Introducing Natasha Burtenshaw-deVries
Natasha is a digital marketing and SEO specialist. She lives near Toronto, Canada and enjoys sailing, hiking, skiing, playing trombone, soccer in Toronto FC.
Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress.
Liam: We ask questions and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives.
Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is Episode 121.
Tara: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Tara Claeys.
Liam: And I’m Liam Dempsey. Today we’re joined by Natasha Burtenshaw-deVries. After realizing that teaching and childcare just weren’t for her, Natasha is now living the agency life as a digital marketing and SEO specialist. She lives near Toronto, Canada and enjoys sailing, hiking, skiing, playing trombone, soccer in Toronto FC. Welcome, Natasha.
Natasha: Hey guys, how are you doing?
Tara: Hey, it’s great to meet you, Natasha. Thanks for joining us on Hallway Chats today. Would you please start by telling us a little bit more about yourself than what Liam just described?
Natasha: My name is Natasha. I’m 25 years old. In the last two years or so, I took an interesting little career pivot into the digital marketing world. For years, I was heading towards a career in social work, teaching. I’d always enjoyed working with kids. That’s my parents’ background, so just following them into that social services, mental health, just helping the community as a field of employment world.
I started into it after university and it was a mix of not really being able to pinpoint why but just knowing maybe it wasn’t the place I wanted to be for the next 20 or 30 years of my life as much as I loved it and knew I was good at it and got good feedback about how great I was at it. Also just a lack of long term opportunities. We all know some of the struggles of being young in today’s world. Even regardless of your age, just part-time employment, the gig economy, it’s getting harder and harder to find that stable fulltime long term job that you stay at for life.
I did my best. I had a great job for a year out of university where I went up to pull back for a year working in French-speaking school helping to teach English. That was a really great full job at university experience. Living in a French-speaking area, it was absolutely gorgeous where I was living. It was really great chance to just work and explore and have some fun while still making enough money and getting some good employment experience.
But when I came back to the Toronto area, it was just, you know, I could never find that full-time job. I was bouncing between two or three part-time jobs at once. I worked with some great people and had some great experiences along the way, but I was just like, “I can’t do this for the rest of my life. I got to move out of my mom’s house at some point, I got to know be able to live on my own and not always be working evenings and weekends.” There were times where I’d be waking up at 5 in the morning to start work at six and not getting home till 9 o’clock at night. Did it for a few years, but it just wasn’t a long term plan.
I did a bit of volunteer work for youth organization University kind of brand new advocacy and youth rights and participation. I did the communications and social media side of things for them. Through that I discovered I really enjoyed marketing communications. I got some feedback that I was really great at it. So it was something I toyed around for a while maybe going back to school for marketing.
But what really made me make that jump was two or three summers ago, I spent the summer working up in Northern Ontario. I don’t know how far north it is from Toronto, but if you know where Thunder Bay Ontario is, which is the north end of Lake Superior, I lived in a community 400 and then another one 600 kilometers north of there. So remote communities with only a few hundred people. Unless it’s the winter they’re only accessible by planes. You know, tiny airplanes landing on gravel runways. It was quite the experience up there. You know, limited internet access. Life can be tough up on those reserves.
My first three weeks up there I had extremely limited internet access. Only at the school we worked in. We didn’t have it at home so sometimes on the weekends we would want to get on the internet so we’d go and sit outside the school with like one bar of Wi-Fi. And to sit there using this like slow Satellite Internet while being bitten by bugs and having the rez dog staying there with us. It was a summer of memories. Then the next community we lived in, we had internet at home, which was nice.
One thing I said to myself was like, “After the school year wrapped up in that job, I going to start looking for something else as much as I enjoyed my job at the time.” I just applied for marketing programs. I said, “Let’s just do it.” I applied to a few different ones but I had my eye on one and I got in and started in January. I got amazing summer camp that continued into a part-time job.
I actually got hired into my current job just over a year ago. I guess I got hired about two months before I graduate. I started part-time six weeks before I finished school. I just found my calling. I went through a really great program in school and I’ve met some great people along the way. But that’s how I ended up in my job right now and discovered a particular love for SEO.
If you’d asked me even two years ago if I’d ever end up in your business or marketing program and doing what I do now, I’d be like, “You need to stop taking whatever drugs you’re on. That’s crazy.” But here I have been enjoying the journey and adventure.
Tara: That’s a lot of background. I have to say when I first read your intro, and you talked about childcare, I assume that you had children …
Natasha: Oh, no.
Tara: Now that makes sense that you were teaching children. There’s a lot there. What an interesting path you’ve taken at a young age. I’m particularly fascinated with what prompted you to go live in the middle of sounds like pretty much nowhere where you had no internet. Did that experience, being so disconnected, impact your desire to be very connected now and to work actually on the internet?
Natasha: That’s an interesting question. Never really thought of that before. I don’t think it really impacted it. But being removed from a disconnected world, in one sense, everything we enjoy from the internet, but also just those basic things you take for granted like just always having stores available and even healthcare, they just simply aren’t as good in those remote indigenous communities as we have down south.
So both removing myself from the internet and just all the regular amenities and luxuries of our daily life, you don’t really think of them as a luxury. But once you’ve been up there…I don’t know if it’s impacted anything but it definitely gives you a different perspective when you come home and just makes you more appreciative for the things you do have.
Especially those three weeks where I didn’t have much internet, I think it removed some my dependence on you know, just being able to go online and search up a recipe or news or the weather and even just not being able to just text friends or family for quick questions or problems or whatever. It’s hard to really say in words the impact it’s had but it definitely gives you the different perspective and definitely remove some of my constant reliance on my phone.
Tara: Do you miss being disconnected?
Tara: Do you look back fondly in it?
Natasha: At the end of the day, I think the benefits of being connected are much greater than those of being disconnected. But the nice thing about where I live now is that you can make the choice to be disconnected instead of having it forced upon you. So it’s almost hard to compare the situations because they’re so different but I think it also just makes me better at taking a few hours away from my phone or turning off your notifications to be able to focus on something. Definitely happier being connected, but some of the benefits of being disconnected continued on too.
Liam: Also about playing trombone, that is not a super common instrument in any kind of venue. Tell us about how you play. Are you jazz? Are you classical? What do you play?
Natasha: I’ve always played an instrument pretty much as long as I can remember. I started playing violin in elementary school. I picked up the flute in middle school and made the very natural jump from flute to trombone in high school. I remember our conductor just said they really needed trombone players. I’m like, “Oh, it seems cool. Why not?”
My high school had a very strong music program. So I went from playing flute in the grade nine and more junior orchestras to jumping into the senior jazz band and orchestra in grade 10 with an instrument I’d only played in a few months. Music was really big for me in high school. I think partially just because we had such a dedicated and strong music program, lots of opportunities there and really great community I found through that.
I think part of the reason I always enjoyed music too was I was a smart kid. The academic stuff was really easy for me so it just gave me more of a challenging outlet into something just to really throw myself into. Outside of high school, I joined a well-known youth jazz band in our community. That gave me some really cool opportunities to just play in a lot of venues locally.
Then my last year in the band, we actually had the chance to travel through France and Switzerland for three weeks, which was pretty cool. We played at Juno Beach in Canada, which was really special. We played at the Vienne Jazz Festival, the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. A lot of people would just nod their heads and have no idea what I’m talking about. Other people are like blown away by that. I just enjoyed trombone from the minute I picked it up. It’s a fun instrument to play. You get some fun parts and get to be loud. But I think just music in general has always been just a challenging and exciting venue, and met lots of new people and gotten some really cool opportunities to travel.
I took a number of years off just in university with living in different places and not being able to commit to a group. But Just this year, I joined a local community orchestra in the New City I’m living in. So that’s been so nice to be playing again. You don’t really realize how much you miss something until you’re back into it. I like to joke that most people in the orchestra are a good 20 years older than me, but it’s still nice to meet new people and just get out of the house and be involved in the community beyond work.
Liam: Sure. I was going to ask you if you’re still playing. It strikes me that trombone is not the kind of instrument one can practice quietly or quietly at home without letting the neighbors know that Natasha is practicing.
Natasha: Yeah, yeah. Someone in my high school bands actually lived next door to me, and they’re like, “Yeah, I hear you practicing sometimes.” I was like, “Oh, okay.” Right now, unfortunately, I’m just stuck playing with a mute in. That’s one thing I love most about rehearsals actually you have to take that mute out and play properly.
Liam: Can you tell from playing with him you if you’re hitting a note right? Is there a correlational scale that mute – and I don’t know anything about music – but muted f sound relatively on some sliding scale, like unmuted f so you know you hit the note right? Are you just practicing the physical moving of your fingers and not blowing?
Natasha: Once you practice all the right notes and everything, it impacts the pitch and sound a little bit but it’s better than not practicing at all. You make deal with what you can and hopefully my neighbor doesn’t hate me too much for it.
Liam: I get that. I get that. Natasha, tell us a little bit about word WordPress. You and I met recently at WordCamp Niagara up in Canada. You did fantastic. I think it was your first talk ever if I remember correctly.
Natasha: I’ve done talks to other conferences but my first talk in a WordCamp and first in the marketing world.
Liam: Excellent. Well, I’m glad to have been there. Tell us a little bit about how you stumbled into WordPress and how you use it on a regular basis.
Natasha: I guess my first experiences with WordPress would have been back in university probably about six years ago. I just decided to start a blog, just wordpress.com one. What possessed me to do that, I honestly couldn’t tell you but I’ve always enjoyed writing. I’ve always just enjoyed being in the community and a bit of an interest in politics. I think that was some of my initial writings. I lived in London, Ontario. I went to Western University, so they have a pretty strong online community there. I initially joined it through Twitter, branch down into blogging. That’s probably my best memory of how I got started.
As a kid, I’d always been interested in a bit of what website development and learned HTML and CSS probably starting around when I was like 10 or so. I think I made some good old Geocities websites back in the day. I think as far as WordPress goes, I think I just moved from wordpress.com wordpress.org a full more professional site just to be able to do more with it, especially in terms of SEO once I started learning more about and teaching with SEO.
From that personal use, that youth organization I talked about before, we used a WordPress site and now working professionally in marketing. I work for an agency. We’re full service agency, but obviously these days we’re more focused on digital things. So we do our own web development in house. While I’m not involved in the development or building side of things, obviously their SEO specialist, I do a lot of work on our website. So all of our websites through there are WordPress.
Liam: Cool. What do you do day to day nine to five as a marketing and SEO specialist?
Natasha: Everything. I’m our only person working on SEO aside from some help with others, like our account coordinators for blogging and content creation. I do everything from the initial strategy and research through to reporting on results.
Typical day for me what probably involved just working on one or two clients. I try to spread them out so I’ve touched on different people multiple times throughout the month. I try not to just work on one person per day, otherwise, I just lose it. It’s a bit too much if I’m fresher and bring in better ideas when I just do a few hours at a time. Especially for some of our industrial or manufacturing clients, I can only work on those for a few hours at a time. No offense to them.
I always start off my day with a quick check-in on rankings to make sure nobody’s taking a set of nose dive or anything, celebrate if they’ve taken a nice spike up, which is always nice to see at 8 o’clock in the morning. Then as far as the work goes, it varies a lot on the client based on how much time I have to work on them, the stage they’re at in their campaign and also just their unique industry and website but. You know, working on on-site optimizations, building and editing landing pages, content creation through blogging.
Like I said in the past, often the coordinator will do the blogging for me, because I just don’t have time to do it all. But lately I’ve been doing a lot more blog, which has been nice. It’s nice to do a bit more about creative style of writing. Keeping up with technical SEO. Definitely not my area, great expertise. ut I know what I need to know for my specific sites and clients. Sometimes involves figuring out what needs to be done for them. So just kind that ongoing content creation and onsite work and just constant monitoring and readjusting is necessary.
Tara: Sounds like a nice variety that you get to explore each day. I’d like to ask you a question, Natasha that we ask all of our guests, which is how you define success. Even though I would say you are at a young age in your life, you’ve done a lot of different things, really super interesting things actually, including what you’re doing now. How do you tie it all together? Do you tie it all together and do you think about what success means to you at this point in your life and what does that mean for you?
Natasha: That is a difficult question to answer because I think my definition of success has just really evolved, especially in the last few years. I mean, there are days where being successful maybe more of a work-oriented thing. I mean, going back to school fulltime and a challenging program and commuting to Toronto and completing that really and doing really well, it was a huge success.
Then there are other times are just like making it through the day or like making it through the day without crying or losing it is a huge success too. The week before I went back to school fulltime after being at a school for about two and a half years and working, the week before I went back to school, my aunt was actually diagnosed with brain cancer and had surgery four days after that diagnosis. Monday at 8 am, she had surgery. The next Monday at 8 pm was my first class. That was a whirlwind and all the treatment and challenges that followed.
That was one of those times or sometimes being successful was just making it through the day and keeping everybody healthy and somewhat sane and fed and the house clean. Thankfully that’s quieted down. So I think evolving from that success is…I guess for a while success wasn’t about me. It was about other people. Right now I’m able to be a bit more selfish and focus on myself, which is nice.
I think a big part of success for me has always just been about, one, just feeling you’re moving forward and accomplishing things, whether that’s learning, producing something. I think a big part of success has also been just being able to help other people. I’ve changed careers and what I’ve been doing in life, but I think that’s always been suddenly I’ve tried to incorporate throughout, whether that’s my actual job or volunteering.
Recently, I’ve been taking on a little bit of mentorship just connecting with some old students in the program I went to school and just talking to them giving some advice. I’ve been back to the classes a few times just to give a bit of an alumni talk, sharing my experiences in the program and how I’ve moved on from there. Success, I guess it’s just about surviving, moving forward. And sometimes moving forward is big steps and sometimes it’s baby ones. But as long as it’s forward, that’s what matters.
Tara: That’s a good perspective. I like that very much. I like the outward focus. I’m glad to hear things have come down for you after a very difficult time. I’m curious, what did you talk about at the WordCamp, at your first WordCamp talk?
Natasha: I did a talk about blogging and making blog posts SEO friendly – kind of tips and tricks for boosting your performance and writing good posts and all the on-site optimizations you can do. Somehow turning my job into a half-hour presentation. I had to talk fast to fit it all in.
Tara: Did you enjoy that process? Was it a goal that you set for yourself?
Natasha: It was a lot of fun. I love talking and sharing. I was on vacation that week leading up to the WordCamp, which was a bit of a challenge. I probably wasn’t as prepared as I could have been. I’m not afraid to admit that but it was good to just get that first experience of getting up there and sharing over with. Now I can take that experience and get ready for the next one.
Tara: Hopefully you’ll do another one.
Liam: You did a great job. I want to ask about soccer. Do you play? Do you just watch? I know you’re Toronto FC fan.
Natasha: I do play soccer. Similar to music, I played it growing up. I come from a soccer family. One half is English, one half is Dutch, so it’s quite literally in my blood. I always like to joke that my father takes time off of work whenever the World Cup comes around to sit at home and watch soccer on TV. And before his dad passed away, he would fly from Winnipeg to our house to sit at home with him and watch soccer on TV. That is the kind of soccer family I come from.
I played all growing up. Again took a break during University just because life gets in the way. For about three years, I’ve just started playing again and a local adult league. I’m not the greatest, I’m not terrible, but it’s a great way to be active and have some fun. Of course, I’m Toronto FC fan and anyone who follows me on twitter will definitely know that. I mean, it’s fun to follow…
Liam: They just won the MLS cup?
Natasha: No, we didn’t win. We lost.
Liam: Was it last year?
Natasha: We won in 2017.
Liam: That long ago. All right. I’m sorry.
Natasha: We just played a few weeks ago and unfortunately lost to Seattle. But it’s okay, I’m recovered. We’ll get over it. We’ve been following Toronto FC since the start. I’ve got photos of me at Toronto FC games wearing braces. It’s just a big family thing too. It’s lots of fun, lots of good family memories there with my dad and stepmom going to games and got season seats. So looking forward to next season already.
Tara: I’d like to ask you about your experience doing childcare and in sort of…it sound like it was education-related as well when you’re working with children. We hear from a lot of people who take their experience and teach others. So you’ve done a WordCamp talk, is there any part of you that thinks about your role combining your experiences as a teacher with your experience as a digital marketing person and doing some teaching?
Natasha: For sure. People thought I was crazy for making the jump from teaching to marketing but there’s honestly a lot more parallels than people realize. I think just in the day to day job itself, it’s about communication, very different tactics and then goals, but at the end of the day, it’s communication, getting your message across, getting people to understand something, convincing them of something.
One skill I think that really transferred from teaching to marketing while especially in my experience teaching English to French kids was just thinking how do you best present something, what medium should I use, what order do I present it in, even what specific words to use. Sometimes the very specific words with my French kids were really important because if you explained something as a word that’s very similar to French, it makes it easier for them to understand. It’s really not obvious transferable skills, but I really do feel like a lot of teaching and working with kids prepared me well for marketing.
Then also in the client relation aspect of it, I don’t have a largely client-facing role but I do take on the role sometimes of explaining more in depth things about SEO or things that might be a bit beyond our coordinator’s ability to explain. Even just explaining things to the rest of my team that they don’t quite grasp as much as I do. You may be able to tell from this I’m not always the world’s most concise speaker, but just the idea of taking a concept then just translate into a way that people understand and event that they value is definitely something that I took from education and childcare into the marketing world. Even just how to make things exciting and interesting, especially my time from summer camp prepared me well for that.
Liam: Natasha, I want to ask you about advice. It’s another one of our signature questions. The question is, is what advice have you been given or have you encountered and successfully implemented in your life? What’s the best advice that you took on board, worked well for you and you would want to pass on to somebody else?
Natasha: I think the best advice in general and also just in the sense that taking it had a really phenomenal impact on my life was by grade nine music teacher. It was after I picked up trombone, and I remember my music class that year fell second semester. So he encouraged me to not just play flute in that class, which I already knew, but to play trombone for the class.
I did one of my playing tests one day, and he asked me, “Are you going to audition for the senior jazz band?” And I looked at him, I was like, “No. Why would I do that?” He was talking about, “Oh, I think he could do it, whatever.” I was like, “Well, maybe. I’ll think about it.” In my head being like, “Absolutely not. You’re nuts.” But finally, what he asked was like, “Are you interested in it? Would you want to do it?” I was like, “Well, for sure. It would be really cool. I think it would be great experience.” He said, “Okay, well, let’s make it happen.”
I mean, to be honest, I probably got into that bandwidth maybe a little bit of a lower level ability than maybe some other people, but I think he just really believed in my potential and ability to work to get up to that standard that I need to be. I went on to have a really great musical career in high school and beyond. I often look back on that advice and just think, “Stop thinking about the barriers, stop thinking about the things go wrong.” Unfortunately, everything in life just because you want it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, but I think more often than not, if you say, “I really want to do this, I want to work towards it,” and you make that choice, then you can make it happen.
Liam: I love that. I think, to your point, it may not happen if you try but it’s certainly not going to happen if you don’t try it all.
Natasha: Absolutely. If you choose not to go for it, then you’re guaranteeing it won’t happen.
Liam: Absolutely, absolutely. Do you stay in touch with that teacher at all?
Natasha: I haven’t recently. It’s been one of those people it’s been on my list to say hi, do a check-in with but unfortunately, the list of people I need to check in with is long. I’m not always the greatest at staying in touch, especially if people aren’t on social media. But will work on that list. Good reminder. Thank you.
Liam: I’m not throwing stone. I’m not throwing stones. Maybe invite him to one of your upcoming shows.
Tara: There you go. That’s a good idea. Well, it sounds like that also set you up for being open to new opportunities when they come your way in terms of the path that you’ve taken since then as well. I think music is a great mind opener for people and I wish that I had more musical talent, but I encourage my kids to do a lot of music because I do think that if you can get over the geeky music nerd stuff in middle school, then it really it’s so many good things for your brain.
Natasha: So many life lessons.
Tara: Yeah, messing up, forgetting where you’re supposed to play, performing, all those things, being part of a team. That’s great. I’m glad to hear that it sounds it’s impacted you in more ways in music too. Well, and I guess playing soccer, teamwork too. You’ve been well-prepped for all of that.
Liam: Natasha, we are getting close to the end of our time together. Before we say goodbye to you, I want to ask if you can share where people can find you online, please.
Natasha: Yeah. The best way to connect with me would be on Twitter. You can follow me at @natasha_bd. You can also find my personal website online, natashabd.ca. Those are the best way to connect with me online. The only content that’s probably will interest you guys.
Tara: Well, I’m sorry we ran out of time so quickly. I was about to ask you another question and then I caught myself at the time so we’ll have to chat again.
Liam: Oh, go on Tara, ask the question. Come on now you’re making us feel bad.
Tara: I’ve already forgotten it. I’ve already forgotten what it was.
Liam: Natasha, it was a real pleasure to reconnect again with you. Thank you so much for joining us out here in our virtual hallway.
Tara: Thanks, Natasha.
Natasha: Thanks. It was great to talk to you, guys. Thanks for having me.
Liam: Thanks for listening to the show. We sure hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.
Tara: If you like what we’re doing here – meeting new people in our WordPress community – we invite you to tell others about it. We’re on iTunes and at hallwaychats.com.
Liam: Better yet, ask your WordPress friends and colleagues to join us on the show. Encourage them to complete the “Be on the show” form on our site, to tell us about themselves.