Queen Mary Alumni

Alumni profile - Natasha Olutayo

There isn’t a one size fits all solution to all the issues faced by the Black community unfortunately because we are living in a system that has taken hundred of years to build. It may take just as long to tear it down, but I think that the process to get there will involve a lot of Black people and communities reclaiming their power and changing our mindset.

(Computer Science BSc, 2017; Computer Science MSc, 2018)

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What did you enjoy most about studying both BSc and MSc Computer Science at Queen Mary and how has your degree remained relevant throughout your life and career?

Everything! It’s hard to pick one thing that I enjoyed most. I absolutely enjoyed all aspects of being a student at Queen Mary studying Computer Science. However, if I had to pick one thing, I would say that I enjoyed having a dedicated study and Lab space (the ITL) where we had the opportunity to relate to students at different levels of their study. I remember being so amazed when I started as a first-year student that I could go up to any Masters' or PhD student at any given time and ask them anything. This space made studying a course like Computer Science worthwhile because it gave me the confidence that if I was ever stuck, there was always someone around that I could go to for help.

I love technology and all things tech, so my degree has remained relevant to my life since I left the University. I have found myself using different aspects of what I learnt throughout my 4 years in my everyday life, my career and side hustles/hobbies. I work in the tech industry professionally and I am currently a Technical Account Manager at a company called Braze. Outside of work, I build websites and I also manage a platform called The Technical Millennial.

What was special about your time at Queen Mary? Were you involved in any sports, societies, or extracurricular activities and if so, how have they contributed to the person you are today? 

One thing that made my time at Queen Mary special was the sense of community that was fostered. I remember that there was always something for everyone. There was even a Cheese society and a Harry Potter society at the time! I took advantage of this sense of community and became the President of the Nigerian Students' Association (NSA) in my second year at Queen Mary. This gave me the opportunity to meet and work with many amazing individuals and allowed me to get involved with activities outside of education. Our society was recognized by the Nigerian High Commission in 2015 and I received an award for our commitment to the welfare and development of Nigerian Students in the United Kingdom. My role as president was not without its challenges, but I learnt many important lessons that have shaped my life as I know it today.

It can be a special feeling to know that I am paving the way for more people like me. The bad in this comes when I start to think of the type of reputation that I have to uphold or the unconscious biases and stereotypes that I have to break down.

Please describe your career path since graduating from Queen Mary and your current role as Technical Account Manager at Braze. What are some of your daily responsibilities in this role?

While I was doing my Masters at Queen Mary, I got my first graduate job offer at a FinTech company in London so I had a job waiting for me right after graduation. I stayed at this company for about a year and 5 months. After this I moved on to another FinTech company where I stayed for a similar amount of time. I am now working at Braze as Technical Account Manager and at the time of answering this, I have been at Braze for 4 months. I know there might be a question on why I moved companies so often (3 times in 3 years) and the simple truth is that the tech industry is such a massive space that it is almost up to you alone to make your own opportunities and find out where your interest lies.

I like to describe my role as being a doctor for technology problems. The main essence of my role is to be a problem solver. I work with customers that are trying to solve complex challenges with Braze’s product every day and when they hit a roadblock or are looking for some guidance on how a specific part of the product works, they come to me / my team and we try to find the best solution for them. A typical day for me loosely involves the following – staying up to date with emails, working on solution requests and documenting technical solutions.

You are also the Founder of and Content Creator for The Technical Millennial. What were your motivations behind founding The Technical Millennial and what inspires the content you produce?

I started The Technical Millennial in May 2020 during the first lockdown. I have always enjoyed writing but stopped for some time and when the coronavirus pandemic hit and the whole world was issued with a lockdown with nowhere for us to go, I had a lot of free time and decided to get back into writing. The challenge I had was deciding what to write about.

I eventually decided to blog about my experience as a woman in tech and The Technical Millennial was born. My vision for the blog at the time was to write about what it felt like to be a woman in tech. However, I had only been in the industry for less than 2 years, so I felt like I did not have much to talk about.

This led to me opening up the platform to become what it is now - a platform where I share the stories of women in tech with the sole purpose of encouraging a younger generation of women to get into tech. I now post interviews I’ve done with women (mostly Black) in tech around the world (on the Website and on Instagram Live) in the hopes of shedding some light on the different paths people take to get into the tech industry and how varied a day-to-day can be for different people and different roles in the industry. I had my first networking style event in August 2021, and I hope to do more of this in the future.

As a technology enthusiast, why are you so passionate about tech and why would you encourage more people, and women in particular, to pursue a career in the tech industry?

The whole world currently revolves around technology. We are living in the future that we all watched in movies and on TV when we were growing up and our imaginations are growing at a faster pace than ever before. There seems to be a new innovation springing up faster than we can post a tik-tok, so how cool would it be to be at the forefront of such an exciting time in our life!? The tech industry is one that will continue to grow and evolve and because of this it is the place to be. With the Technical Millennial, I am focusing more on women because there simply aren’t enough of us in the industry in comparison to our male counterparts and it’s telling in the way some decisions are made in the industry. There is obviously an improvement from where we were 30 years ago, but I believe we still have a long way to go in terms of getting equal numbers across the board. We need that representation where it matters.

What has your experience of the tech industry been like as a woman and a POC? Throughout the different stages of your career to date, have you seen yourself reflected in positions of power? What kind of impact has this had on you?

When I walk into an office, a meeting room, join a work call, or anywhere I find myself in the industry really, it is sometimes painfully obvious to me that I am a woman and a POC. The funny thing is that it feels both good and bad at the same time. It feels good because I can make the conclusion that I am breaking the proverbial glass ceiling. Being seated at a table and being the only woman or the only black woman can sometimes make me feel like “I have made it”. Like I have done what no one else has done before. It can be a special feeling to know that I am paving the way for more people like me. The bad in this comes when I start to think of the type of reputation that I have to uphold or the unconscious biases and stereotypes that I have to break down. It’s a tricky situation to be in especially with the current situation of the world where a lot of companies are now suddenly being all about DEI (Diversity, Equality and Inclusion) and even if you don’t want to think of the fact that you may be a diversity hire, the thought will cross your mind. I think that is inevitable, but I always try to make the conscious effort to remember that I deserve to be in any space that I find myself and that my work will speak for me.

Do you think there needs to be more diversity in the tech industry and if the answer is yes, what, in your opinion, needs to be done to bring about greater diversity and inclusion?

Yes, there needs to be more diversity in the tech industry, and this is similar to any and all industries, I think. In my opinion, companies in the industry first need to be honest with themselves on why diversity and inclusion is important to them. Are they doing it because they want to feel “seen” or because they truly care about all human beings? Are they doing it because it is on trend? Why is it so suddenly important to them? If their reasons are from a genuine place and they are transparent with this, then I think that people will naturally flock to those companies. I have done a lot of job interviews in my time, and I always get excited when I see more than 3 Black employees working at the company I’m interviewing with. How ridiculous is it that the bar is so low that I get so excited for a minimum of 3 Black employees?

So, ultimately, once a company is honest and transparent about their motives, they can then begin to put processes in place to implement what diversity and inclusion means to them.

In my opinion, companies first need to be honest with themselves on why diversity and inclusion is important to them. Are they doing it because they want to feel “seen” or because they truly care about all human beings? Are they doing it because it is on trend?

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Black History Month to me is a time to celebrate and acknowledge the innovation, hard work, sacrifice, contribution and achievement of the black community and our ancestors who came before us. It is also a reminder of how far we have come and how much work there still is to be done in terms of building a society that is welcoming to all human races.

Are there any Black historical figures you wish more people knew about?

I enjoyed learning about Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson and their work at NASA. I was in my third year at Queen Mary when the Hidden Figures movie came out and I remember thinking that I wish I knew about them at an earlier stage in my life. As a young Black woman, their story resonated with me. It's unfortunate that their story was not told until recently.

In your opinion, what are some of the most pressing issues faced by Black communities and what do you think needs to be done to bring about greater equality and racial justice to the Black community?

Some of the most pressing issues faced by Black communities are racial injustice, racial discrimination, and racism in everyday life from education to the workplace. A Black child for some reason or the other is not deemed to be as smart as their counterparts. A Black man/woman can rarely go shopping without being followed by a security officer because of the bias that they might steal something. A Black person being overlooked for a job simply because of their name. These are just some of the stories that I have heard within the Black community.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a one size fits all solution to all the issues faced by the Black community because we are living in a system that has taken hundred of years to build. It may take just as long to tear it down, but I think that the process to get there will involve a lot of Black people and communities reclaiming their power and changing our mindset.

So many of us POCs grew up with our parents telling us that we have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good as our peers of a different race. This sows a damaging seed in us where we grow up with this idea that we don’t belong, and the effects of this thought can present itself in many ways.

This will be a difficult conversation to have with ourselves because it seems to present itself as victim blaming, but we need to let go of the victim mentality. I think that by changing our mindset and seeing everyone as being equal and deserving of the same opportunities, we can begin to create a world where we treat everyone with the same amount of respect and courtesy. This is not to say that all the work is up to us, but just like that popular saying goes, change starts from within.

This profile was conducted by Alumni Engagement Officer, Nicole Brownfield. If you would like to get in touch with Natasha or engage her in your work, please contact Nicole at n.brownfield@qmul.ac.uk