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Q&A with Heather Natour – Head of Engineering, Seller at Opendoor

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ARTICLE SUMMARY

Heather Natour, Head of Engineering, Seller at Opendoor speaks to us about how she successfully transitioned into the tech industry.

During our Q&A with Heather we found out how she successfully got into the tech industry, what projects excite Heather the most and her top tips for those starting out.

How did you get into the tech industry?

Head of Engineering

I studied economics in college, and if you had told me then that I would have a long career in technology, I would have thought I had entered an alternate universe. My first job out of college was with PriceWaterhouseCoopers, where I was hired to learn how to code and teach other new grads at the training center. Through that experience I fell in love with coding, and I found a lot of parallels with the problem-solving, logic, and art that I enjoyed in my other academic interests. By teaching others, I was able to learn more quickly and eventually transitioned to a software engineer role at a consulting firm.

Were there any challenges you had to overcome?

Certainly. As a trainer I was both learning on the job to become an expert in what I needed to teach, while also honing my presentation and communication skills, and leading others much earlier in my career. These were extremely valuable lessons, but navigating them without much mentorship and support forced me to rely on my instincts.

Can you tell us more about your journey to where you are now?

In the beginning, I started out as a technical consultant before joining Blackboard, a leader in the EdTech space. I spent 15 years there, working my way up from a software engineer to a director managing multiple cross-functional engineering teams. I then left to join Capital One, where I built a new financial system of record before moving to Lyft, where I led an engineering team for public transit.

It was during my years at Blackboard that I first became familiar with the pain of buying and selling homes. I had moved around a lot over the years for personal reasons, and every time my husband and I were convinced we were there to stay. But, that usually never ended up being the case. Over the years we have moved three times, buying and selling homes in each location. Now, I’m Head of Engineering for Seller and B2B at Opendoor, where I’m focused on our core product experience for home sellers, along with growth initiatives and retail partnerships. Opendoor’s mission is to empower everyone with the freedom to move, and I’ve always been passionate about companies dedicated to transforming industries. This seemed like an incredible opportunity to make a transformative impact on the home selling and buying experience.

What emerging tech trends are you most fascinated by?

Head of Engineering

I’m fascinated by AI, the increasing applications of augmented reality, and the opportunity to work in such a data-rich world. But what gets me most excited is the growing trend to democratize technology. With low-code platforms, immediate access to subject matter, and coding being taught more as a basic skill like reading and math, more people can benefit from the power of technology to scale themselves and their ideas.

 

What projects are you working on that excite you the most?

I’m most excited about how the various product needs of Opendoor customers intersect in ways that make the selling and buying experience a more seamless and educational one. Specifically, we are meeting customers where they are in their journey–whether they are ready to act now or need more time and information to plan such large life decisions. I’m excited to build an experience that can provide better customer education. Education that can help level the playing field, provide easier access to all the products and services that are necessary in a real estate transaction, and do it in an elegant and scalable way.

What’s special about the proptech industry?

Head of Engineering

The property tech space provides the opportunity to work on products and technology that have a direct impact on peoples’ lives. Housing is a universal need. And yet, there are so many ways the customer experience can be improved and made more simple and convenient – not just when it comes to buying and selling a home, but everything from financing to home insurance to the move itself. The industry is incredibly complex, and that complexity provides new challenges and opportunities to grow quickly, get exposure to different types of software problems and spaces, and more immediately have a direct influence to drastically improve the customer experience.

What advice do you have for people just getting started in their tech careers?

Take the time to understand how things work under the covers. There are so many frameworks, tools, and language features that enable engineers to be productive and specialized. But if you rely on those too early without understanding how all the pieces work together or what is actually being done for you, it becomes career-limiting later. Especially when the problems become more complex and you haven’t built a strong foundational understanding of how the software actually works.

There are a couple of ways in which I have seen this problem manifest. I have seen engineers struggle to debug a deeply embedded problem because they do not understand the assumptions built into the tools, frameworks, and languages they are using. Not only does it take more time to solve the problem, but it often requires pulling in and distracting other engineers from their work. I have also seen engineers not be able to suggest the right technology for the problem, many times over-engineering the solution. Being curious about the technologies you’re using will continue to make you a better engineer.

Finally: What’s the best piece of leadership advice you’ve ever received?

The best advice I’ve ever received is to “work yourself out of a job.” As a leader grows, they have the dual responsibility of growing their team while thinking and anticipating at a larger scale and longer timeframe. By trying to “work yourself out of a job,” you can create growth opportunities for your team members while also freeing more of your time to focus on the expanded scope of the next level of your career.

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