Maria Vrakopoulou

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 grew up in Athens in Greece. After obtaining my Electrical Engineering degree there, I moved to Switzerland to pursue a PhD at in ETH Zurich. I went to the US for a couple of years to do postdoctoral research and now I am back at ETH Zurich. A big part of my postdoctoral research was funded by a Marie Curie fellowship. My work is focused on power systems engineering problems.

What valuable advice did you get from your parents?

I grew up in a home where there was a lot of freedom in our choices. My parents always pointed out that we should do what we love to do but without forgetting to take care of ourselves. If I was up working after midnight, I remember my father advising me many times to stop working and go to bed.

How did you become interested in tech?

Unfortunately, I do not have a fancy story to tell about it. I was always motivated to play with math and solve practical problems, and at the same time I was very at bad and bored when memorizing anything. Hence, at the end of the high school I decided to attend a technological school, which I thought would be the most enjoyable path.

What aspects of your work are you proudest of?

I should admit here that I consider myself a modest person with respect to my personal achievements. I would be very proud of my work if I could see that it practically influenced the life of people in a positive way. Being in  academia, it may require quite some time until I see the effect of my work on society. But this is the goal!

What drives you at work?

Maybe this question is partially answered by the previous question: my main drive is to produce research that, in the long term, may affect people’s quality of life. The mode of action may be different every day. I feel more excited to go to work when the problem I am working on needs exploration and creativity, and it is not only a matter of time to get a result. Additionally, my motivation is very much affected by the people I collaborate with. I really enjoy working with bright and enthusiastic people that are open to new ideas, who are eager to share and collaborate.

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

I have never experienced any challenge that was even implicitly  initiated due to the fact that women are the minority in the tech working environment. A big challenge that I could think of  actually rises from our own minds and is related to setting the right expectations. I feel that setting very high expectations on both our work and our personal life could be very difficult to  handle. In tech, there is an immense amount of rapidly changing information, thus developing the skill set to identify where to invest our time is vital for a healthy and happy life. Balancing out our personal and professional goals is probably the greatest challenge in academia.

What advice would you give other women in tech?

I would like to share a couple of points I have found important from a life perspective from my experience working in a tech environment

  • Look at the big picture in life, and identify what you enjoy about your work
  • Collaborate with inspiring people
  • Take the time to take care of yourself
  • Enjoy life outside work



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