Nicole, who leads our Customer Success team, is undoubtedly the most popular Chatterbug employee among our users! Born in Russia and raised in Togo, she grew up speaking Ewe, French, and Russian. Later, she moved to France but quickly realized it wasn’t the place for someone who dislikes cheese, so she eventually settled on Germany, specifically Berlin, which boasts a lot of excellent dairy-free cuisines. In her free-time she eats summer rolls, reads a lot about race, gender and history, and learns German and Spanish simultaneously!
What brought you to Chatterbug?
I had another job offer, for a big social network where I would have been one of many nameless staff members, and that didn’t feel very warm and fuzzy. At Chatterbug, I had a homey feeling right away. In fact, at my first interview, I felt so comfortable in the office that I took off my shoes at the entrance as if I had come to a friend’s place. It took me a few seconds to realize that I was walking barefoot to a job interview and I had to invent something to go back and put my shoes on. That still makes me chuckle today!
If you weren’t working here today, what would you be doing?
I’d be sitting at a sunlit desk, writing a book. That is now my retirement plan!
What inspires you the most when you come to the office?
These days, it’s hoping to find a free desk all to myself, that’s in a well lit room. It used to be the loudness of our lunch breaks where everyone helps with the cooking while speaking in phrasal verbs, but the kitchen is too small for all of us now.
When I first met you, I thought you were an English native speaker. Tell me, how did you achieve such mastery of this language?
I’m not proud of it, but I must admit that the show Gossip Girl taught me English. Of course I learned English at school and even took an advanced course where we read Virginia Woolf, but I learned to speak like a native by watching spoiled kids who lived very dramatic lives on the Upper East Side and finished every sentence with “xoxo, Gossip Girl”.
Did you imagine you would end up working in EdTech?
Funnily enough, I did. When I went to university, I became very disappointed with a lot of things I’d learned in school, especially my history classes, which had a tragically one-sided perspective. I had a lot of time to read and I discovered so many things that I think should be obligatory knowledge at school. So a friend of mine had this idea to build an interactive program aimed at teaching you everything you missed at school. It never came to be but some version of this idea still lives in the back of my mind somewhere.
So Nicole, you are the reason we don’t have a dog in our office. How would you feel about a cat?
A part of my job at Chatterbug is to get users to like me, and this question is about to earn me a lot of enemies. To clarify, I like dogs, but unfortunately, I have cynophobia (an irrational fear of little puppies). Now cats, I simply don’t get along with very well. My favorite pet would be a goldfish but then I find it cruel to keep an animal in a bowl of tap water. I’d rather know that they are freely swimming and if I want to look at one, I can rewatch Finding Nemo.
How do you see Chatterbug in 10 years from now?
I’d love for us to offer some non mainstream languages. I’m Togolese and I speak Ewe, which is a regional language spoken only in the south of Togo and Ghana. So how about us offering virtual reality lessons where you’d have an Ewe lesson while walking on the beach in Togo and describing what you see?
You grew up speaking three fundamentally different languages. Can you share any embarrassing anecdote from when you were trying to juggle all three of them as a child?
Oh my! Every time my mom and I went on vacation to Russia, we struggled to speak in full Russian sentences the first days. My mom and I speak “Russench” (a mix of Russian & French), and our family doesn’t speak any French. For the first days of any vacation, we’d keep inserting foreign words into our speech and my relatives politely nodded along even though they had no idea what we were talking about. Working at Chatterbug doesn’t help with sticking to just one language either because your brain is constantly processing information in English, Spanish, French, and German.
What makes your day when it comes to customer interactions?
Obviously, kind words about the work we put in as a team. We do put in a lot of work and thought into Chatterbug and it’s nice to have that acknowledged. But in everyday interactions, it’s just important to know that there is a person on the other end of the chat. The simplest things like saying “hi” and “thank you”, or somebody wishing you a “nice weekend” on Friday really do make my day.
What do you wish we did more as a company?
When we launched our English course for Spanish speakers, it was so important for me to see people on the team work hard for us to adopt gender neutral pronouns across the Spanish site. Spanish is a slightly more gendered language than English and that decision not only makes for an easier read, it’s also a radical way to take position for inclusivity. I’d like to see even more of those conversations happen!
Language and culture are political, and I’m a very politically-minded person. To me, questioning the social biases that our speech carries is an absolute necessity. I’d like to see us organize workshops on how language and culture are intrinsically biased and think of ways to transcend those biases in our curriculum and everyday speech.
Why is it that in French, the word for “ghost-writer” is also a very offensive way to refer to a black person. Still in French, when you refer to a room full of women, you use the feminine pronoun “elles” but as soon as one man appears in the picture, you must switch to the masculine pronoun “ils”. Why is that? What would the language of a more egalitarian society look like?
What is going to be your, what, 9th language to learn?
Ok, you’re flattering me! I speak four languages and I’m learning German and Spanish on Chatterbug. Once these two are good enough, I’ll be done with verbal languages. It’s hard to relax when you understand a lot of what people say around you all the time. I recently signed up for a programming course and I love the feeling of learning to write [code] for the first time. I’ve done the most basic HTML so far but it’s rocking my world.
And in the name of inclusivity, I might one day take up sign language. Wink wink Chatterbug!