Nina Kouyoumdjian, Financial Analyst at Google and the Cofounder at Hive, Armenia’s first virtual startup accelerator and network, agreed to tell us her story of success for iTechnology.am “Armenian Diaspora in IT” issue. This young woman is a real inspiration for all Armenian women wishing to become leaders and to succeed in the career they choose. Enjoy her story!
iTechnology.am: Your LinkedIn profile is amazing. Quite an impressive career! Our readers would like to learn your story. Please share with us where you have started and what were the key turning points in your career so far?
Nina Kouyoumdjian: I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, born to Iraqi-Armenians. In 2008, I graduated from Harvard University with a BA, in Government, manga cum laude. I was one of six students to be awarded a Rockefeller Fellowship, which took me to Turkey where I volunteered in the Armenian communities and churches. A year later, I started my career as a high yield and distressed debt bond trader at Citigroup in New York. I always had the desire to move back and work internationally, so when the opportunity presented itself to move to London and trade emerging market credit, I grabbed it. After three years in banking, I decided to go for a new challenge and landed a job as a financial analyst at Google in San Francisco. Currently, I work on the largest AdSense deals and help drive strategic decisions through financial analysis, forecasting and deal modeling. I also am the co-founder of DNA 4 Success (www.dna4success.com), which is a college entrance consulting service. My ultimate career goal is to be the first female NFL Commissioner, but Condoleezza Rice might beat me to it!
iTechnology.am: You mentioned in one of your interviews that you were very active in Harvard Armenian Society and lead the Student Association. What activities do the Armenian students organize there to stay in touch with motherland and to support the youth in Armenia?
Nina Kouyoumdjian: During my time as President of Harvard Armenian Society, I organized the first cross-functional Armenian forum, where all the Armenian student groups in Boston collected for a two-day conference. We had panels which spanned economic, political and religious issues and broke into small focus teams to come up with ideas for implementing change in Armenia. Additionally at my time at Harvard, I wrote my senior thesis on Nagorno-Karabakh and Separatist Regions.
iTechnology.am: You won a scholarship in 2008 and arrived at Istanbul to implement it. You mentioned that you went to Turkey to see how Armenians preserve their culture. Please share with us your impressions.
Nina Kouyoumdjian: The premise of the Rockefeller Scholarship is to push students to dream beyond their limitations - whether physical, cultural, or emotional. The application asked students to describe what they would do if they could go anywhere in the world for one year, fully funded. I applied to go to the last place on earth an American-Armenian would want to go: Turkey. My time there turned out to be one of the most valuable experiences in my life. I traveled all over eastern Turkey and visited the cities my family is originally from (Gesaria, Adana, Malatya). With the commonalities of language, the familiarity of food, and the similarities in culture, I never felt more Armenian than in Turkey. I discovered my roots, challenged myself, and built a community in the most unexpected place.
iTechnology.am: You are a financial analyst at Google with your BA degree from Harvard University. How did your career start at Google? What is it like to work for such a tech giant? What challenges have you had at Google and how have you overcome them?
Nina Kouyoumdjian: Google is an amazing place because you have extremely intelligent people in a backdrop of an extremely laid back environment. Despite its size, the company is nimble and makes decisions quickly. Furthermore, Google is a thought-leader - the company strives to foresee what trends and needs are emerging before anyone else does (Google Glass, Project Loon, self-driving cars, etc). The most challenging part is that at a place like Google, everyone is constantly pushing themselves out of their comfort zones, and I had to do the same. I accepted the job at Google with almost no transferable skill set. I had to quickly ramp up on technical skills such as SQL, financial modeling, and revenue forecasting. Additionally, the definition of success at Google varies tremendously - it is really up to the individual to pick a path and become good at the thing they are passionate about.
iTechnology.am: Please share with us your tips on overcoming challenges and being successful, especially for Armenian women who want to become leaders and influencers?
Nina Kouyoumdjian: There are three essentials elements that stick out in my mind: the first is taking risk, the second is finding meaningful mentorship, and the third is being self-aware. Although my first job as a trader had risk baked into my every day activities, I am constantly working on building courage to push myself and stay hungry to learn. Finding the right mentors is often a challenge, as there are many people who can be motivators and supporters, but very few of these can direct you in the right way to fulfill your potential. I have been blessed to have incredible mentors like Edele Hovnanian, Roger Strauch, and Bill Bermont, who have helped me expand my own personal boundaries. Additionally, having an unconditional love from my family has been invaluable. Lastly, being self-aware is key. Taking the time to identify strengths and weaknesses, and consciously working on the latter, will give you a true sense of confidence, which people will notice immediately. As for being an Armenian woman, I think those of us born to this culture are blessed with a history of strong character, solid faith, and incredible resiliency. I believe cultivating these characteristics, while breaking out of cultural norms, provides a sound foundation to build off of.
iTechnology.am: Congratulations on launching Hive, Armenia’s first virtual startup accelerator and network or professionals. How did it start? What is your vision for HIVE and how can our readers get involved?
Nina Kouyoumdjian: About eight months ago, I received a phone call from a group of very successful Armenian business leaders who asked me, Laura Bilazarian, and Hrag Hamalian to fly to Armenia to pitch ideas of how we can bolster the Armenian tech scene. Out of that meeting came HIVE, funded by the Hirair & Anna Hovnanian Foundation. The goal of HIVE is to connect needs and resources in the Armenian community. There are so many fragmented Armenian groups, but there is not one single network where one can go for advisors, funding, and a talent pool. Our vision is that everyone interested or involved in tech across the community will join the network. Even if you are not a startup founder, you can be in the network and leverage the skills others have and offer mentorship for the strengths you have. Join HIVE (www.hivestart.com) and help us build this vision!
HIVE’s intro video
iTechnology.am: Thank you, Nina, your story was very impressive. iTechnoogy.am team follows Hive to spread the good news on Armenian startups.