Q: Tell us a little about your position at Progress Software, and why you love what you do.
A: First and foremost, thank you, Envision, for inviting me to share my career journey and experiences on your platform with the next generation of young leaders! I am what is commonly referred to as an “in-house lawyer” or corporate counsel, meaning I work in a legal department at a company rather than for a law firm. Progress Software Corporation
is a global leader in business software applications and development tools. Much of the work I do at Progress supports innovation and branding. I focus on intellectual property law, employment law, litigation, and vendor contracting matters. My clients are predominately the product management, engineering, marketing, global procurement, and software asset management teams. Some examples of the work I perform at Progress include contract review and negotiation, advising on legal issues throughout the product life-cycle, managing our patent and trademark portfolios, settling customer compliance disputes, and protecting the company against online infringers. I love working with and learning from people all over the globe, especially our engineers and product teams who are at the heart of our innovation. We have roughly 1,500 employees across multiple continents.
Q: What educational experiences did you have that played a role in your career path? What drives your passion for encouraging students in their career exploration?
A: I’ve always loved reading, asking lots of questions, research, and computers. I was born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Kendall Square neighborhood to be exact, often referred to as Silicon Valley of the East Coast. As a first-generation American and daughter of a nursing professor and a marine engineer, I was taught from an early age to work hard, look for the good in people, and pursue higher education but never forget your heritage. Many of my family members in Massachusetts worked in the medical field or for organizations like Draper Laboratory, MIT Lincoln Labs, and MITRE, so that made for very interesting stories at large family gatherings. One of my fondest memories growing up in Cambridge is my time spent on the MIT campus. In grade school, I attended an after-school enrichment program taught by MIT students. Many of the students, while they did not look like me, possessed indescribable energy and enthusiasm for their pursuits that I admired. I knew then, at some point in my life, I would return to MIT, and as it would turn out, I did.
A few years ago, I was selected to serve on the board of Science Club for Girls, a non-profit that provides free after-school programming in STEM to underrepresented girls ages K-12 in Massachusetts. Every month, when I pulled up to our monthly meeting at the Broad Institute on MIT’s campus, I would get emotional because I would see the young girl I once was—walking the campus to programs similar to the one I attended—and now, here I was, in a position to help the next generation. It was a full-circle moment for sure!
I was also very fortunate to attend a prep school led by a headmistress who was ahead of her time. She made it a priority to incorporate high technology into our curriculum. I believe we were one of the first schools in both Massachusetts and the country to integrate laptop computers into our curriculum—this was in the early 90s when laptops were just starting to become popular. Before that, I had spent time learning on an Apple computer with a huge monitor and the famous rainbow logo. The logo still sticks out in my mind to this day, and, in part, is why I chose to pursue intellectual property law. Intellectual property law covers copyrights (software, music, books, other tangible forms of expression), trademarks (think brand names and logos), patents (inventions), and trade secrets (secret business formulas, i.e. the Coca-Cola recipe).
Finally, during my time at the University of Virginia, I studied Biology, which honed my research skills. Then I went on to Suffolk Law, where I took classes in contracts, intellectual property, corporations, secured transactions, trial practice, and many other areas (even legislation and international law) that still serve me today.
Q: What qualifications do you look for in a new hire? What recommendations might you offer a student who wanted to follow in your footsteps or work on a team similar to yours?
A: I look for inquisitiveness, determination, initiative, and a positive attitude in someone who is respectful and an active listener.
It is important to be creative and open to different opportunities. Some students are fortunate to know what they want to do right off the bat, and, for others, it is a long journey to self-discovery. I think it is valuable, no matter what stage of your career you are in, to share your interests with others who are in the position you hope to be in one day or possess traits you admire. With the internet, LinkedIn, etc., it is much easier to research and network these days, so use your time and the information available to you wisely!
Q: How has your industry—specifically intellectual property law related to technology—changed in the last five years? What developments on the horizon could affect future opportunities in your field?
A: The technology industry (especially with the prominence of cloud and open source solutions) has rapidly evolved over the past couple of years. It is even hard for me to keep up as a practitioner in the industry. I think the future lies in machine learning and artificial intelligence. We are seeing more and more technology solutions leveraging data and analytics about our shopping habits and the websites we visit online. A few years ago, if you wanted customer service, you would have to call on the phone or go in-store. Now, many sites have a chatbot or person who you can instant message with on your favorite retailer’s website. The opportunities for technology and intellectual property attorneys, like myself, will increase because creators will need help protecting their inventions either through filing for registrations with the patent and trademark/copyright office or defending their rights against infringers in litigation. I am excited to see where things go!
Q: As an Advisory Committee member on Progress’ Inclusion & Diversity Committee, what encourages you about the company’s existing practices? What changes do you hope to see in the future?
A: We truly have an awesome, committed team with a focus on getting things right from a cultural-competency and a basic-human-decency perspective. Obviously, this year, we have stepped up our efforts in response to all of the injustice happening. I am excited that we are currently seeking our first-ever Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer to lead our diversity efforts in conjunction with our work on the committee. We are also creating more employee resource groups for various backgrounds based on race, sexual orientation, etc. I think we are making strides and laying a strong foundation for this work in the future. I am proud to be a part of it!
Natasha Walwyn-Robinson is the senior legal counsel for Progress Software, a global software company headquartered in Bedford, MA. She is part of the Speaker Network at Envision by WorldStrides, participating with the National Youth Leadership Forum: Law & CSI in Washington, D.C.