Olena Kushakovska - Geek Girl Rising
Olena Kushakovska

Olena Kushakovska

Development Manager & Program Lead


“My dad was an electronics engineer who designed microchips at one of the most important computer science institutes in the Soviet Union. Because of my dad, I never had the impression that technical things were just for boys.”

Years in tech industry? 15

Who or what inspired your career in tech?
My dad was my inspiration. He was an electronics engineer who designed microchips at one of the most important computer science institutes in the Soviet Union – the Institute of Cybernetics in Kiev. I was a daddy’s girl! We had all kinds of electronics stuff around the house. My dad had “golden” hands and could fix all sorts of electrical things– radios, telephones, TVs– not only for us, but for all our friends and family. I was around my dad a lot, watching. I was also good in math, and I loved understanding how things worked on the inside. Because of my dad, I never had the impression that technical things were just for boys. Technology was naturally a part of my world. My dad supported me going into specialized math and physics in high school. He encouraged me to continue to study computer science at university. He pushed me to continue at the Imperial College in London. When I got married, stopped my working towards my PhD and stayed home to look after my kids – he never stopped encouraging me to get back to technology, to work. He always believed in me and saw my potential.

What’s been your best life or career “hack” ever?
I remember that personal life and family life are just as important as work. There will always be work to do. It never ends. But I try to put quality time aside for my family and switch off from work to spend time with them. Also, I try to get my family on board to support me in my work.  I could be successful all by myself – but it is so much more stressful and harder to do alone.

What has been your greatest career challenge?
I am still working on my greatest career challenge. I am a woman in tech, working in a small office of a big company (SAP) and trying to move up in my career to a leadership role. I have plenty of obstacles – working in a small town in the south of France, being stereotyped for being a woman and for being too old. I am trying to take on hard but visible tasks which not many other guys would risk. I have a “virtual” sticky note on my laptop with the “Never, never, never, never give up” quote of Winston Churchill.

What is your biggest career success? 
My biggest success has been my work as Development Lead for SAP’s Mobile Development Program and  releasing eight mobile apps against plenty of odds.

Who are your role models?
My Mum, my Dad and my Grandma. I had great childhood with loving parents. My mum was home much less than my dad due to her work. She worked in Customs, where she led a whole department, and she retired as a colonel. She was my everyday example that a woman can make in it in a man’s world – with lots of hard work and a lot of stress. My grandma was an example of “lady-like” behavior, which I admire till now. She was born before the Revolution of 1917 into an aristocratic family in Russia and saw her world crumble around her in her very early age. She married a very bright young man of a very modest origin. My granddad graduated from Saint Petersburg University as a coal-mining engineer and traveled a lot for his job. My grandma never worked, but she followed my granddad in his job posts and brought up her family. She never lost her temper, never raised her voice, never turned her eyes from someone’s look. Her manners were impeccable. She was what you call a real lady. I am trying behave like her, which is not always easy, but I try.

If you could go back in time, what’s one tip you’d give your teenage self?
Go for your dreams. Just do it. Life is too short!

What do you do when you’re not kicking butt at work?
In this order: I spend time with my family, spend time with my friends, and have my own “quality time.” I love riding horses, going to the theater and reading.

Flats, heels or kicks?
Most of the time it’s heels and jeans. I have a real weakness for elegant high heels. But I wore flats when my kids were small and I still do when I have to run errands.

Best career advice book?
It’s not really a career book, but the book which made me think differently about quite a few things in business, IT and work is Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Before I read this, I was real detractor of Steve and Apple.

Who are the women in tech that you most admire?
She is not someone hugely known, but Janet Wood is SAP’s Executive Vice President of Leadership. During the few years she has held this position, she took the leadership in SAP to an entire new level. She lives her talk. She is authentic, approachable, punctual, professional and intelligent – a great woman, all in all.