everyone is safe.
Q: What advice would you give someone starting from scratch as you did?
A: Don't be afraid. If you managed to do something in the past, you can do it again. And if you fail, you're not broken. You have to trust yourself. It's okay if the first job you're taking after a big change is not the one of your dreams. Learn from the experience, even the bad things. And don't be deterred by a job post if it's not perfect for you. There will always be something you can do, and the rest, you can learn. If there's nothing new to learn, then what's the point? We should work to grow, not just to deliver.
Q: What's next for you at UP42?
A: I hope that the company continues to grow steadily. This could also be an opportunity for me to grow, build my team, and learn to delegate. As a former lawyer, I'm too used to working alone. I want to reach a point where I can empower others.
I'd also like to see more women in tech being empowered. I worship our women engineers at UP42, and I have a lot of respect for their strength. They may be fewer in number, but their power is ten times stronger than anybody else in the room.
Q: Any advice for the women in our industry?
A: Be louder! It's not about being an extrovert. You can be shy, but make your voice heard. And for the others, please listen to them.