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Myrsini Koukiasa (she/her)
Myrsini Koukiasa (she/her)

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My Journey in Tech as a Noncoder

In a Previous Life...

I was very lucky to grow up in Athens, Greece, with parents that were not afraid to let me tag along to almost everything they did. Movies, book fairs, concerts, and, weirdly specific, environmental awareness campaigns that involved sailing across the Aegean sea and handing out flyers to tourists. But more about that later.

My first big event was a Stevie Wonder concert. Sadly, the only thing I remember is that I ate a chocolate eclair (apparently that’s the type of snack you got at stadium gigs in Greece back in the day) before I started crying for reasons unknown and had to be dropped off at my grandmother’s who lived nearby. You’d definitely not see me cry ten years later when you’d find me organising concerts and events at my high school as part of my student union duties. I loved switching up the school to provide an immersive experience for my fellow classmates and other students from our community. I gave them what they wanted, which made them and subsequently me happy.

Later on in life, my love for all things planning and events led me to do a Masters in International Events Management in Leeds. I learned a lot during my time there; from building strategies to operational execution and from creativity to health and safety, we examined events simple and complex, from corporate meetings all the way to the Olympics.

Before we continue, let’s make a detour back to my childhood. My parents were, and still are, active in the environmental activism community in Greece. When I was 5 years old, they co-founded The Mediterranean SOS Network; an organisation focused on raising awareness on issues like water conservation and climate change whilst encouraging dialogue amongst communities across the Mediterranean and Europe. Volunteering from a young age introduced me to the feeling of reward that community work provides. It also helped me develop a sense of empathy after seeing how people that believed in a common cause were able to come together feel empowered to spark change.

Fast forward to my return to Athens after completing my Masters and I’m the Events and Campaigns Manager at said NGO, managing to combine my two passions and support and organisation I’ve volunteered for all my life. I worked on scientific conferences, national awareness campaigns and environmental education programs. What I most enjoyed was tackling global topics and translating them into actionable tasks organisations or individuals could do to impact their local communities. I was no longer just a participant but a facilitator. I won’t forget a series of challenging yet influential events we run in Crete to encourage dialogue between farmers, government officials and teachers as part of an EU-funded program for the installment of a pioneering olive grove irrigation system. As I completed my fourth year at the NGO, as rewarding as my job was, I kept feeling the time had come to tackle new challenges.

How I Ended up in Tech

I decided to move to London with the goal of finding a job within the UK’s thriving event industry. I slept on airbeds at friends houses and applied to so many jobs I lost count. A couple of weeks into my search, I came across an event specialist job listing from PayPal. They were looking for a creative, geeky and community-oriented person to work on their global hackathon series, BattleHack. At the time, I had no idea what a hackathon was but it sure looked cool. Coupled with the fact that PayPal - later Braintree - Developer themed BattleHack around social good, I was hopeful I had a shot based on my non-profit experience and innate inclination to geekiness. So I put my geeky hat (metaphorically) on and wrote the best cover letter I had ever written.

Turns out experience in tech wasn’t necessary, and within a month of moving to the UK, I miraculously landed a job planning global events and campaigns for developers and startups! I joined an ops and comms team of five dynamic women and got the chance to help plan hackathons across three continents, create experiences at large tech events, work on special video projects and more.

Working in developer relations (devrel) was the job I’ve always wanted but never knew existed. The camaraderie and support between my colleagues and the relationships we built with tech communities had me hooked. Although I couldn’t write a line of code other than some HTML, I felt I could understand the needs of our community and help address them. To see the impact we made through hackers’ ideas coming to life at hackathons was enormously gratifying.

For the next step in my journey, I decided I wanted to apply and share the knowledge I’ve gained with a specific audience in tech - students. I joined Major League Hacking (MLH) to help run hackathons and thought leadership events for students in the US and EMEA. As the official student hackathon league, MLH empowers more than 65,000 students each year to join anything from technical workshops to weekend-long hackathons while encouraging innovation and community building. Needless to say, I felt quickly at home and inspired by the passionate and active student tech community. I met amazing young people who ran computer clubs at their schools, organised 2,000-people hackathons, promoted inclusivity and diversity and had the maturity and confidence to share their learnings with the community at events such as Hackcon.

What I’m up to Now

Following MLH and after a short time working as a communications and tech event consultant, I felt the itch to get back into devrel. Which is what led me to join Nexmo, now Vonage!

I’ve been part of the Community Engagement team that sits within devrel for about a year and a half. We look after both our external and internal communities. We work with our developer advocates to support tech communities around the world by, amongst many things, sponsoring events, delivering training workshops on our communication APIs and funding scholarship opportunities for underrepresented groups in tech. This has probably been the role where I’ve had to keep my empathy mindset switched on at all times, as this is our team’s core value. And it’s been greatly rewarding. I’ve never before been part of a team that supports each other and their communities quite like I see our team does.

One thing I’m proud of helping run is an internal hackathon series our team organises, called OneHack. We run hackathons across Vonage office locations with the help of many incredible colleagues across the company. The aim is to encourage innovation, promote teamwork and help us get much more hands-on with our own products while contributing to the company culture. We’ve now had around 40 projects created at OneHack events. I feel as if I’ve gone full circle to my high-school days, but instead of concerts, I help plan two-day long hackathons for my colleagues.

What I’m Looking Forward to This Year

I still can’t write code, however, I’ve recently worked on reshaping some processes for our team and got to use Zapier for integrations between apps we use. It was unexpectedly satisfying! This year, I’m looking forward to working on an ambassador program to help build even better connections with our developer community. More to be revealed in the upcoming months...

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