Breaking into Tech: Katerina Suchkova | Co-Founder & Product Coach, Ahead of Product
Categories: Blog, For Students, For Bootcamps, Celebrating Women
In 2018, Katerina Suchkova took the leap and embarked on a journey to Costa Rica. Originally from Russia, she happily traded the cold, dark winters for the tropical climate. Living the life of a digital nomad, Katerina was able to make product coaching a full-time job by February of 2021.
Currently, she is a trainer, coach, and educator, working with both individuals and companies through her coaching practice on her website and educational program, Ahead of Product.
An introvert by nature, Katerina finds joy in reading, hiking, and helping others uncover their full potential. She’s even on the path to becoming a mindfulness meditation teacher with Insight Meditation.
We sat down with Katerina to find out more about her journey in tech and how she helps others to kickstart their dream careers.
When did you first know you loved tech?
It was the summer of 2010. After interning at a startup in a social media/marketing role for two months and later wearing all the possible hats, I realized how empowering it is to create technology that might change the world.
I found joy and an exciting challenge in working alongside engineers and designers, meeting with the potential customers and understanding their problems, and interpreting the CEO’s business needs into language that the developers easily understood. After spending a couple of years at that startup helping to figure out the first version of the product, my next official role at a more prominent organization was as a Product Manager.
Graduating in the post-financial crisis world and spending a year working in a random data-entry position, I enrolled in AISEC in 2010 feeling determined to change my current circumstances. In a couple of months, I found an exciting project in New Zealand – the founder was looking for a self-motivated and resourceful intern to join his early-stage health tech startup for two months. I was selected out of 100 candidates and flew to Dunedin. That internship forever changed the course of my career and life overall.
Was there someone in your life – parent, family member, professor, mentor – who helped you stay motivated in school and as you started your career?
My English Literature professor in college is the person who contributed to my confidence, humility, love of reading and writing, and, perhaps, even my life trajectory. By seeing the potential I could not see in myself yet, Professor Taylor encouraged me in very subtle ways to always keep going and keep my mind open.
Being an immigrant in the US and not having any immediate family near me, I was rather lucky to almost always have people who supported and encouraged me along the way, in college, and in my early career.
Breaking into the tech world can be daunting. Did you ever battle imposter syndrome and what tips would you give to someone not feeling good enough for the STEM industry?
I still have an imposter syndrome – it never went away. Over time, however, I learned to have a different relationship with that “critique’s voice” that shows up uninvited. I’ve learned to recognize it, identify the fear of rejection and desire to belong living underneath it, and put it aside.
While the voice sometimes comes back even today, I know it is as primal and natural as our need to survive, and it is up to me to decide what to do with this voice: let it run my life unconsciously or befriend it in a mindful way.
Here are a few other tips:
- Don’t push it away, and don’t silence it. Instead, learn to recognize when it shows up.
- Understand it is very natural, and most of the people I’ve met have it. That voice is trying to protect you; that primal brain’s goal is to keep you safe, away from troubles.
- Learn to recognize the triggers: people, situations, conversations, etc. When you know a trigger, you’re more likely to recognize the voice and deal with it instead of the imposter syndrome controlling you.
- When you see it coming, take a deep breath. Perhaps, a few. And ask yourself, “What would my life be if I did not listen to that voice? What would I be doing differently? Who would I be if I did not listen to it?”
- Setting the voice aside takes courage; it is not easy. But with the prompts from the above, courage might have an easier time manifesting itself.
- It will get better with time. I promise you. Once you learn how to recognize it and make a friend with it, you gain control of it. It won’t hijack you as much anymore.
- Have conversations with other leaders and people you admire and ask if they ever feel it. Understanding how similar we are to others and how much we share even with such powerful or inspiring figures naturally relaxes a grasp of an imposter syndrome in our lives.
How would you explain your day-to-day role at your current job?
I help product managers and leaders level up their careers, become intentional about their journey, and be confident in their craft, particularly when it comes to leading people and products. As a Product Coach, my goal is to empower my clients with important insights and self-awareness, help them see beyond obstacles, and realize their full potential. As an educator, my goal is to equip emerging and new leaders with the necessary skills, knowledge, habits, and most importantly, mindset to help them confidently step into the new role.
What’s been your career highlight so far?
Taking a leap of faith by jumping into the self-employed world – starting my own business after spending ten years working for others.
What advice and resources would you give to other women who want to get into the tech world?
It is hard to give any advice without knowing the context: we all come with different “baggage.” What I can do, however, is share what worked for me, or what I wished I knew earlier in my career.
- Try on and experiment with as many paths, directions, roles, interests, hobbies, projects as possible. Only a few of us might know the exact thing we want to be doing; most of us, however, have to discover it or create it.
- Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know but let’s find out/I don’t but I can find out.” When I was a Product Manager in my early career, I felt pressure to know answers to all the questions. I thought that if I don’t know, everyone else might discover I am an imposter. The moment I let go of this self-imposed pressure (by experimenting), I realized how freeing and empowering saying, “I don’t know” is. It helped me connect with my co-workers on a deeper level, empower people, learn more, and have time to focus on more important projects.
- Find a mentor or someone who inspires you. Ask that person to mentor or provide guidance in your career in exchange for something else only you can share – perhaps, your perspective, ideas, etc. Build a relationship with this person. Power to Fly is an excellent organization that can help you match with a mentor.
- Focus on building relationships early on. Every company you work for, every project/team you join, make it your priority to get curious about people and go beyond a surface or watercooler conversation.
- Lean on curiosity, empathy, and a sense of humor in the tech world. The tech world is made up of humans: imperfect, irrational, full of insecurities, fears, aspirations, needs, and desires. Just like you are. Just like I am.
- Speak up, please! In particular, If you are the only woman or a minority on a team. Your voice, ideas, and perspective matter. It might be very intimidating to speak up, I’ve been there. However, if you lean on your sense of humor and treat it as a playground – it might feel a tiny bit easier.
- Develop a wide area of interests and skills while building a narrow specialty. Read books on a variety of topics (philosophy, human, behavior, psychology, world religions, the art of wine-making, etc.), attend classes and workshops, try different hobbies, meet with people who have opposing viewpoints, ask questions.
- Almost all our decisions are reversible but we tend to get stuck. Try making decisions quicker to shorten a learning curve.
And, finally, what helps me during challenging times is to realize that I am on a journey. My path does not have to be like yours but it does not mean it is a bad one. It is just mine. It gives me peace of mind and trust in the path that I am choosing every day.