You are currently reading Issue 121: Women in Technology, April 2021

Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

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Rolling up my sleeves to tackle lack of diversity in tech – Dr Marily Nika, Product Manager for Google

Marily Nika

Dr Marily Nika works for Google as a product manager and holds a PhD in Computing Science from Imperial College London, as well as being a part time teaching fellow at Harvard Business School. She has delivered three TEDx talks and received international recognition, including the everywoman Tech Awards Woman of the Year in 2018, alongside the Women in Science and Engineering Influence Award in 2015 for empowering and mentoring the women in tech community. She is the co-founder of two women in tech communities dedicated to helping aspiring and established women in tech.

Marily Nika - Google
Dr Marily Nika

“People can’t and shouldn’t turn their heads away when they come across an all-male panel, or when they see that there are little to no women in leadership positions or boards of directors. Point it out, discuss it.”

Why computers became my passion

It’s great to be interviewed by you again. My career ‘began’ when I was seven and I discovered my brother’s old BASIC programming book. I spent hours typing words I found in the book on my family’s old computer. These commands made the machine perform a series of actions. I was ‘coding’ and was loving every minute of it.

Computers became my passion, and my dream was to become a technologist. Fast forward to now: I hold a PhD in computer science, I worked as an intern at Facebook, and seven years at Google later, I am more passionate about technology than ever.

A mini CEO

Today, being a product manager is very fulfilling. Think of it as being a mini CEO of a specific product area. My role is to advocate for the end-user but within an organisation. I am responsible for developing and prioritising product requirements, defining the product vision and strategic roadmap, and working closely with engineering, business, UX [user experience] and marketing to ensure that a product will be impactful.

Marily NikaA more formal definition I give for the product role during my courses is that the product manager helps their team (and company) build and ship the right product. On a day-to-day basis, I manage multiple technical products that are somewhat related to each other but are in different stages of the product lifecycle (i.e. from early explorations all the way to already launched products).

This means that every day I get to ‘wear’ different hats and collaborate with the different stakeholders of each project. The role requires a niche skillset of both soft and hard skills, which you can learn more about by following me on social media!

Changes to brought about by COVID-19

Working from home is now a new normal. For the courses I teach, working from home was great as I feel that I truly improved my storytelling and presentation skills, in an effort to keep students of large classes engaged over Zoom.

I also found that I formalised certain processes and the way I work in general quite a bit: I started documenting my work way more than before, just to ensure that everyone involved in my projects was aware of the full scope and moving parts of my work. I also found myself working more on the more urgent projects vs the “good to haves”, and that was OK. I figured it’s crucial to make sure that the important things get done.

I also feel that I became more efficient during meetings, as it’s much more difficult to collaborate remotely, so I made sure to make the most out of everyone’s time.

COVID-19 dramatically changed the nature of our social interactions. For me personally, COVID-19 caused anxiety and fear, but I found that in some ways the world came together and got a bit more united. I was able to attend conferences that were always in-person only. I was able to join support groups, brainstorming sessions, networking and mentorship events that I would have never done before. So, I did feel supported, but that’s because I sought support online, and I came across some fantastic people.

Rolling up my sleeves to tackle the lack of diversity in tech

Marily Nika TEDxOutside my day job, I empower the women in tech community. This is because, at times, I felt lonely in this field. It wasn’t diverse enough when I was getting started, and this is why I decided to roll up my sleeves and do something about it.

I love creating communities that advance and empower women that want to join tech fields, and this helped me not feeling lonely anymore. I met fantastic technologists that are doing outstanding work all over the world. There are many women I consider close friends that I haven’t even met yet!

Helping aspiring and established women in tech

In 2018 I was named Woman of the Year at FDM everywoman Technology Awards, which was a great honour. The same year I became a teaching fellow at Harvard Business School, where I teach a forum series about product management and get to meet aspiring product managers.

Since we spoke last, I became a co-founder of a global community of women dedicated to helping aspiring and established women in tech that has been active for almost a decade, and that has reached 50k women to date after years of operation. It was created simply because the more women get involved with tech, the more successful products will be in the future.

Bridging the gender gap

The statistics around gender balance in tech aren’t perfect, but they are improving. There are multiple initiatives that help. For example, the Grace Hopper Celebration, a celebration for women in tech that brings together over 15k women. I was in awe the first time I attended it and more inspired than ever.

However, there is still work to be done, and everyone, no matter their gender identity or background, can help bridge the gender balance gap. This can be done by:

  • Raising awareness for gender imbalance within tech – reporting numbers, giving talks. Starting the conversation;
  • Calling this out – people can’t and shouldn’t turn their heads away when they come across an all-male panel, or when they see that there are little to no women in leadership positions or boards of directors. Point it out, discuss it;
  • Celebrating women – it is very important to celebrate women in tech in your organisation, regardless of their seniority. That is because the world needs role models that they can identify with, in order to get inspired;
  • Empower women – go to schools, talk to your girls about this fantastic field. Create scholarship opportunities, become mentors, connect people, take a chance with someone that has work experience.

Tips for developing your career in tech

Make baby steps

You don’t need and you shouldn’t have all the answers now. Try things out, meet people, get experiences, expand your horizons, learn, fail, succeed. One day, you will just know what you truly want to do, trust your gut.

Stop being shy

Shyness is a skill you can fade out. In my case: I had never heard about the product management role prior to my first real job. It was a mentor of mine that pointed this role out and I immediately looked it up and realised it was perfect for me. But in order to find a mentor, I had to proactively reach out to someone that I looked up to on LinkedIn, so I had to get over being shy – if you don’t ask, the answer will be 100% no, so why not increase your chances?

Fail fast

Failure is a part of life. And I guarantee that you will be better and stronger after a failure, because of the learnings you will get. Just remember to anticipate failure, embrace it, and then leave it behind and move on.

Coming up next for me

I love learning, advancing my skills and acquiring new ones. That is exactly my plan – to keep getting better and better at what I do.

I am also very grateful that outside of my day job, I get to engage with activism when it comes to supporting the women in tech community and that I get to teach product management. I feel fulfilled and balanced. There is something to say about ‘side hustles’, they can help with future career ambitions too, they are very healthy, and I encourage everyone to figure out what their side hustles are.

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