NLPeople: Natalie Quan, senior manager of database operations


Natalie Quan
Calgary, Alberta, Canada

This is part of a series that introduces you to the people behind the scenes at the News Literacy Project.

1. Can you tell us what brought you to NLP?

I came to NLP for a few different reasons, the main one being that I care immensely about facts and truth. If we don’t have those, what do we really have at all? If we can’t agree on reality, how are we supposed to experience or accomplish anything meaningful? Facts are the foundation for a functional society. Truth can be healing and transformative. Further, I think facts and truth are inextricable with justice and equity, and those are very important values to me personally.

2. Since joining NLP, what has been the most satisfying or surprising experience?

Without question, the best part of working at NLP for me is my team. We operate with so much mutual respect and trust. Even in the face of chaos, we tackle challenges efficiently and effectively to keep driving the mission forward. I’ve never worked with such a competent yet humble group of people who treat one another with so much grace. And while we take our work very seriously and work incredibly hard, we always find a way to have fun doing it.

In addition, I’m continually pleasantly surprised by how much my work engages me. I’ve been at NLP for almost five years now, longer than any other job I’ve ever had. I tend to hit a wall six to eight months into a new job and feel bored once I understand the scope of my role, but I have yet to experience that here. As the organization grows, my responsibilities are constantly shifting in a way that provides stimulating new ideas, projects and challenges.

3. You practiced law for a time before moving to the world of nonprofits. What made you decide to switch?

Yes, I practiced civil litigation for two years. I did run-of-the-mill plaintiff side work at the state level — contract breaches, malpractice, an actual dog bite case. Then I did defense work on behalf of airlines, airports and aviation insurers at the federal level. I know all the ways one could get injured or worse during flight. It makes for very uplifting dinner table conversation.

I could talk ad nauseam about why I transitioned away from practicing law and the ways I think the patriarchal, Darwinian culture of the legal profession needs to change. But it ultimately came down to two desires: wanting to make a difference on a more macro scale — cliché, I know — and having a nine-to-five job instead of a five-to-nine job. I am enormously privileged to have a partner who supported this career switch, both financially and as an unwavering cheerleader. It was a journey that involved a lot of self-doubt and self-discovery, and though difficult along the way, I have never once regretted leaving the legal profession.

4. You moved to Canada a couple of years ago. Is it true that there are no rude people in Canada?

There is not an ounce (or a gram, I should say) of rudeness in Canada. Even the beavers squeak a cheerful “Hello!” and wave when you hike by their lodges.

In all seriousness, rudeness exists anywhere people exist. But Canadian politeness is real. And it’s not just politeness. My experience has been that it’s genuine empathy, a deep sense of social responsibility, and an organic sense of community. In general, it has been very interesting to observe the cultural similarities and differences between California — specifically, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area — where I spent the first 33 years of my life, and Calgary. Overall, though winters were an adjustment, the avid hiker and backpacker in me absolutely loves living here, a short drive away from the Canadian Rockies.

5. Are you on team dog, team cat, team wombat?

I consider myself to be on team nature and therefore love all animals… except spiders. Sorry, I just can’t do spiders. I would rather lie in a bath of roaches, snakes or pretty much anything else that creeps or crawls.

I am especially on team dog. We have a 10-year-old Siberian husky and boxer mix named Zephyr. In her younger years, she was the best running and hiking partner I could’ve asked for. These days, she spends most of her time sleeping and eating the abundance of food that our two-year-old tosses on the floor — a pretty good retirement.

6. What one item do you always have in your fridge?

At the risk of sounding boring and basic, apples. Apples are great for any meal of the day, as a snack or even for dessert. They’re inexpensive and easy to find during all seasons of the year. You can eat them with cinnamon, nut butters, granola and so many other foods for quick, simple nutrition. Whenever my friends and I go backpacking, everyone else is eager to eat foods such as pizza or burgers when we return to civilization, and all I can think about is the satisfying crunch of a good apple.

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