Editor's Note: To celebrate Google Canada’s 20th Anniversary, we're profiling some of the powerful, dynamic and creative Canadians at Google.
For Natasha Walji, paying it forward is at the core of who she is and has shaped her career path. Inspired by her high school math tutor, she knows the impact that mentorship can have, and in her case, was the reason she studied computer science and pursued a career in technology.
Today, Natasha holds several titles, Chief Mom Officer (CMO as she refers to it), Director of Telco, Government & Tech at Google, and a member of several Board of Directors. And she’s inspiring everyone she meets along the way from co-workers to the next generation. Her passion has led her to dedicate some of her time at Google to being the Executive Sponsor for volunteering projects. And when the pandemic hit last year, she (along with other Google Canada executives passionate about giving back) rapidly mobilized a group of Googlers across our three Canadian offices to drive tremendous results, helping over 1,500 Canadian nonprofits succeed with Google for Nonprofits.
How would you describe your job at a dinner party to people who don't work in tech?
I lead a team that works with large customers to help them drive results, and transform their business, through marketing using Google products and platforms. Currently, the industries I work with are telecom, tech and the public sector.
Was there something or someone specific that pushed you toward your career in tech?
I am very fortunate to have had an amazing mentor, who I'm still in touch with to this day. We first met when I was in high school, I was really struggling with math and my family couldn’t afford a tutor. I happened to meet this math professor within my community and he offered to tutor me for free. Through his guidance and patience, he ended up turning me from a struggling student in math into an A student. I really valued his mentorship and one day, he said to me: “look, you are doing really well in math now, and I really think you should consider studying computer science”. I didn’t know it then, but his mentorship changed the whole trajectory of my career, and I ended up pursuing computer science through my post-secondary studies.
He sounds like an amazing mentor! What was your experience like when you studied computer science, were there a lot of women exploring it?
There weren’t a lot of women in the field back then, and because I discovered computer science when I was around 17, I had to work really hard to catch up to the men in my program — some of which had been coding since they were around 8 years old. By the time I graduated I had a 4.0+ GPA because of the time and effort I put in. This was a reminder that hard work and dedication can lead to success.
One of the amazing things about Google, is that we’re encouraged to go beyond our role with 20 percent projects. Can you tell us about what this looks like for you?
Absolutely! Giving back is something that I’m very passionate about. I’ve been serving the community for over 20 years. It’s always been a big part of my life, which was in large part because of my family history of service and because of the mentor that I had in high school. After I got better at math, he shared something very profound with me one day, he said: ‘I want you to think about how you are going to use your education and knowledge to serve others.’ This really resonated and gave me a strong sense of purpose and inspiration from a young age. So when I joined Google, I knew I had found my soulmate company because Google has an incredible impact on serving the world through accessible information; it also continues to inspire me 10+ years later because I lead impactful work fueling our economy and also have the chance to give back to the community.
Google encourages us to explore projects outside of our specific function — this is the famous “20-percent time” concept of our company's innovation culture. Currently, I spend a percentage of my time as the Executive Sponsor for volunteering projects in Canada. I’m really passionate about this, and when COVID-19 started to impact the Canadian economy, a small group of Googlers started to think about who’s helping the organizations that help Canada’s most vulnerable people. The need was greater than before and with the help of 120+ Googler volunteers across our Canadian offices, we hit the ground running and created an infrastructure to support nonprofits during the pandemic through Google for Nonprofits. Many Canadian nonprofits were unaware of free tools, resources, and free Google Ads that are available through this program, so we’ve been focused on getting them setup to tap into these benefits.
One of the things that I love about the people I work with is that Googlers are helpful, willing to give back, and always raising their hands to get involved.
What advice would you give to women pursuing a career in technology?
Stay curious and be open to what technology can bring, experiment and don’t be afraid to try new things! Technology has the potential to solve many world problems at scale and representation matters.
For me, I didn’t always know what my career would look like. I firmly believe that my mentor changed this for me and helped me understand the possibilities. I would encourage women and young girls to seek mentorship, surround yourself with people that support and inspire you.
When you speak about your work and the tech industry, you light up, you can see there’s a lot of passion, what do you love most about working in tech?
So many things! Technology is not only fun, but it can also be used to solve so many problems, it’s endless. The skills you learn in tech are transferable, no matter what you do — this is why I think exploring STEM at a young age is really valuable.
I always tell young adults, if you can’t major in computer science at least minor in it. All industries are being transformed by technology, so it’s an important set of skills to have in your tool box for the future.