Natalia Burina remembers the summer vacations her family would take in Croatia before the Yugoslav Wars. She had a comfortable upbringing in a small town in Yugoslavia, surrounded by family and friends. Her father was a doctor and her mother a director, and her family was well-respected in their community.
"Then suddenly Yugoslavia was enveloped in a bitter ethnic war," Natalia said. "We immigrated to the US when I was a small child. My family lost everything in the move. We arrived with five suitcases and had to rebuild our lives.The experience of being uprooted is difficult but made me resilient and open to change."
Natalia's extended family was dispersed throughout the world in countries that offered them refugee status. Natalia ended up in Seattle, where she and five family members shared a two-bedroom apartment. "The school system was the toughest to adapt to after my move stateside," she said. "Initially I spent some time in a really bad school. I went from being the popular [girl] in Yugoslavia to getting beat up for being [the nerd]."
When she first arrived, she was years ahead of her peers, especially in math. She had difficulty adjusting to Seattle: She didn't speak the language at first, and as she began to succeed in school, she was bullied for being smarter than the other students. One special teacher helped her through all the changes she was experiencing. "[Gail Elad] was a Holocaust survivor and my personal angel," said Natalia. "She help me navigate the new environment that I was distressed by."
"Imagine growing up in unfamiliar surroundings with kids who don't think you belong," said Natalia. "I never fit in and escaped by reading." The experience made her acutely aware of the need to mentor kids and for the last decade she's been giving back by mentoring in low-income schools.
"I've always had a curious mind," said Natalia. "My role model is my mother, who was a software engineer at Microsoft in the early days." Naturally, she gravitated towards software engineering after completing her undergraduate degree in applied math at the University of Washington.
Because she had such a wonderful female role model, she encourages other women in tech to do the same. "Silicon Valley is filled with incredibly smart people with strong personalities. Many are open-minded and inclusive. Finding them is well worth the effort because their support is invaluable."
As a software engineer, Natalia worked at Microsoft, then eBay. "I loved interacting with users and discussing at length what to build next. So I moved into Product Management initially building web search at Microsoft Bing and then building e-commerce at eBay. It was the perfect role for me to think about vision, strategy, and execution. It prepared me to found Parable, which was the toughest challenge by far."
Parable is a creative photo network that give users a photo as a canvas to express their emotions with fonts, filters, and other personalization tools. "We had noticed two social trends: ugly memes and social media posts with deep meaning," said Natalia, on why she created Parable. "We realized users wanted to express themselves with digital content. There was, however, no way to make these as beautiful works of art. I founded Parable to let everyone share creatively and build a network around viral images."
"Our apps were released to design kudos, international press and thousands of global users," says Natalia. " Apple also featured them prominently. Ultimately, Samsung bought Parable and this gave us resources to take it to the next level."
After Samsung bought Parable, Natalie became an Entrepreneur in Residence in their Global Innovation Center. "It was a great experience expanding the Samsung portfolio and working with other startups," said Natalia. "I'm thrilled to have recently joined Salesforce as a Director of Product where I'm working on building great products at scale."