From Uzbekistan to San Francisco

Mariya Pak - Founder of STEM’ED

Mariya+%281%29.jpg

I was always good with computers and math since I was a kid. When I was entering my first high school year I had a big crush on a senior student who was about to graduate and go into a math university. I learned about his university had an evening program for high schoolers to prepare them for intensive math, physics and programming courses before they apply to any of the programs. I followed him there only to learn my evening courses never overlapped with his daily schedule, but I’ve never looked back since.

In school, I felt like I was always surrounded by the biggest geeks and uncool kids, and would have to sit in front of the computer without talking to anyone. I was always one among dozens of male counterparts and felt like my interests didn’t really match outside of love for science.

My dad insisted I study computer science, in fact, that was the only condition I could go study abroad (I was born in Uzbekistan and was an immigrant to Russia at the time, hoping to escape and study in Canada), as it was expensive and he foresaw the big opportunities in STEM.

Meanwhile, I was terrified about officially go into that program and preferred to choose a business degree. We agreed on me doing a double degree, however when I was in year 2, I realized how challenging yet rewarding it was to be in computer science, so I switched to it fully in order to complete that faster and start working in the field.

I now work as a product manager at a Fintech company. Prior to that, I was as a technical program and project manager for a few companies, building software for multiple clients and later as part of a product team. Working closely with engineers and business stakeholders, the transition into product role made the most sense, and I’m truly enjoying it now.

I struggle a lot with building a personal brand. I’m juggling a few side projects: from a blog/podcast, a series of monthly events in the city to having a startup and a non-profit organization while working full-time. I’m very passionate about everything I do, and finding time to focus on each of them is a big challenge.