Helen Lyashenko leads the London chapter for the Amazon Women in Engineering affinity group

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Its an exciting life for an Amazon Software Development Manager

It's an exciting life for an Amazon Software Development Manager

 March 12, 2019

Helen Lyashenko is a Software Development Manager at Amazon. Below, we learn more about Helen as a woman of many passions who leads the London chapter of the Amazon Women in Engineering affinity group.

An advocate for gender equality

As a Software Development Manager in the Alexa team, Helen's role is to manage a team of four engineers whose aim is to improve Alexa’s question-answering abilities through multimedia.

“We work on devices equipped with a screen, like the Echo Show,” Helen explains. “Working on this kind of product is really cool. What we do is changing the way people live.”

Helen is also an advocate for gender equality. She is the head of the London chapter of Amazon Women in Engineering (AWE), a global employee-led organisation who strive to increase diversity in technical roles.

“Technology is changing the world. There is a great opportunity for women to contribute,” explains Helen.

Pursuing her dreams

Helen moved from Canada to the UK in 2015 to pursue a double dream: working on Alexa’s innovative technology and living in London, which for her is the best city in the world.

Her passion for diversity comes from personal experience.

“As a kid, I was always good at maths and physics. At 12, I started playing around with code: I had my own website before blogs were even a thing,” she says. However, at first Helen was reluctant to follow a career in computer sciences (CS) as “that was for boys,” she says.

After taking her first CS classes in high school and briefly considering becoming an art historian, Helen decided to pursue her passion for science and started a CS course at Waterloo University.

“At the beginning it was intimidating,” she says. “There were only a handful of female students in my class, and most of our male classmates seemed much more confident. These guys sounded as if they had been building computers since they were five: what was I doing there? I felt out of place.”

Gaining confidence in her field

Although she had doubts, Helen really loved solving problems and coding and discovered she was good at it.

“As time passed, I gained confidence and began to ignore the impostor syndrome. It slowly went away, especially once I got my job at Amazon and found so many opportunities to contribute. By then, I knew I could make my own career path,” she says.

For Helen, it also helped seeing women in executive positions.

“There were several women among my managers, directors, vice presidents. If you cannot see what you can become, it’s harder to have that dream,” adds Helen.

Amazon’s culture of innovation

Helen immediately loved Amazon’s culture of innovation.

Amazon hires leaders, people that have ideas and want to make an impact. Everybody is encouraged to speak up and get things done: we’d rather you asked for forgiveness than for permission, and if an idea is good, it doesn’t matter who’s conceived it. It’s empowering,” she says.

Promoting diversity in STEM

As a manager, Helen actively encourages diversity by establishing a team with a 50/50 gender split and through her work with the affinity group.

“AWE’s mission is simple: we want Amazon to be the best place to work for technical women,” she explains.

The group has created many initiatives whose focus is to build an internal community providing support and advocating for the needs of female employees in technical roles. It’s also active on the external outreach front through encouraging girls to pursue STEM careers.

“If just one girl decides to go into STEM thanks to our efforts, then I will have done my job,” says Helen.

Optimistic about the future

Amazon has recently launched Amazon Amplify in the UK, a programme designed to increase the number of women in technology and innovation roles across its UK business. The programme is supported by findings of research done in collaboration with WISE, the campaign for gender balance in science, technology and engineering. The consultation was created to help understand the obstacles to increasing diversity across industries, and help make a roadmap for companies to follow in improving gender diversity at all levels.

Helen’s views of the future are optimistic.

“The culture is evolving, I think we are getting there. I really hope so: careers in technology and science are extremely rewarding, and women should feel as entitled to these opportunities as men do,” she adds.

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Disclosure: Where Women Work researches and publishes insightful evidence about how its paid member organizations support women's equality.

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