Inspirational Woman: Mimi Nguyen | Co-Founder, Mana Search & Associate Lecturer of MA Innovation Management, Central Saint Martins

Mimi Nguyen

With 10 years in the industry and a background in tech consulting at Accenture and the Boston Consulting Group, Mimi Nguyen is the co-founder of Mana Search R&D Mana Labs and an Associate Lecturer of MA Innovation Management at Central Saint Martins.

Mimi is also a PhD candidate at Imperial College London, Faculty of Engineering and Royal College of Art. Mimi's research explores cross-functional remote teams and how we can increase creativity and innovation, as well as team productivity in a virtual world of work. The study on socio-cognitive aspects of online collaboration aims at finding a solution, leveraging natural language processing from machine learning, to improve the way we communicate and build better teams.

Mimi is also a podcast on ‘Searching for Mana’ - a progressive podcast celebrating leaders and founders in the tech and finance space.

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

I have a background in tech consulting at the likes of Accenture and the Boston Consulting Group and I am currently a lead of Mana Search R&D Mana Labs and an Associate Lecturer of MA Innovation Management at Central Saint Martins. I am also a PhD candidate at Imperial College London in the Faculty of Engineering.

My research with Imperial College London explores cross-functional remote teams and how can we increase creativity and innovation, as well as team productivity in a virtual world of work - the pandemic has presented some fascinating challenges for businesses!

I also often co-host on ‘Searching for Mana’ podcast which explores the ‘superpowers’ driving successful business leaders. I’ve always been interested in the characteristics of those who are pushing innovation forward.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career? 

No, I was studying Quantitative Methods, which nowadays would be called Data Science, and had no idea this would become the sexiest skillset. I later went on to study Media Art at the University of Arts Berlin and Central Saint Martins - and again creativity, design and UX was not a hot topic among traditional organisations. Tech has exponentially changed the world we know and many roles did not exist 5-10 years ago, so I believe we need to be agile with our careers and willing to constantly learn and upskill ourselves.

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

When I was working in Poland, I couldn’t be promoted due to lack of an MA degree. But when I came to the UK, there was no requirement for one. I strongly believe that we should not be defined by certificates and papers. Similarly,  pure AI-powered recruitment solutions dry matching CVs with jobs specs would miss on many valuable talents.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Being a part of bootstrapping a search company that has organically grown whilst being pregnant was such a personal achievement for me. It is amazing to see how we’ve grown from 3 people in the flat to a great ambitious team in our office now in the heart of the City of London.

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

My Asian name is so complicated that you can’t tell from my resume that I’m female. Jokes aside, I believe in serendipity and inspiration from unexpected encounters. For example, I learnt prototyping after a coffee-machine conversation with one of my previous colleagues, which later led me to a Product Owner role in a game development company. Having the confidence to put myself out there and speak with many people created a butterfly effect of who I am now.

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

Don’t base your career on buzzwords like AI or Blockchain or Python but on analytical skill sets and a deep understanding of the area that interests you most. 10 years ago, Data Science jobs used to be in the Analytics Departments, AI used to be called Big Data, Python programmers used to use SQL and SAS languages. It’s a bit like when you speak Latin, you can quickly pick up French/ Spanish / Italian. As a mum, I will not teach my daughter coding but encourage developing her aptitude, analytical mindset and collaboration skills.

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

This is something I ask a lot of leading women in tech who we have on our Searching for Mana podcast and one thing that comes up is just our perception. Many women would not apply to tech roles although they have sufficient qualifications. We also tend to ask less aggressively for promotions.  However, learning from our female podcast guests like Charlotte Crosswell, Fiona Ghosh, Lara Gilman or Shefali Roy, and many more, women are leading in tech companies and that’s our inspiration.

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

One positive thing about tech is that it doesn’t require a degree from a university. In the age of MOOCs or online tutorials with open source and open innovation, everyone can learn new skills and connect to mentors without leaving the house. At my previous job at iwoca, we got a treehouse license, and I know a girl who became a Python master to excel her Credit Risk role.

There is currently only 17% 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? 

Enforced numbers commitments drive the wrong attitude. We cannot sacrifice quality over quantity. Sometimes it looks like it is easier to be hired as a woman in tech teams because the company needs better PR.

For me, it should start with education. Supporting girls from the very beginning to be curious and not stigmatising STEM subjects would encourage more women to continue within this direction. Maths, physics, engineering is for everyone. Take an example of Ada Lovelace, the English mathematician from the nineteenth century, who is believed by some as the first computer programmer.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

  • Woman in Innovation is a fantastic space for networking and mentorship with inspiring female leaders.
  • Stackoverflow - whenever I get stuck, I ask the community. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you”!
  • Book: Pink Noises: Women on Electronic Music and Sound, Tara Rodgers - empowering book about gender and identity from the angle of women in electronic music and sound culture.
  • And lastly, our Searching for Mana podcast!

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