Nyla Innuksuk; Toronto;
Let’s say we’ve just met at a cocktail party. How would you describe, in a nutshell, what you do?
This is funny because I don’t think my parents know what I do for a living. I would say “I am the executive director of a tech start-up called NKSK that produces virtual reality and augmented reality content.”
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I went to Ryerson Unversity, in the Image Arts program with a focus on film production.
What was your first paying gig out of school? (In your field, or not.)
My first paid gig in my field while in school was editing online porn. It paid more than retail and I could work from a Starbucks.
Two weeks after graduation I began working at Big Soul Productions based out of Toronto. I was there for three years, starting as an in-office production coordinator. I was able to move up to associate producer, then production manager. It was amazing to learn what I could do within such a supportive company run by another female entrepreneur, Laura Milliken.
What was your BIG break? How did you land it?
When I first attended a Toronto “meet-up” in 2014 and first discovered VR. This was when it was really exciting because there were no platforms for VR. We were hobbling cameras together and creating content, but headsets were development kits and YouTube and Facebook hadn’t launched their 360 players yet. It was as if overnight I had found this amazing passion for something with endless ways to create. I immediately became a bore to every member of my family, because I could talk for hours about it, and with incredible focus. Which sounds fine for me, but my parents and my boyfriend and my close friends were basically hearing this language they didn’t understand and to be honest, didn’t think was all that interesting.
THE BIG BREAK happened when I sat beside a film producer on a plane. Since then he has become a close friend and mentor. I told him that I was working in the VR space and he was actually curious about the possibilities of telling narrative stories through this medium. I convinced him I was capable of producing for him and we made a really great VR extension for one of his films just in time for the newly released YouTube and Facebook player upgrades.
That’s when the hustle kicked in and soon with just a backpack stuffed with a couple headsets, and my friend from that plane ride, I was putting other people’s content on to producer’s/ investor’s heads at Cannes telling them that VR was going to be the next big thing.
Describe the moment in which you first realized, I think this is actually going to work out?
During the beginning of all of this, I ran into someone who I had seen around because of the nature of our work (I was an Indigenous filmmaker and he had a tech company that produced app-based games for Nunavut youth). We caught up and became best friends almost immediately and Ryan Oliver of Pinnguaq Association asked if I would like to join their team as a VR producer. I don’t think that was a job that existed before, although there are others that were starting to pop up around the city, made up of friends who I had met during our meet-up days.
What would you say has been your biggest failure or shortcoming, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back?
I think the biggest shortcoming for all of us working in this very new medium has been the technological issues that have to be resolved over time. These changes in technology and tools can progress by the week, the day. That means, if you watch some of the stuff you made six months ago, you are already thinking of how it would be better if you used some of the tools that have popped up in that time.
Name one piece of career advice you always give.
For entrepreneurs; wait until you have everything in place before you launch and don’t promise more than you are able to provide based on ego. That being said, when you are ready, “Be the first and make it better than anyone else”.
For general career advice, I would say that a job is better than no job first and foremost, but you can turn it into the most rewarding experience, and possible career by following a few steps.
- Find out what field gets you excited.
- Look for organizations, companies that share the same values as you do, and have a goal for the job that will work best with you long-term and provides the motivation to move forward within your chosen field. This is the time where you can experiment a bit with finding out if you work better as a leader, or if you work better in a group dynamic where you have strong leadership.
- Once you have a goal, build up and maintain s which will always be your foundation, and reach out for help. The best thing to do is to ask people (including the person sitting in the dream job) how did you get there? What steps can I take to work your way up to your level? People actually want to help out for the most part and by asking for help you are showcasing your level of initiative. Try not to be creepy here.
- Finally, just take the advice that most people have to say. First impressions count, present yourself as if you already landed the dream job, even if you are working as the assistant to the coordinator of a division within the office of the dream job.
What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?
“Self-promotion is tacky.”
Did you deal with barriers in your field because you are a woman? If so, what were they?
I work in tech, which means most of my colleagues are men. So are the majority of the people I hire to be on my “roster” when I am building teams for a client, although we are pretty well gender-balanced. There are some very young men in tech who think they know everything and forget who the boss is. I find for women it is difficult to run a well-oiled machine and also be taken seriously. I have stooped so low as to bringing my boyfriend (who is amazing, but at least in the early days, didn’t know a thing about VR) to meetings because I felt I would be taken more seriously. Sure enough, for the first 10 minutes, they stare right at him until I can make it clear that I am the one they should be addressing, not the dude. As an Indigenous woman, I also have to navigate the waters with another threat. I can’t tell you how many contemporaries have spoken about partnerships involving cultural appropriation and being added on to projects, based purely on my background. It’s insulting and the worst thing for me is being treated as a token to justify what other people are producing or how they are increasing the size of their pockets. It feels slimy, and I don’t like slime between 9 and 5.
Are you making a fair income for your work? Why or why not? Do you have a side hustle for extra cash? If so, what is it?
Of course I have side hustles! But I am also making a fair income from my business. My side hustle is developing multiple streams of income, so that if this company or the industry fails, I still have room to rethink, take a breath and do it again, but better. These include contract positions, consultation fees, speaking on panels (on issues related to Indigeneity, or tech) and taking on some more creative work: gallery installations, films, alternative forms of expression through tech.
What’s the worst stereotype you’ve heard about millennials at work?
I don’t really listen to that stuff. I’m guessing you’re talking about the stereotype that we are lazy, and think that we can make a career without going through the traditional career paths of the generation before us. And maybe that too many of us think we can have a living by building small businesses, start-ups, or developing apps? I wonder how many people who are saying these things have ever ridden an Uber, ordered dinner or lunch from a service like Foodora, bought a Groupon, played Flappy Bird, or bought/traded/sold anything through Craigslist?