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Nael El Shawwa, B.Eng.Mgt. '08

(Software Engineering) | Programmed for Creativity

A passion for creativity has always been part of Nael El Shawwa’s love of computers and software, so it’s hardly surprising that he’s landed in the position of VP of Engineering at Shutterstock Custom.

The Custom product of Shutterstock – a company known for its stock of digital creative content – allows global brands to connect with a worldwide network of contributors to create visual stories for marketing.

“I’m responsible for the people, tech and processes that enable this to happen,” says El Shawwa, who earned his B.Eng in Software Engineering & Management in 2006 then completed his Masters of Computational Engineering and Sciences in 2008.

In 2015, he joined a 10-person startup called FlashStock as VP of Engineering. The company eventually grew to over 130 people, and was acquired by Shutterstock. 

“As I grew up with a computer, I always saw software programs as a type of game, where you got to make the computer do whatever you imagined,” he says. “Often, I was programming the computer to draw and animate different things.”

The opportunity to work with teams of “amazingly talented people” is one of the joys of software development, says El Shawwa.

Career highlights include building a website for Google that was linked to from google.com for Earth Day 2008 and seeing millions of people visit the website that day, creating an interactive map for students at the University of Ottawa and building the algorithm that created directions for the “warmest path” between various locations on campus, and working on Canada’s first online investing advice platform at the Bank of Montreal.

 “When I made my decision to go into Software Engineering, I had no idea tech would be such a strong and dominant field worldwide,” he says. “We had just come out of the dot com burst and everyone’s outlook on the industry was negative. Still, I followed what I was passionate about and it turned out to be a pretty good decision after all.”

For today’s students, he encourages the pursuit of uncertainty.

“If you ever feel you’ve learned everything there is to be learned in any space or topic, ask yourself what you would do make it 10x faster, 100x smaller, or 1000x bigger? This question will always push you back into the sweet spot where you are uncomfortable and your goal is just out of reach of your grasp.”