Quite literally no one has more experience with Parallels than Elena Koryakina. She was there from the very beginning, as a pioneer in virtualization and a woman in tech, while still a graduate student at Bauman Moscow State Technical University. She was the first person to run Windows solutions in the virtualization engine that was the foundation of what is today Parallels Desktop, which means that every employee and every customer since then are walking in her footsteps.
Over more than two decades, Elena rose through the ranks as a woman in tech in roles such including software engineer to senior vice president of Engineering, leading the research and development team at Parallels under the Alludo umbrella. Along the way, she served as a technical advisor, unit manager, project manager, director of cloud infrastructure, and vice president of engineering.
“It’s very important to note that it has been a long career path,” says Elena. Even before officially joining Parallels, Elena worked as a software developer at the Moscow Central Depository in the late 1990s. Elena is at once humble about her achievements (she holds multiple patents based on her work) and extremely practical. She feels strongly that others looking to emulate her success understand that it comes as a result of two elements: constant curiosity, and constant investment in your education and profession.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day today, it’s critical to address an obvious point: Elena is a pioneer in tech by any demographic standards, and the fact that she’s a woman who played such a central, early role in modern tech is even more exceptional. Still, Elena insists that her gender isn’t as much of a factor as people might make it out to be. “Maybe I was lucky, but my professors didn’t treat men and women any differently,” she says. “While my university was mostly men, there were lots of talented women too, and I’ve been surrounded by talented women for my whole career. I believe that we shouldn’t think about whether you’re a woman or a man, but whether you love your work, and what ideas you bring to the table.” She’s inspired by people from different backgrounds, with different experiences and interests.
One source of inspiration has been her grandmother, who played a significant role in Elena’s childhood. Her grandmother wanted Elena to become a doctor, which seemed like a great fit because Elena was always interested in physics, math, and biology. She initially planned to pursue education in biological medicine and technology, but fellow students noticed her talents and encouraged her to focus on IT. “It was a group of men, actually,” Elena says. “They said, ‘Come with us, we’re IT technologists, and it’s really interesting.’” Elena shifted courses and immersed herself in mathematical modeling, and had the chance to build software tools to perform that modeling. She loved it. And she’s grateful to those students, who truly saw her for her ability.
As for her grandmother, Elena says she was extremely proud of her after Elena shifted away from biological medicine. As it turns out, her grandmother only wanted Elena to become a doctor because she wanted Elena to be useful to people. “A doctor obviously helps people,” Elena says, “But we do, too. I’m absolutely sure that my profession and the products we provide for our customers make peoples’ lives better and their work easier. We simplify life for them and allow them to work from anywhere. What we do is so similar to the goals my grandmother set for me.”
In addition to staying curious and continuing to invest in your education and yourself (Elena pursued an advanced, fast-track course at the Harvard Business School on Leading with Impact in 2014.) , she also advises other women in tech to prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. “There are only 24 hours in a day,” she says. “And your prioritization should be flexible and change throughout your life.” When Elena was a student, she would go to school all day and when she completed her labs she would go to work on what would become Parallels, and put in a 10-12 hour shift—working very late into the night before starting everything again the next day. She thrived on that demanding schedule, because it worked for her at that time. School and work were her only priorities.
After she became a mother, Elena shifted her priorities. They’re now “My son, and virtualization.” Elena notes that pregnancy is, in itself, a virtualization project. And shifting priorities doesn’t need to happen only if one chooses motherhood, Elena points out. “It could be travel or anything else that is important to you. Pursue what you love. Continue your dreams.”
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