Natali Altshuler

Computer Science alumna shares her success story

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a day to recognize women who help forge equality, celebrate women's achievements, raise awareness about discrimination, and drive gender parity.

In honour of IWD on March 8, we had the opportunity to interview Natali Altshuler, an alumna of the UBC Computer Science Department, who today works as Senior Vice President, Head of Operations for EA SPORTS (a division of Electronic Arts).

UBC CS:  Can you tell us more about your role and EA SPORTS?

NA: EA SPORTS is one of the most iconic brands in entertainment, with a portfolio of top-selling video game franchises, more than 300 million fans engaged in our experiences worldwide, and a global team of 2,500+ developers. 

At a high-level, my role involves overseeing product development and operations across our franchises and teams – focusing on business planning, project management, budget, as well as people and culture. I joined the organization shortly after graduating from UBC about twenty years ago, as a Junior Project Manager. Since then, I have worked across nearly every area of game development, gradually taking on greater responsibilities and scope.

Electronic Arts Vancouver Campus

UBC CS:  Why and how did you get into computer science?

NA: I’ve always enjoyed problem-solving and figuring out how things work. I originally thought I would pursue a career in medicine. However, as I gained more exposure to computer science at UBC, my interest in the field began to grow. I had the opportunity to participate in several work terms, getting hands-on experience in the field. I first worked for Motorola as a Software Engineer and later on at MDA, a leading provider of advanced space technologies. During my last term, I interned at Microsoft as a Program Manager and discovered my passion for project management. From that point on, I was determined to work within the tech industry, specifically in a project management role, after graduating UBC with a major in Computer Science and minor in Commerce.

UBC CS:  What was (and is) your overall impression of UBC Computer Science?

NA: I’m a proud alumna! It had a pretty transformative impact on my life, challenging me to do my absolute best work, and equipping me with the skills and knowledge I needed to hit the ground running after graduation. I especially appreciated the program’s belief that learning doesn't solely take place in the classroom. The practical, real-world experiences they provided were invaluable, whether that was through the co-op program, opportunities to meet professionals in the industry, or the tri-mentor program (which I still take part in, now as a mentor rather than a mentee). It’s for these reasons UBC CS is one of the top-rated computer science programs in the country. All those experiences were foundational to my ability to get a foot in the door with EA SPORTS soon after graduation, learn and understand the business, and become involved with creating and evolving games that entertain hundreds of millions of people.

"My parents raised me to believe I could do anything I set my mind to, and I now share the same message with my children and other women starting out in Computer Science and STEAM fields."  ~ Natali Altshuler, Senior Vice President, Head of Operations for EA SPORTS

UBC CS:  What have you done in your career to address equity, diversity and inclusion?

NA: Supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is an aspect of my job that I find really rewarding. It’s also a very important part of the culture at EA SPORTS. Over the years, my work has involved establishing a guiding DEI council and strategy, as well as spearheading new programs and initiatives that support a more diverse and inclusive environment within our studios, as well as within the communities where we live, play, and work. A few highlights include: serving as Canadian Chair for EA’s “Women’s Ultimate Team” employee resource group (our first and largest group of its kind); and, establishing new pathways into the gaming industry for under-represented talent.

UBC CS:  STEM is notoriously under-populated with women. What was the biggest obstacle or challenge you faced in that regard when you started out?

NA: My biggest challenge wasn’t one singular moment; it was more of a journey. Both my education and my career were built in male-dominated fields. Early in my career, I just wanted to be thought of as ‘one of the guys.’ It took time and experience to have the courage and confidence to just be myself. Through the years, I’ve come to realize that the qualities that make me unique are my strengths, and I should embrace them, rather than hide them.

UBC CS:  What messages do you share with young women starting out in CS?

NA: My parents raised me to believe I could do anything I set my mind to, and I now share the same message with my children and other women starting out in Computer Science and STEAM fields. I want them to know that their perspectives and contributions are valued, that they belong here, and to trust in their abilities and potential. But most importantly, I try to show my support through tangible actions, like making introductions to key contacts or helping to remove any hurdles, giving credit and visibility, or collaborating with others to create more equitable and inclusive experiences.

UBC CS:  What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

NA: International Women’s Day is both a cause for celebration, as well as a motivator to keep moving the dial forward. It’s a time to recognize the incredible work of the women around us who inspire us and have paved the way. It’s also a time to reflect on the progress made and the work that still needs to be done for us to reach true equality, ultimately motivating us all, women and allies alike, to take action.

UBC CS:  For women who visualize themselves in a role like yours, what are your top advice points?

NA: Success in this industry requires persistence, creative problem-solving, adaptability, and the fortitude to always continue learning and growing. My advice would be to get to know the business you’re supporting deeply from the ground up and how you can make the biggest impact through your work. Be disciplined in setting personal development and growth goals for yourself and detailing how you will achieve them – holding yourself accountable and sharing your progress and success for visibility along the way. Also, remember that growth and career development takes time. There’s no shortcut, so embrace the journey. Putting in the time and effort to really learn and make an impact along the way will ultimately help you build credibility, relationships, as well as your own confidence, all of which, will be critical to your future success.

It’s also important to build a support system around you, whether that’s friends, family, or a spouse. I couldn’t have gotten to where I am today without the support of my husband and family. They provide me with so much comfort, and motivate me to make them proud.

UBC Computer Science has many groups, resources and support for women in the field or looking to enter the field. Student-run groups include WICS (Women in Computer Science) and WiDS (Women in Data Science). The department also has a committee called CODE (Committee for Outreach, Diversity and Equity, to support all underrepresented groups, and has an extremely successful Trri-mentoring Program