Benjamin Armstrong graduated from Northwestern in 2011 with a degree in Political Science. While at NU, he developed a passion for U.S foreign policy and African politics (and wrote quite a bit for NBN). He took it upon himself to travel to Nigeria, Ghana, and Uganda on separate occasions to explore their political infrastructures and participate in development work. He was actively involved with NU Political Union and landed an internship at The White House after his junior year. After graduation, he took a Legal Assistant position at Google and recently moved over to Hattery Labs as an Associate.
What is your day to day job like at Hattery Labs?
We work with a variety of technology startups and projects in the US and abroad, and I am lucky to have a job that varies wildly from day to day. Some days are packed with calls and meetings (I work as much as I can with international projects so many of these are at strange times), and others are focused on reading and writing. I particularly enjoy the startup environment because the questions that one faces change quickly, and I often have little or no experience trying to solve them. It is a great setting for young people and for experimentation.
How has your political science background influenced your perspective on technology?
I am not a technology power user in my personal life — I prefer paper books and enjoy separation from my mobile phone. However, certain internet and mobile technologies present unmatched opportunities to address the key questions and problems of good governance and democracy, which I grew to care about while studying political science. I agree with the professors who claim that people and institutions — not technologies — drive systematic change. Intelligent uses of technology in these contexts can increase the scale, speed, and probability with which groups can achieve that change — for good or for ill. This is why I find it so important to try to understand technological innovation.
What was your original motivation for coming to Northwestern?
In my first tour of Northwestern’s campus, a Nigerian friend brought me to the Africana Library and we paged through the 17th Century journals of Dutch explorers. The library and strong Africa programs associated therewith – coupled with an excellent reputation for academics – sold me on Northwestern. As an alumnus, I am most excited about supporting Northwestern’s social innovation programs and global initiatives through the Buffett Center and other Northwestern institutions.
How has networking/mentorship played a role in your career progression?
I am deeply grateful for fantastic mentors like Bob Cummins, whose law firm I worked for in high school and who has since become a de facto family member. His work for me exemplifies professional ethics and diligence — more than anything, working with him set an example for how to grapple with challenging intellectual problems. Moreover, spending time with Mr Cummins and his colleagues has made work in college and afterward easier and more natural.
What motivated you to explore Africa? and what major things did you learn from the experiences abroad?
My interest in Africa began with a curiosity about the human impact that corruption and small business entrepreneurship have on the continent. It grew after I worked with and became friends with Africans who shared many of the same fascinations and goals. The chief lesson I draw from
abroad is how little I know and how diverse the world is. Travel exposes us to realities on the ground that make our concept notes and ideas from campuses in Evanston or offices in San
Francisco seem silly. They reveal that the only effective transnational work is built through very strong partnerships where local organizations take the lead wherever possible.