Nataliia Pelykh

Nataliia Pelykh is a Solutioning Director, Product at Ciklum, a global digital solutions company for Fortune 500 and fast-growing businesses.

She has a proven track record of leading global product development for some of the world’s largest organisations in roles of product owner and business analyst. Nataliia led cross-functional teams, worked as internal competency lead, and now is primarily focused on setting up new product engineering engagements. Prior to IT, Nataliia worked in business consulting at EY.

Nataliia’s contribution to her organisation and wider IT community helped her secure Finalist positions in Ukrainian and UK IT Awards in two consecutive years. She has also been nominated multiple times for the Women In Tech Excellence Awards.

Additionally, Nataliia is a Board Member of a non-profit organisation with a key focus on professional education and networking events. Recently, this society launched ‘Fearless Girls’ program aimed at helping women affected by war in Ukraine, which Nataliia is actively supporting.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

My name is Nataliia, which is quite an international name, but double “i” in its spelling will tell you about my Ukrainian origin. My career didn’t begin in tech – but instead as an analyst at EY. I was working on financial models and forecasting for a whole host of industries, including agriculture, oil and gas. After several years I switched to the role of IT business analyst and that is how my journey in custom software development began.

The size and complexity of the products that I worked with grew over time, along with my responsibilities. After working as a business analyst, I became a lead for the department, got heavily involved in the pre-sales process and thought leadership activities. That led me to my current role, which is focused on setting up new engagements with our clients.

Starting from the early stage I identify clients’ business needs and suggest the best ways to meet these needs based on industry trends and the art of possible. This advisory particularly includes matching needs to our company’s offerings, suggesting proper team structure, engagement phasing, and ways to set up mutual collaboration for success. As every client is unique, I love to continuously improvise in finding the best way to address their needs.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Once I heard a saying that everyone has a plan until they get punched. I am still in love with this saying because it describes well how I plan my career.

During my last year in school, I made a very clear plan – to have a career in the investment/finance industry. I got my master’s degree in corporate finance, applied for a dedicated certification program in investments, and started my career in valuation & business modeling. Everything to get closer to the goal. But then a crisis hit Ukraine. Many industries faced a serious decrease. However, IT in particular happened to be quite resilient at that time and grew exponentially. And I saw it as an opportunity for me to reconsider my plan. It was a chance to accelerate my career by joining a fast-paced industry. I decided to use market trends and made a new career plan for a switch. Or as people in IT say, I pivoted! I applied my transferable skills and got a lot of new knowledge to make a shift between industries. A shift that I never regretted as I found a perfect fit for my interests and aspirations here.

Another example of career planning took place almost 2 years ago when I discussed my further roles with my manager. He asked me how I envisioned a press release about my career. Because it was a popular technique among product managers, something that we dealt with on a regular basis. I was supposed to write down a media piece about my career achievements that can be read in the future. The purpose was to understand what I really want forward and start working on it backward from today.  I did not put the titles in my press release, I put key skills and the nature of my ideal job instead. I also put an experience abroad as one element which I envisioned as a part of that ideal plan. Who would have known how would it eventually happen in my life?! A year after that plan I needed to flee from home to adapt to life in new cities. So technically a move happened according to the plan, but the way it happened was never considered.

After this experience, I still plan my career regularly. Planning helps me to crystalize what I want, which gaps I need to close to get to the next level, and which strengths worked well for me before. But I never expect that everything will go according to plan. I often look around to understand what has changed that would affect the success of my plan.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

In early 2021 we recorded a video dedicated to International Women’s Day where I got the same question. My answer back then was that a challenge for me was a first impression that I made. When you are a young lady, you most probably might be perceived not as a strong experienced professional.

Over the time, I learned to deal with that. And not only aging and more work experience helped. I decided to widen my experience through extracurricular volunteering activities and continuous education. By doing so I got additional knowledge, expertise, and other perspectives, which I could not get at work. Technically I accelerated time which counts as a work experience through these activities.
One example was taking an executive leadership program at Stanford business school. There I had many opportunities to work with professors, coaches, and incredibly talented peers across the globe. It brought me knowledge from so many companies and industries that I would need years and many employment changes to get it on my own.

Not only I got more knowledge and other experience, but I also gained a lot of confidence to present myself better. All of that helped me to overcome the challenge.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Over the past three years, I regularly participate in IT awards and they ask specifically this question in their questionnaires. Every year I put my latest biggest achievement – in 2020 it was a performance on a large program, in 2021 it was a setup of processes for a newly established department, in 2022 it was mostly personal resilience and growth. Every year is unique for me.
But if I were to name one, I would refer to the previous interview question and say that I am really proud of the first introduction I can make today.

In six years from my first day in tech, I managed to make a career from Analyst to Director, led several large initiatives across the business, got into a world-top business school, was elected as a board member of a non-profit organization, and got recognition in the final of multiple IT awards. That is the introduction that makes me feel proud.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

Persistence. I have always been determined in getting something I wanted, even if I could not get it on the first attempt. It is also applicable to finding managers and peers who really supported me in my growth through mentoring, referrals, and providing opportunities to take a challenge. If I did not meet a supportive peer in any initiative right away, I kept looking for allies. And eventually found so many of them!

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Staying curious. I believe that one thing that differentiates tech from other industries is fast dynamics. New products, new ways of working, new team setups, new organizational structures arise almost every day. Once you allow yourself not to be interested in them, once you limit your views by your current product/organisation, you literally steal from your success. Talk to engineers, product managers, and marketers and you will see how you can be even more successful applying their learnings!

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Yes, I do and I bet I am not alone in this answer. One of the barriers is actually an entrance itself. Research shows that women do not apply for the job if they do not think it is a 100% fit. Men do not do the same, they frequently apply even if there is no perfect fit. So I would say that it is important to stop overthinking. And it is vital to treat a rejection not as personal denial, but as a pure business decision. If this one did not work, there are plenty of others.

Another barrier is the perception of women in tech from the early life stages. Girls in schools rarely pick STEM as their choice and it becomes harder for them to excel there later. There are many ways to overcome this problem, but the one which inspired me recently was a book for girls written by my peer in the class. The book called “Terysa solves it” teaches computer programming basics through the eyes of a little girl. That is how girls can form a perception that technology might become their thing early on!

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Among all possible means to encourage more women in IT, I personally would focus on coaching women inside organizations. From what I witnessed in my experience, there are many companies losing stellar female leaders due to the lack of coaching, mentoring and development opportunities available to them. Women enter tech but then find out that top roles in the company are usually male and there is a very limited view to progressing women toward more senior or managerial roles. They tend to fall into the trap of being perceived as assertive and allow biases to limit their career growth.

Should we provide better coaching for women pursuing professional development into leadership, I believe it would help to retain current female employees and attract more new women into the industry to follow in their footsteps. We need to empower more women to build their long-term careers in IT.

There is currently only 15% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I would probably do some magical injection of ambitions. The injection which boosts the confidence of women who want to enter the industry, but are afraid due to multiple reasons. If the injection would help them to believe in their capabilities, realize where they can find a fit for their skills, and remove fear of rejection, I would definitely feel like a magician improving tech world.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

This is a very hard question, as I read a lot from various areas, so no article would fit it. But to name at least a few I got a lot of knowledge from the following resources: