“Success was not an end in itself. But if you love the subject of your studies, and if you appreciate the trust and support of your teachers and colleagues, then you will surely give your all. Any reward will come later.”
Maria Dimakopoulou is only 23 but her CV already features work experience at Google, a credit for solving a three-year-old problem at Intel, a number of international awards in the field of computer science, a speech at CERN, and attendance of the program on nanotechnology and artificial intelligence at Singularity University on the campus of NASA Research Park in Silicon Valley.
Dimakopoulou studied at a Greek university. She scored the highest marks in the 2009 national examinations to enter the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the National Technical University of Athens. She graduated with top marks, 10/10. In 2011, while she was still in her third year, Maria received an e-mail from Google asking her to attend an interview for an internship at the California-based company.
“I hadn’t applied. In the beginning I thought it was some kind of prank.” She was accepted. The following summer, she joined the company’s algorithm team in Paris. “From the very beginning, I was impressed at people’s receptive behavior toward me and the manner in which, as instructors, they helped me improve. Knowing that I was being trained next to distinguished scientists, I worked hard to make up for my lack of experience in order to meet, and if possible to exceed, their expectations.”
The problems of the Greek university system were not an obstacle. “I came across professors who were willing to support me, experts who carry our research that is respected abroad, a number of successful graduates who are role models for me.”
Raised in Nea Erythraia, northern Athens, Maria is the daughter of two state hospital doctors. She is often asked why she picked computer technology over medicine. Having developed a keen interest in math, won several prizes in Greek and international competitions, and, most importantly, with the support of her family, Maria decided to study IT and new technologies.
What has made the biggest impression on her so far? “That rather than finding myself in competitive environments, I have seen team work, people trying to help each other and serve the goals of the team. Sure, a company or organization that offers better opportunities naturally also has higher expectations from workers. However, I think I have even greater expectations of myself.”
Maria is getting ready to travel to New York following an invitation from Google to work on Google ads algorithms. She is anxious to work on the project, but she says she would, at some point, like to return to her home country. What would she say to a Greek her age faced with the dilemma of whether to leave the country? “First they should have a very clear idea of what they want to do and then examine where would be best to make that ambition happen, taking advice from professors and colleagues they trust and appreciate.”
“You can always set up a start-up in Greece, but if you are up for something more niche, America is the place to be. Opportunities are everywhere. All you need to do is grab them.”