Nathalia Rus is a multi-talented developer and entrepreneur. in this interview we talk about her education, art and work. She speaks candidly about her strategies for thriving with ADHD.
Hi, could you introduce yourself?
Hello! I’m Nathalia, software engineer and entrepreneur. I co-founded Private Collectors Club last summer with my mentor Jeremy Hindle (Forbes Under 30, YC alumni, serial tech-entrepreneur) and Charles Clegg (historic racer & life-long automotive enthusiast): we are the go-to platform for collector communities, beach-heading in the classic car market.
Just before that, I was freelancing in software engineering and mentoring at the Boeing Summer School, while documenting on the side my journey at @yeahgirlscode . I presided over the Edinburgh Woman in Tech Conference and advocated for STEM education at the European Parliament with think-tank ThinkYoung in Brussels.
I actually only started out in tech a bit less than two years ago, upon graduation, as I initially had working experience in Politics and Investment Banking during my college years.
Proof that it’s never too late to explore new horizons, especially in technology!
How did you get into your current field?
Just around my internship at Goldman Sachs in Equity Research (last year in college), I had an app idea with a friend. It was actually a very difficult app to make, that would require enormous upfront-investment. It was like, Facebook, Deliveroo, Uber, Ebay’s main features all-in-one. Terribly difficult, a horrendous business idea, just a concept that was just… bad. But, at the time, I was very naive and had no idea of how startups work -nor business/ tech/ anything!
Not sure how, I was runner-up at the Edinburgh Startup Festival and received a small grant, and then I thought it was ridiculous to raise large amounts of money to make it a reality: why can’t “just” I code it myself, and bootstrap the rest?
I was most ignorant, and for the best! If I knew how actually complex things can get, and the enormous amount of things I have to learn from scratch and catch-up on, perhaps I would have been intimidated? Instead I just gave up on all my post-graduation plans, jumped on a bootcamp, documented my progress on @yeahgirlscode, worked really hard and now here I am - founding a startup as a software engineer.
What are your goals?
My drive is to create and give life to ideas that impact people as much as possible while feeling technically (mentally) challenged. This goal of mine has been consistent. That’s also why I am not focusing just on the front-end: I want to be able to create from start to finish. I am currently hands-on with everything: UI/UX, front-end, back-end, and up-skilling in DevOps.
When I have an idea in mind, like any artist - I like to own that idea and shape it to reality myself. The more complex and intriguing the idea, the better. Your first project may be simple, then you gain experience and you can always be challenged by an ever-growing complexity, and by impacting at a larger scale as you grow.
I love teamwork and believe it is crucial to ship great products (they are made by a team of great people) - I still like to know that if I wanted to tackle this on my own, it would take much more time, but I would be able to do it. For this reason I am into UI/UX: to generate a vision and actual experience, software architecture: to create long-lasting, performant scalable code, and DevOps: to be able to ship it myself.
You’ve struggled with ADHD in the past. What advice would you give to someone with ADHD?
Yes, I really struggled with it. This is an important topic to me, because I know a lot are suffering from it. I would like to share my experience with it, but most importantly, some advice: because I believe I just came to a point, with much help from my therapist at first and then from my mentor, where I feel I can have my ADHD under better control. Firstly, let me define what my ADHD was, as different people can have different experiences with it. To me it was: impulsiveness, restlessness, insomnia, you can not make me do things that I do not inherently care about - it was not laziness. I truly couldn't. My brain and body would not engage. I forget many things: keys, exam dates, events, etc. Hot temper, poor planning, etc. Things that really made my life very stressful. So, my perspective on ADHD based on my experience: I do not wish ADHD to anyone, it really makes your life difficult. While that is true, there is also the truth that without my ADHD, there is no way I would have had the energy and spontaneity to switch between so many fields in such a small amount of time, and be good at what I cared to do. Did it make me happy? No. Very stressed. Did it help me reach the goals I had set myself to achieve? Yes. Because each time I entered a field, trust me, I put so much intense focus on what I was now obsessed about that I ended up a couple of times in hospital for sleep-deprivation. Everytime I started something new, I would have experience with top-of-that-field organisations ( WTO for international relations, Goldman Sachs for banking, Boeing for tech then start-up co-founder) within a couple of months of entering that field. It was very intense and definitely a consequence of my ADHD and its restlessness and obsession. I would go to bed at 7am and wake up around 10am. Forgot everything else. Forgot important events, I was disorganised and useless at all the rest. Extremely unhealthy. It was like cramming your finals exams, but as a lifestyle: non stop. And it was very efficient then. I learnt an enormous amount in a very small amount of time, with little to no procrastination: ADHD’s hyperfocus on solely what matters to one. But, with that extreme form of ADHD that I had then, it would have been difficult to execute on our startup. To execute, you need peace and.. Sleep. Learning a new framework in a weekend with no sleep is doable. Writing clean architecture, scalable code, and maintaining clear communication with the team on restlessness and no sleep..? Nope. This is where my mentor tremendously helped me, and I am extremely grateful. Jeremy Hindle (more about him below in the mentorship question) is the most organised, efficient person I have ever encountered. He saw my potential and saw the weaknesses that were now holding me back. So below comes the advice part.
In short, you need a system of accountability and a guidance for extreme discipline and organisational skills -yes, taken to the extreme as you need to work on those triple-hard to overcompensate for ADHD weaknesses.
For a year, he made me organise e-ve-ry-day all my life in a daily spreadsheet. Every evening, for the day after, I had to write my to-do list, with their priority, category, everything else explicitly written down. Not just a to-do list : the time I aim to go to bed, bed routine, breakfast routine, whether I had achieved to sleep x hours, why that didn’t happen, which routines should I change or add to make it easier to be done. He forced me to use my Google Calendar for all events, even lunches or drinks with friends, calls with parents, everything. What I should do in the morning, and by when. Midday. Afternoon. Everything, weekend included.
He did not read the content, but for accountability, I shared the spreadsheet on Google Drive with him. So he could see whether it was at least written “edited” daily. Coding itself helped me. When I had to deliver scalable code, I started to organise my work in a workflow where everything was quantified and organised. My mentor helped me a lot with that, too, to ensure I was as efficient as possible with my work but also with his time during code reviews. I started to repeat this”process” mentality in other areas of life. Learning algorithms gives you a mindset - you tackle things bit by bit, you do not rush, you need clear thoughts and a clear head. In all, my mentor (or it could be anyone in your life) forcefully gave me structure, rigor, and discipline. He spent a lot of time on just this, more than code-related things, because that was what was eventually holding me back in code. So my advice to you if you suffer from ADHD is this - embrace it, really do! But (and it is a thin line) tame it, and you can not do this alone. You cannot. At least I couldn’t, and oh, I tried. Find someone you trust, ask them for help. Ask them for accountability. Ask them to check up on you everyday - did you use your calendar to remember eve-ry-thing? How about that drink? Did you force yourself to enter a process for being organised and over-compensating for the weaknesses of ADHD? A therapist also helps, but I believe it is too little, and I believe it helps in other aspects: acceptance for who you are. This is what my therapist helped me with. He had no judgement for people with ADHD. And he thought I shouldn't fight it, but learn how to live with it - accept the good sides of it, and work triple hard on the bad sides. And that was what my mentor helped me with - working triple hard on these. For overcoming ADHD problems, you need daily support at the start. This advice is especially important for people who do not wish to be medicated - I did not want to, and still don't.
Your portfolio is very diverse from music and illustration to code and social media. What advice can you give to people about following their curiosity?
I need and want multiple sources of fulfilment and happiness in my life, not just my career activity. And I think that this is the case of everyone! But society asks us to be paid for one thing as it’s more efficient that way (you wouldn't have the time to be professionally valuable, qualified and skilled for different things at once), and I feel like this modern notion of efficiency really can kill curiosity. It’s like - why would I bother to learn an unrelated new skill on the weekend that can’t give me an actual return, whether that is in my career or as a form of cash? What would it give me ? Why should I spend time being curious around x, what would it bring to me eventually? Waste of time.
And what I love about any side-things you may do, is that it is usually something that’s being done… for itself. It is made by pure freedom. It doesn’t give me anything, so what? If I feel like doing this, well I’ll just do it. And that is the beauty of it - you feel intense freedom, and individuality. I think it makes us more human. It is beautiful and makes you feel even more alive.
So what drives my effort to give in these “things of no actual use nor necessity”, is love of life, and a core belief in humanity. If I look at my life from a higher stand-point, I would not want to see just code, even if I love it. I want to see a myriad of interesting, fascinating things, a diversity of feelings and emotions, to live life fully and not just live one small part, even if that part also is great.
It is what differentiates us from machines.
I also guess the metaphor would be the following: hopefully you’ve chosen your career as something you enjoy - it’s a delicious pizza, and you can try it with many different flavours. But imagine if that’s only what you experience in life? What about Tiramisu? Pancakes? Asian food?
In a way, investing time and effort in something you are just curious about is linked to a core ideal, it almost is a form of rebellion against the bad sides of capitalism (which has also very good parts). It balances it. It makes the world have more depth, it makes your life enhanced. And that thing cannot be valued by cash, but by the richness of life itself.
So my advice to people who would like to follow their curiosity is to be conscious of those underlying humanistic ideals, and to defend them -do not give them up.
Do you have a mentor or role model?
I do have a mentor, Jeremy Hindle. He is the person who gave me my first real chance in software engineering, and most importantly who helped me tackle the problems ADHD caused me. I reached out to him on Linkedin as I saw him as someone who had a diverse past -from neuroscience to games to HR to AI and real-estate in between ! - and also as a self-taught: so he could understand where I came from and believe that abilities are not necessarily related to the right college degree. It happened that I reached out at the perfect timing as he had some free time on his hands to mentor someone by then. A very lucky timing.
So there was a lot of luck involved, but to the person reading - you can make your luck, too! Such mentorship opportunities are out there and you need to fight for them. The more you do your research and reach out, the closer you are to find someone who matches exactly what you are looking for.
Jeremy offered me guidance on too many things to count. I feel like he’s the mentor archetype from those movies -Dumbledore to Harry, Gandalf to Frodo, Yoda to Luke Skywalker. He is the best mentor one could hope for and I am very grateful.
You can do it without a mentor. But it makes the journey more lonely and less agreeable (I am very close to Jeremy, he’s like family), it takes way longer, and there are a lot of things in technology that you cannot learn online, that you can only learn by the very best in the field in person.
So I highly recommend you invest some time looking for a mentor if you do not have one already.
Do you mentor anybody?
I would like to mentor someone specifically, but I feel it that I am not ready. I instead “mentor” / serve as a figure on Instagram to my followers as @yeahgirlscode, which is more superficial than mentoring someone one-on-one regularly.
I am also building Yeahgirlscode‘s website where I’d like to post tutorials and coding resources.
In a year’s time, I think I might be ready for properly mentoring someone. By then, I have to take into account my mental health as I am extremely time-constrained as a founding engineer, and my weekend time already is spent upskilling myself in DevOps.
As soon as things get a bit less hectic I will look out for a mentee / positively accepts reach-outs. For now, I feel it would be a bad thing for the mentee as I would not be able to commit as much time as I should. Because when I’ll have a mentee I’ll like to give it my all and not be constrained by time / focus / energy left.
What advice do you have for people breaking into tech?
No matter what the media and bootcamps say, the start is the hardest. Finding that first door, getting it to open, getting your first work experiences and responsibilities. The rest is less reliant on luck, timing and place - it will all be up to you and your drive and your willingness to learn and hard work. The problem with the start, is that most things will look like they are going against yourself: learning how to code will be hard ( all coders are still learning every day ), finding that first experience will be hard, and the hardest, will be to maintain your self-confidence, because all of those things will make you doubt yourself and the wisdom of your decision to break into tech. So on top of it, you’ll have this little voice “it would be so easier to just give up and go on on a non-technical field”. Do not give in!
Persistence, grit and trust in yourself is what you need if you wish to break into tech.
And I do not want to discourage when I say that the start is really hard - on the contrary, I believe it will help because your expectations will be adjusted. When it gets hard, you won’t have impostor syndrome: you will understand that is not a surprise, everyone has to go through that difficult stage. ‘
The problem with bootcamps making it look like breaking into tech is easy is that when people realise that it is not that easy, their confidence goes down because it comes off as their fault / their lack of abilities / their whatever. But it is not. It isn't hard because it is not for you, or because you might not be good or talented enough. It is the same harsh reality for everyone who just came out of bootcamp / online courses who never really coded before that. It is just a phase that you have to go through, and once that phase is passed, the rest will feel amazing. Trust me, it is worth it.
Perseverance, grit and self-confidence !
What could the tech industry do better to foster female talent?
More mentorship and training opportunities. Literally this. From a young age if possible. I see two parallel problems regarding women in tech:
1. Women’s self-confidence in their technical ability on average tends to be lower than men’s.
2. Inherent more trust given to men compared to women regarding giving out technical responsibilities, sometimes not inherent but logical, because women may not have been given as much mentorship / training than men, and therefore lack practical experience. From the few women in tech I see out there in events, instagram and twitter messages, I’d say 95% are front-end / design engineers. Nothing wrong with that. But are they given more front-end opportunities at the start, because at least it looks, from the outside, more feminine than server-side things? After all, UI engineers create aesthetically pleasing things. Funnily enough, a lot of junior-to-mid male devs I met were on back-end (most of the guys I happened to interact with are) and were wanting at some point to do front-end, but didn’t find the right opportunity to do so, while a lot of the front-end girls had looked from the start for an opportunity in back end but never found one. Mmmh. There is no side better than other - just an observation that guys seem to find endless back-end opportunities even when they’d prefer the front-end, when it is the contrary for girls. Some unconscious training decisions have to have been made there.
This is just an example of unconscious bias I have myself seen in person in web development. Perhaps folks in games dev / DevOps / elsewhere will have seen different things.
So, yes, my answer is - to tackle this, women need to be conscious of their lower self-confidence and work on it, it is caused by how our society is, and it will change as we fight for ourselves.And we need to mentor our girls, from a young age, to believe nothing is impossible, while making sure that people are conscious of their biases and correct them, so that they don’t block the way.
Who do you follow?
A lot of different people - beginners, mid-senior devs, tech founders… I love @estefannieg , @coder_girl that you can find on instagram. I love the community that @dan_abramov has created around React on twitter. @science.bae has amazing, uplifting content and plenty of positive energy to give. @paw.lean has a great blog that she maintains a lot and updates regularly.
Gary Vaynerchuk was my first virtual mentor, that helped me tremendously through instagram as I started in tech, even if I never talked to him (yet :) ) : @garyvee . I love his mindset and perspective on life. Contagious.
Aside from that, I actually spend most time scrolling through Twitter more than on instagram. I like to read about latest startups, frameworks, features, advice from devs to Y-combinator folks, and most of all I love how easy it is to have a conversation with interesting people that you would never be able to reach out to otherwise ( hi @paul , Paul Graham!).
Whats the best way to keep up with what you are doing?
@yeahgirlscode’s instagram page for now is my main platform where I post regular small posts about what I am learning ( constantly learning new stuff in tech and outside). I am also on twitter at @yeahgirlscode too where I give my 2 cents in some debates and post the coding resources / posts / tutorials I find very helpful. I recently started to post some of my design works on Behance (link) and will update in future as I have plenty of projects of lost hours to archive there.
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