Inspiring Women: Dr. Matina Thomaidou

VP, Head of Data Science at Dataseat (Verve Group)
Co-founder of Greek Women Do Tech

Click here for an exclusive interview with Dr. Matina Thomaidou.

Dr. Matina Thomaidou is Vice President, Head of Data Science at Dataseat (Verve Group). She is also the Co-Founder of Greek Women Do Tech, an NGO that represents a global network aiming to connect, inspire, motivate & empower Greek Women working in Tech fields, based all over the world. Prior to joining Verve Group, Dr. Thomaidou worked at Facebook Ireland (Ads, Data Science, Gaming), IBM Ireland as Data Science Leader for Europe, Accenture Greece, Microsoft Norway, and Ecole Polytechnique in France, leading data science and business insights projects. She earned her PhD in Machine Learning for Online Advertising from Athens University of Economics and Business.

Contributor:  Frederica Bolgouras

Describe what led to your passion for Data Science, Gaming, Machine Learning and becoming a PhD., having started as a Researcher and Software Engineer.

Thank you for the honor to be featured among these inspiring women’s stories.

When I entered my MSc studies in (Business) Information Systems – focusing on more applied knowledge – it was the online advertising momentum that dominated the research, academic, and business & innovation circles at the same time (2009). Facebook back then was in the process of adding ads in their business model. Computational Advertising became a major trend but a black box as well for academic research. At the same time, I was always keen to try and do the research, the exploration that was challenging, I was always passionate about unlocking the potential of new technical knowledge. While doing my MSc Thesis and dreaming about the future, we were in 2010 at the beginning of the Greek financial crisis. Crushing hopes, dreams, families, and homes. When I finished my Masters degree, I was privileged to be offered the opportunity to continue my Computational Advertising research at a PhD level against the odds of a challenging time period due to the Greek crisis. Innovative concepts combined with Machine Learning and the opportunity to build a prototype won me over. The rest is history. User acquisition and advertising performance optimization through cutting edge Data Science algorithms go hand-in-hand with the innovative Gaming industry.

Describe your career trajectory from Accenture to IBM, and Facebook to Dataseat (part of Verve Group) and how you were able to make an impact.  

My journey in the industry started with transitioning from Academia to a Program Manager Internship role in Microsoft Norway. Then I continued as an Analytics Consultant in Accenture Greece where I deployed solutions that helped clients across Europe to optimize the value they derive from their digital strategies. In 2015, I moved to Ireland to join IBM as the Data Science Leader for Europe where I accelerated revenue growth utilizing data-driven territory management. Towards the end of my time at IBM, I had been successfully leading a global cross-functional task-force (based across North America, South America and Europe) set out to build a global recommendation engine for plays, products, and whitespace prospects to be deployed to 5000+ digital business group sellers worldwide. In 2018, I joined Facebook as a Lead Data Scientist for the Ad Auction Team, focusing on the Mobile Gaming industry. In my time there, I won the EMEA Marketing Science ‘Born Leader’ Award for demonstrating the characteristics of a strong leader. My new chapter finds me at Dataseat (Verve Group) as the VP and Head of the Data Science group where our mission is to maximize the power of data to optimize performance of advertisers in ad auctions.

Tell us what lead to your decision to become a Co-Founder of “Greek Women Do Tech” and how women are making a difference in the technology sector in Greece, the USA, or elsewhere.

We co-founded (together with Marily Nika) Greek Women Do Tech NGO to empower Greek Women in STEM fields based all over the world. Gender bias –whether deliberate or unconscious- is holding women back in the workplace. It makes it harder for women to get hired and promoted and negatively impacts their day-to-day work experiences. Bias isn’t limited to gender – we all fall into bias traps. We need to cultivate a network of other women and allies who we can turn to for support. Our non-profit organization is aiming to empower, connect, inspire, motivate, and support Greek Women in STEM fields to overcome stereotypes. We welcome synergies and opportunities around career, events, partnerships, and mentorship, focusing on Diversity & Inclusion.

During the past few years, the Greek tech ecosystem has seen an unprecedented growth with female entrepreneurs and tech thought leaders, having a vital role in its development.

Tell us about one of your most proud accomplishments in a previous role and one  which you plan to achieve anew.  

It is always about growing, supporting, and empowering my team. The energy, pride, and feeling of accomplishment I get when I set up for success a new team, guide, teach, and mentor at every step of the way cannot compare with anything else. I am grateful that once again my mission is to do exactly that. Leadership is the skill of being able to guide and influence other people. What makes a good leader is that they spend time and energy to support, protect, and grow their people.

I am also excited to announce the launch of the DoTech Academy organized by our NGO with the support of the U.S. EMBASSY ATHENS. The Academy aims to transfer U.S. technical expertise and innovation to Greeks who are passionate about tech and wish to enhance their tech skillset. This program is free and open to everyone (based in Greece) who wants to learn from Greek professionals working for major U.S.-based Big Tech companies.

What advice would you give to professional Hellenic-American Women today beginning a career and to those who are seeking a leadership role in the technology sector? 

The tech sector spans across all industries, roles, and fields. You have to think about where you want to be more personally involved in order to excel in the specific area that you want. Do you consider yourself a builder of something? Someone who empowers others through your technical infrastructure or your insights? Are you a storyteller? A strategist? Do you take energy when you are deep in your code? When you’re building something or debugging or make sense of data? Or when you’re discussing valuable insights with others? Or when you define strategies? But, more importantly: Will you be ok with the fact that the job title is not going to define you? You own your career path and your individual choices, and you can carve your path the way you wish against the odds. Check some illustrative role titles such as Software Engineer, Machine Learning Researcher /Engineer, Data Engineer, Data Scientist, BI Analyst, Product Manager to see where you do believe you will fit best. Then, check trainings & certifications in order to apply and to take action on the things that you study, (a great way to learn something -> action / involvement in projects / certifications) You could participate in a Kaggle competition to gain a 360 view of stages: Business understanding – data understanding – data preprocessing – Exploratory Data Analysis – feature engineering /extraction or selection – build model – test. Do stuff with R or Python. Then get a bit deeper on algorithms.

Seeking a leadership role in the technology sector is all about business acumen and influence. It’s a tough dance between: What the business needs, what motivates you, and the culture. It is never enough to emphasize the importance of communication and presentation skills. You have to directly or indirectly influence with your insights, executives, clients, and businesspeople with no technical background. I love the motto: “Correlation does not imply causation”. But, I love more the fact that I made it the favorite quote of some senior executives with only a traditional business background behind them. For our Women in STEM followers: Have you ever experienced consistent strategic assignments for male colleagues and deprioritized / operational ones for females? If you want to learn and add value, you must be involved in a strategic assignment. You must get that opportunity. Seek equally the strategic assignments as well as the operational ones. Each of them will provide you with a different set of skills. And of course, you get to see what you actually enjoy doing. Read Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In”. These things are happening on every level, and you have to get vocal around your aspirations. That implies that as men are telling you to take some extra courses, they have to get educated as well through trainings and workshops on bias, how to be allies, etc.

Who has inspired you the most in your life?

My personal role model from an early age was my mother.  A working mother, a true leader, and a role model for others at work, as well as an empathetic person at the same time in challenging situations.

In my work years, I was truly grateful to meet some amazing women in tech, colleagues, managers, senior leaders that mentored and inspired me. A key moment of inspiration, of course, was reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In.

What Impact has your Greek heritage had on your aspiring career?

All of my university and academia years were at Greek universities with the top professors in the fields of Computer Science, Databases, Data Mining and Machine Learning. I was able to learn from the best, and my Greek colleagues and friends were an extraordinary circle of top students, researchers, and software engineers. While I was continuing my career path, I was meeting more and more Greeks in Greece or abroad where their own achievements were the source of my own motivation.

Describe the current tech culture for women in Greece, the USA, or elsewhere.

The COVID19 pandemic was a wake-up call for gender equality and working culture globally. During 2020 and 2021, in Europe only 20 % of graduates in ICT-related fields (Tech sector) were women and the share of women in ICT jobs was 18 % (a decrease of 4 percentage points (p.p.) since 2010). On the EU Gender Equality Index for 2020 with 52.2 out of 100 points, Greece remained last in the EU on the Gender Equality Index. Greece’s score is 15.7 points below the EU’s score. Among women and men who have full-time jobs, partners, and children, women are spending an average of 7.4 more hours per week than men on childcare.

Based on LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company research, we know that in the past year, women leaders have switched jobs at the highest rates we’ve ever seen—and at higher rates than men in leadership. This could have serious implications for companies. Women are already significantly underrepresented in leadership – the situation is even worse in tech leadership roles. For years, fewer women have risen through the ranks because of the “broken rung” at the first step up to management. Now, companies are struggling to hold onto the relatively few women leaders they have.

Companies are starting to realize that they need diversity in their workforce to be successful. Women bring a unique perspective to the table, but companies need to retain them.

Given the COVID pandemic, how did you handle stress and which wellness/coping exercises, and mechanisms would you recommend?

I was 9 months pregnant when the first lockdown / curfew of COVID in Greece was announced. I gave birth amid the pandemic chaos. That day rocked our world. In the middle of the pandemic, in the middle of the night, everything was about to change. The first months postpartum were extremely tough for several reasons. The no1 skill I found handy in every situation was stoicism. A stoic approach. Seeing the glass: Seeing the half full side and being grateful for it, seeing the half empty side and saying, can I do anything about it? I had to remember and apply all that I read on Mo Gawdat’s book “Solve for Happy’’, encompassing all my stoic philosophy and mindset. I am accepting the fact that it’s out of my control to change some things, yet I can control some other aspects.

Please feel free to add any advice that comes to mind which we have not covered. 

My vision is to inspire younger (especially Greek) women that are just entering the STEM world, women who want to do a switch in their careers, and parents / family on how to empower from a young age their little girls and boys to break stereotypes. I want to drive as much as I can a cultural shift in matters such as parenthood, inclusion & diversity, mental health, work life balance inside the innovative tech world. Let’s all think for a moment about our own biases and be good allies when we see injustice.

Allyship is critical to fostering an inclusive workplace culture: Team-up! Together we stand. You are not in this alone. Mentors, Role Models, Meetups, Friends, Colleagues: Seek, find, and give back empathy. There’s power in women coming together to share their experiences, build new skills, and cheer each other on.

Who has inspired you in your career? Let us know at info@hellenicprofessionalwomen.org