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Nathan Cruz Coulson: from Politics & Economics to CTO & Co-founder

Social media handle(s): @certainnathan (Twitter), LinkedIn

A few words about me:

I’m a Londoner, who after living in the east, west, north and south of the city finally left but not too far…

I recently moved to Dublin to launch a startup which helps sustainability professionals to influence behaviour change at scale through fun and engaging digital games.

My background is in social sciences and social enterprise, but I've always been interested in technology and its capability to do good (and equally the need to make sure it doesn’t do damage!)

I like podcasts, poker, board games and I recently joined a community garden.

Are there any professional experiences you've had that are quite unexpected compared to what you do nowadays?

When I was 20, I founded a social enterprise and fashion brand despite not knowing anything about fashion. It aimed to give young people work experience opportunities in marketing and fashion. I learnt a lot about the importance of domain expertise and scalable business models.

For a few months while at university, I was a door-to-door charity salesman. Knocking on 100 doors a day was extremely useful in terms of removing any fear of rejection.

I also volunteered in India for 6 months at a social entrepreneurship accelerator. It was really valuable to be immersed in a different culture and professional environment.

Is your background more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) or non-STEM related?

Both STEM and non-STEM - education and work experience wise.

My undergraduate education was in Economics and Politics but it was more leaning towards the social science / humanities side rather than statistics. Before deciding to do a STEM masters degree in Data Science many years later I supplemented my knowledge with online courses.

Where did your professional journey start?

My professional journey started when I decided to start a social enterprise with some friends during a break from my university studies. That experience helped me to land an internship at a startup accelerator and that was my first exposure to the world of technology startups.

How did you get into tech and what motivated you?

What motivated me to get into tech was the potential to have a positive impact at scale. I initially started my career in Politics and Economics aspiring to change the world for the better. My first venture was focused on social impact, but it wasn’t really scalable which is why I decided to aim for making a positive impact at a larger scale through technology.

My first role in tech was an entry level internship at Wayra, an accelerator with tech startups and loads of interesting events. I got my first real job in tech through this accelerator at a social impact company that I met during my internship.

Have you experienced any 'career in tech' challenges / stereotypes?

In many ways I am in a relatively privileged position because I'm male and there is a strange “positive” stereotype about being Asian in tech/STEM. Any sort of stereotypes are harmful generalisations but I can’t say that I experienced any direct negative discrimination because of who I am.

The main challenges I faced were linked to socioeconomic background, as someone who grew up in Newham, one of the poorest areas in London, and haven’t had access to much career advice or support. I didn’t have contacts in the industry or mentors when I was at college or university so getting into a tech career was pretty much a combination of luck, timing and some initiative.

"Working in a technology team involves a lot of different skills and talents, don’t make the mistake of thinking that technology is all about coding."

What you wish you knew before getting started in tech...

A lot of things! I would say that one thing I wish I knew before is that technology will always be changing, evolving, rising and falling with trends. It’s important to be able to pick things up quickly, and always learn. Also, not forgetting that everyone is in the same position, needing to learn constantly and trying to catch up.

No one knows it all. Your perspective and experience is important (particularly if you’re from an underrepresented background). There isn’t a perfect way to start, if you’re interested just dive in.

Not everything requires a technical solution. The more you listen to what people are saying and understand what they actually need, the more likely you are to create a good solution or decide a technical solution doesn’t tackle the root cause.

What has been your biggest 'wow!' moment related to working in tech so far?

My biggest wow moment is seeing the power and potential of AI across a really large range of industries and use cases. There is the potential for both good and harmful consequences from AI. Ethical business practices, citizen education, and regulation are essential when it comes to AI as well as other exponential technologies.

What do you like / not like about working in tech?

There is always something cool to learn and build. If you like learning, tech is a fantastic industry to be in.

On the negative side, the tech industry can be a cultural bubble that is too separated from the people being impacted by or using technology.

"Think about the industry, domain and problems you really care about and let that guide you. You can find exposure to tech in all industries."

What's been your favourite / most memorable / funniest 'career in tech' moment so far?

My favourite moment was during the release of our first sustainability game at Bold Donut. It was the culmination of a lot of work and it was really satisfying to see people have fun and engage with something that myself and my co-founder built.

And to wrap up, is there any advice you'd like to give to others interested in a career in tech?

Don’t think about being in or out of technology - tech is part of all industries now. Think about the industry, domain and problems you really care about and let that guide you. You can find exposure to tech in all industries.

Working in a technology team involves a lot of different skills and talents, don’t make the mistake of thinking that technology is all about coding. There are many skills needed, like interpersonal skills (listening to your colleagues and customers to solve real problems), making decisions, and communicating using data.

Think about technology as a means to solve problems. If you can solve a problem better without technology then go for it!


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