“Looking back, I think my parents were crazy to let me leave Kazakhstan for the USA for university when I was 16 – that was a big journey for me.”
More than 12 years later, returning from abroad after “challenging, hard, but amazing learning experiences”, Aliya Nazarkasimova is now Business Manager of Central and Eastern Europe Area Vice President at Microsoft – and has learned a lot throughout her journey.
On international Women’s Day, it seems fitting to see what advice and inspiration Aliya can share with the girls and young women of today – especially when it comes to embarking on their very own journey into the technology sector.
Life is full of lessons
Aliya describes growing up in a modest family. The eldest of two, she describes how she was never given a doll. Instead, her mother opened a door into the world of poetry, which she would memorise and recite at school with enthusiasm.
“I learned to make decisions that my heart accepted and never put into question,” Aliya describes. “I always knew that behind every achievement there is the drive of hard work and a love for what you do.”
Her first steps into the world of technology began when her parents guided her to study maths and physics in high school, introducing her first experience of entering a male-dominated environment, where she was only one of four girls in a class of 30.
“Was I intimidated when the teacher called me up to the board to solve a maths problem? Absolutely. But I learned through my childhood how much children worry about failing, and discovered that through life, we come to realise that we can only grow through our failures – one step at a time.
Embracing the path
When asked what advice she could give young women or girls thinking about perusing their own studies and career in STEM subjects and the technology sector, Aliya believes that nothing should stand in anyone’s way.
“You are rare. You are unique. Cherish it. Pursue your interest and never be intimidated by where your curiosity is leading you. Keep choosing and doing what you are good at – too often the world asks for or points out your weaknesses. Just focus on your strengths, as these will lead you to advance. Stay your course, and follow your heart.”
These inspirational words clearly come from Aliya’s experiences from the path she has taken in her own life.
To her, role models and inspiration are very important, and they can take any shape or form – not just people. From books and stories, to even the small decisions we make and the actions we take, Aliya’s philosophical approach to the little things that can inspire and shape us, all is refreshing.
“I have learned to keep my eyes and ears open to the world around me, to seek my own inspiration. I find that anything that is done with the right purpose, at the right time, with courage, rewards feelings of strength and pride in my own self.
This philosophy extends further to the challenges Aliya has faced, though she finds the world ‘challenge’ overused. Instead, her philosophy is that a challenge is merely something that just happens not to come with an easy solution.
“When I come across something that doesn’t have an immediate solution, I call these a ‘growth moment’ – a stepping stone to growth.
The keys to success
Everyone has their own take on what factors make up the keys to success. For some, it’s discipline – studying hard, reading books, taking tests – but Aliya takes a more philosophical approach – one that sounds simple, but is ultimately, extremely important.
“Really love what you do, because if you love something, you know why you are doing it, and know the reasons behind embarking on this journey. The moment you lose the answer to ‘why’, your growth will stall.”
“We all feel lost at some points in life, but never feel discouraged. Remind yourself of your core values, go back to what makes you up as an individual. These moments are a gift that allow us to pause and reflect. You will get back on track, don’t worry.”
Looking ahead to the future, Aliya is most looking forward to the potential that Artificial Intelligence can bring to improve the lives of ordinary people, of all ages and backgrounds. To her, the most important technologies are the ones that can improve our quality of life – from government services, to healthcare, and education.
For Aliya and her three children – a 17-year-old daughter, and 13-year-old twin sons – life’s journey still has a lot more to offer – and you can bet Aliya will be embracing each new adventure with enthusiasm.