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Could you tell me a bit about your background?

I’m originally from Kolobrzeg, Poland but have been living in the UK (with some short breaks for southern Italy) for the past 12 years, so I have a dual citizenship now. I’m an entrepreneur running two “slightly” different businesses;  Untrite – Machine Learning-powered tech startup helping enterprises with their unstructured data, and Japana – an eCommerce offering handmade Japanese kitchen knives. By combining lessons learned from such essentially different industries, it allows me to look at problems from new angles and work on unique solutions.
I also manage London chapter of Girls in Tech together with my friend, Clairine. By volunteering here I’m able to share my knowledge on building and failing at businesses (I’m damn good at the latter, ha ha). I think it’s important to openly speak that entrepreneurship is not all glamour and an ‘overnight success’. It’s important for people to know where they can seek help and mentors, as it can be a very lonely journey.

How did you get into tech? What made you choose it?

My way into tech was quite unconventional and started around creating a fan page of one of my favourite games – The Sims (I also loved Tomb Raider, Unreal Tournament, Claw and Tony Pro Skater 2 in case you asked :).

I was 13 years old back then and I used MS FrontPage to build my website. You can see the skeletons of it on WayBack Machine archives to this day – here. I was on fire – my site was 2nd most visited fan page in Poland of all The Sims pages (and yes, there were already more than 10 of them back then. 🙂
For those younger readers than me – these were the times where you could actually buy a book with printed list of websites — their addresses and a short description, a.ka. yellow pages for websites.

I was curious and wanted to understand how it all works. Majority of the websites was a simple HTML and Java Scripts (remember those snowflake effects chasing your cursor during Christmas?) so my mom bought me a Flash Bible and PHP Bible as I wanted to learn to code ‘dynamic’ websites. However, I never really got crazy about programming. I blame the wrong choice of language 🙂

I consider myself a very tech savvy. I know the basics of HTML5, Java Script and CSS, I can setup DNS records, generate SSL certificates, build a fully functioning e-commerce shop with WooCommerce, add payment getaways and all necessary plugins, but… I I can’t “truly” code.
Instead of spreading myself too thin, I prefer to focus on my strengths – networking and connecting with people. If you believe in personality tests, then I’m a true ENFP a.ka. “The Campaigner” – I love gathering people and motivating them towards one cause.

I love technology for the fact that you can build something out of nothing. That there is no limits to what you can create and that people around the world can use your product or service.
I’m constantly motivated and amazed by how much humans can achieve with use of technology; drones delivering blood supplies (ZipLine), crowdfunding platforms helping those less fortunate entrepreneurs (Kiva), robots doing better parkours than most humans (Boston Dynamics), sites sharing inspiring stories of projects (Ted.com), YouTube creating and promoting new artists every day (ok, I’m there mainly for the cat videos :)…
“Breathing”  tech everyday makes me want to be a bigger and bigger part of it.

What personal or professional milestones would you highlight?

Hard to say as I’m not easily satisfied with my achievements. I would say starting a company and winning a few corporate deals. Moving to the UK on my own to study, with no friends or family here when I was 19.

I love business development and I try things that scare the shit out of me, both physical and mental. One of my latest crazy ideas was to start a Japanese knife business with my female friends back in 2016. Japanese blacksmithing is one of the most conservative, patriarchal industries you can imagine. Being a young woman is a complete opposite of what such craftsman company expects as a business partner. They value traditions, hierarchy and trust in long-lasting businesses. It’s been a hell of a ride but we’ve finally figured out a way to please them while maintaining sanity and executing my ambitious vision. It’s a really cool story actually. You can read about it here.

kamila hankiewicz girls in tech

kamila hankiewicz girls in tech

kamila hankiewicz girls in tech

What advice would you give your 10-year-old self?

When I was 10 I don’t think I knew what I wanted to do with my life but there are things you have to teach your kids early so it becomes their habit. As you grow, you should learn two things: to sell and to code. As one of my idols, VC Naval Ravikant says “learn to sell, learn to build, if you can do both, you will be unstoppable.”
I love how kids in America are encouraged to sell. Take for example selling lemonade. It’s so simple to create opportunities to learn. I believe, you should fall in love with selling. I know many people have bad connotations with it but if you think about it for a moment, we all sell. Selling doesn’t necessarily just mean selling individual products or services. When you’re trying to inspire someone – you’re selling.

Building on that, I would say: be more persistent. ‘Flow’ or passion for something don’t exist. You “build” them as you go deeper into a project or a task.
Embrace your personality. Don’t try to fit in and please others as you won’t be happy. It won’t be you.
I still can’t understand why I thought I would be a good management consultant (I used to work in a corporation!) – it’s not my style and it was only making me unhappy.

Try to learn to code and see if it’s your thing. Ability to code when you’re just starting to build your own business is the biggest advantage you can possibly have. In the beginning, nobody believes in your idea, even you don’t know what you’re doing. And even if you can afford to pay someone to build things for you, she/he won’t be as passionate as you in making things happen. If you can build something of value, you can show it to the market to verify your product fast.
To understand the basics of programming I highly recommend CS50 course on programming taught by professor David J. Malan from Harvard University. I loved it.

I guess the new generation won’t really need to ‘learn’ to code, those skills will either be uploaded to their memory like in some kind of Matrix movie or AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) machines will be programming themselves following our instructions. Or we will be dead by then, eliminated by machines. In this case, it’s even more crucial to know the language of your future enemy so learn to code 😉

Do you regret not having done something today for not finding time?

In general I don’t regret anything. I wouldn’t be where I’m now if I’ve done something differently (you know, parallel universes, Back to The Future and all that stuff). I guess I could have been spending more time with my friends and family socialising instead of working my ass off till late hours… as Alex Steffen says “More is not better. Better is better.”
I always thought by 30 I’ll have all figured out – family, career, life in general. I’ve been stressing myself for a long time for not achieving enough quick enough. But now that I’m 32 (old lady talking, ha ha), I realised that each of us has a different path and eventually we’ll get what we deserve and worked for.

What books and podcasts do you recommend reading and listening to and why?

I’m actually very new to podcasts but so far I love Naval Ravikant podcast (I also think his Tweets are amazing). I like some episodes of Tim Feriss’ ones. Pretty much most of A16Z – from Andreessen Horowitz VC firm. When it comes to books, my recent favourite is Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss, who is an ex-FBI hostage negotiator. Amazing book on art of negotiations and sales.

I’m also starting my video podcast HUMANS OF AI – where I interview people from academia, tech and showbiz who work around AI. I planned the launch for mid March but with the current situation (safety first!) this needed to be postponed. I’m hoping for end of April but let’s see…

humans of ai video interviews

Who is your role model?

I don’t have one, but I like certain traits of people I admire. – I love Melinda and Bill Gates for what they are doing for humanity. I like Sarah Silverman for being such a strong personality and really sharp with her humorous sarcasm. I admire dr. Ali Parsa, the CEO of Babylon Health whom I had the chance to meet and interview last year during our Girls in Tech Startup F*ckups event. His story and mission touched everyone in the room.
and I admire Richard Branson for figuring the ‘work-with-smarter-than-yourself’ bit. He has an incredible talent of surrounding himself with extremely smart people who see opportunities where others don’t.
In general, I admire everyone who is brave and (let’s be honest) naive enough to start their own business for deeper reasons. Money is never a driving factor.

How did you get into Girls in Tech and what made you do that?

I wanted to give back to community and I wanted to find other likeminded, ambitious women.  Now I have a group of great friends.

girls in tech startup fuckups ali parsa babylon

Girls in Tech Startup F*ckups with Ali Parsa, CEO and the Founder of Babylon Health

After so many years of being in STEM field, what do you think about diversity and inclusion in sector?

While there are still gender gaps and represent, but we’ve made a huge progress since Girls in Tech and other similar initiatives started making a noise. I believe that technology is one of the most democratic and meritocracy-driven environment anyone can find themselves in. If you can create something of value, market will verify it. You can create unlimited number of opportunities for yourself in tech.

What advice would you give to a person who wants to get into tech?

Start a project. Get heard, be seen. Define yourself through a project, no matter how silly it could be. You don’t need to be an ‘expert’ in anything. Just focus on SOMETHING and keep on going.

Just look at me, for example. I’m far from being an expert of AI but I’m fascinated by this space and learn about it every day. And what’s better way than to aggregate all the greatest minds of this world and attach your name to theirs than by starting a podcast on AI? 🙂 I’m learning from the greatest minds AND I’m giving back at the same time. A win win 🙂

A lot is just about showing up. Be consistent and be persistent.