Dr Marily Nika

Marily has always been fascinated by technology. As a Speech AI Product Manager, she turns speech research into features that unlock personalised experiences for users when interacting with technology through voice. Alongside this, she teaches Product Management and has co-founded communities that bring together women in tech. One day, she hopes to launch a scholarship foundation.

Marily Nika

Going viral

At Imperial, Marily was mesmerised by content that goes viral. At the time, ‘viral’ was just a word with no mathematical equation behind it. That’s when her PhD adviser gave her an idea. “They said my topic could be multidisciplinary. So I decided to work with epidemiological models to examine the phenomenon of how content goes viral,” she explains. And that’s what she did. Her research has proven viral content spreads online in the same way a virus spreads in populations.

“We predicted when content would go viral. And when people would get bored and stop looking at it. We also invented synthedemic modelling, a way to model what it means for someone to go ‘multi-viral’” Marily’s since given a TEDx talk about this. And recent events have inspired her to revisit her findings. “With COVID-19, I’m interested in applying my model to some data and seeing if it can make any predictions.”

Marily sits cross-legged on the floor in front of a TEDx sign

Marily's TEDxAthens talk 'Is Robin Thicke the new Swine Flu?' is available on YouTube.

Fond memories

Marily says she had a great time at Imperial. “There were so many opportunities to express yourself through all the different clubs. They covered so many interests, like computing, acapella singing and sports.” She encourages current students to create friendships with their classmates as these friendships can last forever.

The people you’re sitting next to may become the founders of the best companies in the world. The best advice I could give to someone that’s about to join Imperial now, is to create friendships. Collaborate with your fellow students. After you graduate, stay in touch. I meet so many people I'm still friends with and they're doing incredible things out there. Reach out to your fellow students and say hi!
Marily and two of her fellow Imperial students in 2007

Marily with her close friends from Imperial, Foteini and Demetris, during a break from classes in 2007 

Marily with her close friends from Imperial, Foteini and Demetris, during a break from classes in 2007 

Hard work pays off

For Marily, receiving Imperial’s Emerging Alumni Leader award is proof that hard work pays off, and that her work is having a positive impact. “I try to put myself in positions that allow me to keep learning and to keep growing as a professional. At the same time, it’s also very important to me to keep finding ways to give back to the community, through mentoring, coaching, or through creating and fostering communities that bring people together."

People tend to forget to look at the big picture and their overall trajectory, and that can be a mistake. I try to make sure I’m always on the ‘right’ path, and what motivates me the most is to be able to support and motivate others along the way.

“One day, I received an email from Imperial telling me that I was selected for this prestigious award. That moment I felt pride and thought ‘My hard work is recognized, and my voice about why working in tech can be a fantastic experience is now even more amplified. I will keep working hard to be the best version of myself and I will try to support the younger generations in every way I can.”

“At the start of your career, you’re trying to pave your path forward. And that can be challenging, as you sometimes just don’t know what should come next. You don’t know how to progress, how to grow, what decision to make in case of a dilemma and so on."

What helped me move forward is those around me, who had gone through the same challenges. This award will enable me to inspire more professionals to pave their own way forward and never give up when challenges show up.

"It’s honestly the simplest, smallest things like just discussing what you are working on with other people, or telling them about an online course you took that was great or a conference you attended that taught you a lot. Each bit of information can truly motivate someone else, in ways I hadn't thought of. We can truly make an impact if we share our experiences with one another, and this is why communities are crucial for advancing one's career - they have certainly been crucial for my career”.

Marily sits at her desk at Imperial, smiling to the camera

Getting to Google

Marily was the first Imperial student and Greek woman to earn Google’s Anita Borg Scholarship in 2011, “When I received the scholarship, I went to Google’s Zurich offices to the Google’s scholars’ retreat which to this day was one of the best experiences of my life.”

While at Imperial, Marily focused her research Computing Science but she knew she wanted to work at a large tech company. She says there was a lot about pursuing a career in tech that she didn’t know about. And a mindset to overcome. “I kept thinking that there are either deeply technical jobs, or business roles that have nothing to do with technology”. But my mentors at the time showed me that this was far from true.

“I found out about the product manager role. A product manager is basically the CEO of their product area within the company. They put the user first and they bring together business, engineering and user experience in order to launch impactful products and solutions to their users. And you choose how much coding you'd like to do. I teach Product Management, sometimes one-to-one, sometimes to classes of 100+ students, and I always love seeing how excited people get when they learn about this role”.

Like making magic

Marily is a woman with a vision. “I am creative by nature, and I wanted to join an organisation that would allow me to work closely with talented people who want to innovate through technology.”

“I remember when I first joined Google, I had never been exposed to a big tech company before. It was like a university campus where great ideas are born. I got to talk with the founders and creators of products millions of people use on a daily basis, and they are all so down-to-earth. I could relate to them. I thought ‘Maybe I could be that person someday.’”

The people she met, plus an environment that fosters creativity, made Marily realised that this is where she wanted to be. And this was the work she wanted to do.

When working in tech, you sometimes get to work with the smartest people in the world. Every time I brought in an idea to a room and had a brainstorming session with my colleagues, this idea expanded. There’s no boredom, no sense of routine. Every day brings something new.

Marily summarises her experience with a quote from science-fiction writer Arthur C Clarke: ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’

Making life easier

Right now, Marily’s working on new ways users can interact with technology, such as voice. “I love working on projects that make people’s day to day life easier and improve productivity. I set up smart displays for my parents when I visited them in Greece and they loved exploring all the capabilities they now have at their home.”

Starting an app

Along with working for Google, Marily once co-founded a start-up company that helped people teach each other how to code. The experience taught her a lot about the entrepreneurship journey. She hired people and pitched for investors, and she now sits on the advisory boards of three start-ups.

This was a learning experience. “Vision goes a long way” she says. “If you know what you want to achieve in the long-run, and what you want to achieve for your users, stick with that and don’t drift away."

Sometimes cool tech comes along. You think ‘I want to use this on something I create!’ But building something just for the sake of it, can be a trap. I tell people not to fall for the ‘shiny object’ trap’. Make sure you are solving a problem for the users when creating technology, don’t just do it for the sake of it.

Marily wears her graduation gowns and smiles to the camera, holding a medal

Marily's PhD graduation in 2015. She received the College's medal of Outstanding Achievement.

Marily's PhD graduation in 2015. She received the College's medal of Outstanding Achievement.

Marily receiving an Award from The Princess Royal

Marily received the Women in Science & Engineering (WISE) Influence Award in 2015, awarded to her by The Princess Royal.

Marily received the Women in Science & Engineering (WISE) Influence Award in 2015, awarded to her by The Princess Royal.

Women in computing

Marily loved tech growing up, but sometimes she felt alone. At tech events at school and university, she’d often be one of few women there. The Anita Borg Scholarship was an eye-opener. “There were only women. They all had the same mindset as me. They got my jokes, I got theirs.” But even before then, she knew there was power in bringing a group of similar people together.

“I knew we needed to create communities where like-minded people can come together, learn from each other, discuss challenges, host workshops, network and have fun.”

“At Imperial, I founded the Women in Computing group. Hundreds of female students showed up. We got to go to Facebook London and do a hackathon. I wrote for The Telegraph. I realised when you create a community, you can have this kind of impact. I want to tell others to create communities.” After Imperial, she created the London Geekettes, now part of a global community called the ‘Geekettes’ which she co-founded.

Marily holds an award and smiles to the camera

Marily was named 2018's ‘Woman of the Year’ at the FDM everywoman in Technology Awards

Marily was named 2018's ‘Woman of the Year’ at the FDM everywoman in Technology Awards

Supporting women in tech

In the future, Marily wants to create a foundation that can support women who want to study tech. She hopes this can be enough to get them started. “It’s the hardest part. I remember being young and passionate about technology and not knowing how to go about achieving my goals. So I want to help people do this.”

I think there’s a lack of awareness about how exciting working in tech can be. And that holds people back from pursuing this domain. It's fun and creative, and I want to help people take their first steps in it.

Never stop learning

In ten years’ time, Marily wants to be the CEO of a rising company. She thinks it will have something to do with education. “I have so many ideas and so much more to learn. I’m so passionate about learning and bringing people together.”

There are things people never told me that I wish I knew. The road is bumpy sometimes. You’ll fail and that’s okay. You should keep going. You’ll interview for ten companies, nine will fail and one will stick. Hope is not a strategy, hope is fuel: it’s not about hoping you’ll be a CEO one day. You need to do the work that will get you to that path - hope keeps you going.

She wants others to join her on the path. “Computer science is fascinating. You never get bored and It’s insanely creative. There are tech companies everywhere. You can see the world through tech. So trust life. It'll take you to cool places.”.

Follow Marily's journey on Instagram.

A black and white photo of Marily, smiling to the camera