10 Questions with Marily Nika
Marily Nika (she/her) is an AI Product Manager at Google. She is based in Mountain View, California, and focuses in Speech ML for the Google Assistant. She also works for Harvard Business School’s Analytics Program as a part-time Teaching Fellow.
Prior to that, Marily completed a Ph.D in Computing Science at Imperial College London, interned at Facebook. and founded an EdTech startup.
Marily is passionate about empowering the Women in Tech community and she received 2018’s Woman in tech of the Year Award (by everywoman) and 2015’s Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Influence Award for her efforts in building impactful communities — three to date, impacting over 10k people over the world.
1. How did you get into tech?
I got into tech when I was really young. It must have been ~20–25 years ago when I first discovered my brother’s BASIC programming book and started experimenting with our — then — Intel 486 computer. A few accidental missing core system files and booting errors later, I realized that I loved puzzles and loved coming up with creative ways to solve problems. I immediately knew that the career I wanted to pursue would be revolved around technology, and eventually AI.
2. Who’s one person in your life you looked up to when you were younger?
My mother. She had a natural skill for math, and despite growing up in a time of great unrest, she managed to pursue her dream to major in Maths, when Maths degrees only had less than 1% women, in a class of over 150 students.
3. Where’s your hometown?
4. What’s a time you faced a struggle?
In my early 20s, I found myself majoring in a field that I liked a lot, but it wasn’t in line with my career goals. By that point, I felt that it was too late to pursue a career in tech, and while I was trying to convince myself to let go of that dream, it turned out that I really couldn’t. You really can’t (and shouldn’t!) let go of dreams!
When I realized that, I decided to start over. I was prepared to complete my then BSc degree as quickly as possible, and spend another three to four years on a CS major. Thankfully, my mentor stepped in and told me that not all MSc degrees required a BSc in the same field, and I was thrilled! That’s when I found and immediately applied to an excellent MSc in Computing Science program, which I ended up pursuing the year after. Not only is it not ‘bad’ to switch fields, but it’s very common and also celebrated in tech. (I wrote an article for the Telegraph on this topic: “Is Computer Science for you?”)
5. What’s a time you did something you were immensely proud of?
I am really proud of completing a Ph.D. in Computing Science. I chose a multidisciplinary topic that involved Epidemiology, Social Networks, Computer Science and Analytics, and that I was extremely passionate about. I was very motivated by Sheryl Sandberg’s quote: “Women need to shift from thinking ‘I’m not ready to do that’ to thinking ‘I want to do that — and I’ll learn by doing it.’” People can achieve so much if they have a bit of confidence, and I would lie if I said that there weren’t challenging moments throughout my Ph.D research. However, I kept on going. I kept studying and trying new methodologies out until I got the results that I was after.
6. What’s something that’s been on your mind a lot lately?
How to raise a baby while working full-time. I am grateful for the ‘Moms in tech’ Facebook group, which is a community of thousands of women that share ideas and advice on all sorts of topics around tech and being a mom.
7. Favorite food?
Aromatic crispy duck with hoisin sauce and pancakes. It was my go-to food when living in London.
8. Favorite book?
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg.
9. If you could try another job for a day, what would it be?
10. If you could give your 18-year-old self a piece of advice, what would it be?
I grew up with immense ambition. I believed that when I worked really hard, opportunity would come my way. I hoped that my efforts would be automatically recognized and that they would tell a story on their own — something like a happy ending to a movie.
It took a while for me to realize that this isn’t how the world works. Hope on its own is not a strategy. Don’t get me wrong, you need to have hope, especially when things get challenging, but that’s not enough. You can’t just ‘hope’ to get a particular job, and you can’t ‘hope’ to pursue a certain career path; you need to do the work required towards a goal, from the ground up, be the best you can be, and at the same time, advocate for yourself and for your work without being afraid to fail. Failing is ok. In fact, it can be great as it may unlock new opportunities that you weren’t planning for. I recently wrote an article about this on Huffington Post.