Assia Kassabova

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Every month we ask one individual in our network a few questions about their way into tech, their motivation and their lessons learned.

Let’s start from the beginning: tell us about where you’re from!

I was born in Bulgaria and moved to New Zealand with my family when I was 13, where I went to school, university and started my professional life. Then I made a zig-zag back to Switzerland via London. I have many homes and many friends everywhere 🙂

What valuable advice did you get from your parents?

What I am very grateful to my parents for is providing the intellectual and supportive  environment to pursue what I want to do. I was very lucky to be raised in a family and culture where women were just as likely to study maths and science as men and all women worked (rare benefits of a communist upbringing!). Both of my parents are actually computer scientists. My mum worked in industry as an engineer and then in academia, and my dad still runs an AI research lab at an Auckland university. From that perspective there was never a doubt in my mind whether women could do math and be programmers etc. I always had a lot of support to go into that field.

How did you become interested in tech?

Perhaps because of my family environment, since I can remember I was always interested in maths, logical puzzles and generally pushing buttons and exploring how things worked. I loved to take things apart (with mixed success of putting them back together), and from the time I could read and write my dad would do BASIC puzzles with me (on paper!). I just never considered doing anything else but computing, but I have to point out that it was not in any way pressured or expected of me either – it was just a natural interest I had. My sister on the other hand is a writer! During my studies I became fascinated by the power of data and decided to dive into the field of business intelligence and data analytics.

What aspects of your work are you proudest of?

I am proud to have worked for small companies where your impact is more transparent and in one of these start-ups my team and I built the whole data warehouse and business intelligence environment from ground up. That was a really fun time!

What drives you at work?

The most motivating thing for me is solving interesting problems with a tangible benefit and impact. This could be designing a new data structure, finding an elegant way to extract and collate the data or experimenting with novel ways to analyse and visualise the results for optimised insights. Also the collaboration with like-minded, motivated and generous people cannot be underestimated. Oh, and learning new stuff!

What has been your toughest challenge you faced while working in tech?

The advantage of having poor memory is that I can’t think of anything that I would label as problem or challenge in the past. I believe I have always had excellent relationship with my colleagues, have not felt discriminated against and have been lucky to get the jobs I want! My challenge now is keeping up with the developments in technology and not being left behind. I am consciously trying to find time and mental space to keep learning, read the things that are interesting and follow tech developments. And my time is frustratingly inversely correlated to the speed of change :)!

What advice would you give other women in tech?

Let me just mention the points that I try to live by as I would feel uncomfortable to give advice that I don’t always follow myself!

Say yes to things slightly out of your comfort zone, be kind to yourself, it’s ok to sometimes do nothing and stare out of the window, be proud of your achievements, stand up for your beliefs and values and in a conflicting situation decide whether to confront it or just walk away, be curious, don’t take things too seriously, laugh at silly things, embrace the unknown and finally, a cliché but still good: be the change you want to see in others.

 

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