Didem Un Ates featured

Inspirational Woman: Didem Ün Ates | Senior Director, AI Customer & Partner Engagement, Microsoft

Didem Un AtesFollowing her Electrical Engineering and Management studies at the University of Pennsylvania, Didem started her career with management consulting at CapGemini and Motorola.

After graduating from Columbia Business School (CBS) in 2005, Didem continued her career at Greenwich Consulting (now part of EY) and British Telecom in London, UK.

Her passion for technology led her to join Microsoft’s Information & Content Experiences Group where she and her team signed c. 1,500 partnerships across 60 markets. She held other business development and partner management roles as part of Microsoft Accelerators and the Business AI teams. In her current role, Didem is focusing on scaling Microsoft’s SaaS AI solutions such as Dynamics Customer Service Insights and Virtual Agent.

Didem has 20+ years of multinational leadership experience in business development, management consulting, and product management in executing international roll outs, implementing new market entries, and building new revenue streams from disruptive technologies in EMEA, APAC, and LatAm.

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

Following my Electrical Engineering and Strategic Management studies at the University of Pennsylvania, I started my career at CapGemini and Motorola. After graduating from Columbia Business School (CBS) in 2005, I continued at Greenwich Consulting (now part of EY) and British Telecom in London, UK.

My passion for technology led me to join Microsoft’s Information & Content Experiences Group where my team and I signed c. 1,500 partnerships across 60 markets. I held other business development and partner management roles as part of Microsoft Accelerators and the Business AI teams. In my current role, I am focusing on scaling our SaaS AI solutions such as Microsoft Dynamics Customer Service Insights and Virtual Agent.

As part of my Diversity & Inclusion and STEM related social impact work, I have been leading a global volunteer team to host ‘Girls in AI’ hackathons and bootcamps to increase female participation in AI/ML technology sector worldwide. I am including a few videos and blogs for those who might be interested in replicating these events or collaborating in future ones:

Videos:

Blogs:

Podcast:

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Of course. With every job or team change (which happens roughly every 12-18 months), I re-evaluate my path and potential career options following my latest move. I check my thinking with my mentors and trusted advisors every 3-6 months.

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

As a diverse talent and immigrant working mother in tech sector, ‘career challenges’ have simply been part of life. As such, I do not even label such situations as ‘challenges’, ‘problems’, etc. I visualize the lotus flower during these periods – it grows in the smelliest, muddiest, most disgusting waters but is still able to be beautiful and to radiate positivity to its surroundings.

So whenever I face such a situation, I ask myself: “How can I raise a lotus flower in these circumstances? How can I turn this situation upside down and make it an advantage (as opposed to a hurdle) for me and my career so I land in an even better place?” I think of these incidents as potential spring-boards rather than handicaps or crises. If one takes the time to look inside and think creatively, there is always a solution.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I have been fortunate to make notable financial and business impact to all my employers and teams in terms of scaling disruptive technologies, generating new revenue streams, launching new products and markets, expanding partnership ecosystems, etc.

All of these achievements, especially when they involved building new teams and creating win-win solutions, have been fascinating and extremely meaningful for me.

The most fulfilling and rewarding achievement in my mind though, has been with my recent volunteer work on ‘Girls in AI’/ ‘Alice Envisions the Future’ bootcamps and hackathons, where I lead a phenomenal team of volunteers at Microsoft to host these events globally. We have successfully demonstrated how effective and impactful these hackathons and bootcamps are, so now numerous teams in the company are scaling these efforts worldwide. If we can improve that terrifying – and declining - %12 diversity figure in AI/ ML to a more acceptable figure, I will be a very happy person. 😊

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

Perseverance combined with hard work.

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

Think of the Lotus. See challenging situations, people, projects, etc. as opportunities for growth and think about how you can use them as spring boards, as advantageous opportunities to progress in your path.

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

Sadly, the answer is ‘of course.’ I would strongly recommend the book Brotopia for a comprehensive study of these barriers and potential mitigations. My humble view is we should start by enhancing diversity in our sector so that barriers can actually be un-earthed and acknowledged. If 90% of the workforce does not ‘see’ any barriers or ‘feel’ any of the pain, you have a much steeper mountain to climb. Sadly, 10%’s pain and the negative consequences in the business are misinterpreted are ‘just noise.’

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

We have to work on both sides of the diversity and inclusion equation.

On the diversity side, the key is to ensure diverse talent has hope of career progression and plenty of job opportunities. On the inclusion side, we need to ensure they feel included and treated fairly when faced with discrimination, bias, etc. so that they can survive and stay in the organization.

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?

Education system – inspiring girls, especially 7-18 year olds, to embrace and make the most of technology regardless of their passions. In the end, even if you want to be a dancer or artist, you will be a better one if you know how to use technology. We have to land this message and enable girls to be digital natives as well.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Trainings:

  • Public speaking training – the best quality you can afford…
  • Coding trainings, AI hackathons/ bootcamps, online courses (Please see the blog for details)

Books:

  • Brotopia, Emily Chang
  • Playing Big, Tara Mohr
  • A Life of My Own, Claire Tomalin
  • Inferior, Angela Saini

Podcasts:

  • Women in Tech, Marie Wiese

Oksana Afonina featured

Inspirational Woman: Oksana Afonina | Senior Director - EMEA Growth, AppLovin

Oksana Afonina is the Senior Director of EMEA Growth at AppLovin.

Oksana built her tech career in post-Soviet Ukraine, where men and women were expected to contribute equally in the workplace as comrades. This experience shaped her strongly-held view that, no matter the field, women have the same capabilities and potential when it comes to education and work - it should be individual skill that determines success.

Oksana has previously worked at Facebook and Google.

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

I was born and raised in Ukraine and currently live in Dublin where I hold the role of Senior Director of Growth at AppLovin. My career started at 15 when a family friend offered me a temporary job in marketing for his small business. I fell in love with all things advertising right away, and have since gone on to earn two Masters, one in Business Strategy, the other in Marketing, and later continued my career with roles spanning marketing research to B2B events, at companies including Google, Facebook and now AppLovin.

My career has focused on sales in advertising technology for seven years, with six of those years in mobile gaming. The team I lead at AppLovin provides consulting to mobile gaming developers around launching and growing chart-topping mobile games.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Looking back, I never had a particular plan in mind, nor would I have anticipated filling my current role fifteen years ago. While the decisions I’ve made around field of study and career moves have always been conscious choices, I typically made them on short timelines. I’ve made a habit of reflecting and reconsidering my path forward, so that view is constantly evolving.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

I view any challenges I encounter as opportunities. This is particularly true in regards to working in the tech sector – it’s fast-moving and filled with competition, so it presents challenges each day.

Overall, one of my biggest hurdles has been balancing work with self-development, and it’s not necessarily something that gets easier with time. Learning and growing outside the core job is key to the success I’ve had so far and will continue to play an important role. I’m currently studying for a degree whilst working, so maintaining energy and motivation can be difficult. I try and stay focused, keep my eye on my goals, and plan out steps to achieve them.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I was one of Facebook’s first Russian speaking employees on their business team, and the first on their gaming team. I’m particularly proud of the work I did building Facebook presence within the CIS market in the gaming vertical.

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

One major factor is my focus on personal and professional development and growth. I aim to accomplish a major goal every couple of years to ensure that I’m moving forward. It doesn’t need to be as defined as a promotion—I’m more so focused on progress and learning new skills. My move to the tech sector is a great demonstration of this approach, as my realizing my passion for game marketing and working with people lead me to my current role at AppLovin. This role has proved to be a perfect fit for my interests and allows me to grow and develop further in this industry.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I’ve never had a formal mentor but many of the people I’ve worked with over my career have provided me with informal mentorship. Having support from role models has definitely helped to shape my career and achievements. A standout role model for me was a former manager who taught me the importance of developing soft skills. Though neither of us are still at the company where we met, we remain in touch.

In my leadership role at AppLovin, I’m finding I enjoy being a manager and mentor to various people on my team. It’s a role that’s come to me organically, and thanks to some great mentors, I understand the importance of this role. When I moved to a manager role, I realised there were a set of skills I needed to learn. As a result, I’m currently doing a degree in Personal, Leadership, and Executive Coaching and although it’s different from mentoring, both fundamentally help develop people.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

I’d persuade people to learn more about the topic. All of these movements are happening, yet I’m often surprised by how many people don’t seem to be aware of them. I go to lots of great events about women in tech and business, but most of the attendees are women. I feel it’s important for all genders to be a part of these events. Because it’s never about just one group making a change. A part of equality comes from embracing differences and encouraging more learning in this space.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Constantly learn – don’t stick with the status quo. I challenge myself to progressively identify new skills to learn, reach out to people both inside and outside of my industry who can help me build knowledge, and set achievable goals that contribute to my overall growth. It’s something I learned along the way and would have made a larger impact had I realized it sooner.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

To become a stronger manager and leader for my team. As I mentioned, I’m currently doing my degree in Personal, Leadership, and Executive Coaching, so I look forward to implementing my learnings and supporting my team’s growth. The biggest reward would be to see them understand their potential and act on it.