Continuing our spotlights on Women in Technology, we turn our attention to Kseniia Sycheva, an international communications specialist with a focus on the IT sector. Kseniia boasts an impressive track record, having worked with prominent companies such as Google, Nokia, Riot Games, Ericsson, and currently, Opera Mini.
We had a chat with her and this is what she had to say.
Please share a brief introduction of yourself. Your name and what you do at Opera Mini.
My name is Kseniia Sycheva. I am a Senior Global Communications manager, leading communication strategies for different Opera browsers and apps across the globe. For example, I am responsible for Opera’s brand perception, media relations, local PR campaigns, and Opera Mini sentiment in the media on the African continent.
What does it take to be in your line of work and in your position in terms of education, special interests and work ethic?
I hold a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s degree in Marketing Management, but I have developed my primary skills through extensive work experience with top tech companies like Opera, Google, Nokia, and Ericsson.
One crucial lesson I’ve discovered is that the best way to learn something is by doing it. I started working just two weeks after turning 18, with no prior experience in PR & communications, having studied economics and mathematics my whole life. I can’t emphasize enough how valuable it is to start doing what you love, even if you don’t have much knowledge, expect to face failure, or start out with little to no pay. The key to success is embracing failure and learning from it.
In my field, effective communication is paramount, whether it’s with users, journalists, or executives. Take a moment to reflect on your own communication style – are you polite, kind, and empathetic? If not, work on developing these qualities, as it’s much easier to teach technical skills than to transform someone into a genuinely pleasant person to engage with.
Furthermore, if you aspire to work in the IT sector, you should stay well-informed about the technologies that surround us. Experiment with AI chat tools – like Opera’s AI tool Aria – gain an understanding of the differences between browsers and search engines and delve into emerging technologies.
What is your typical day like at work?
I often find myself traveling for work, so I may wake up in Nairobi, Johannesburg, Cologne, Oslo, or some other location. My typical workday revolves around managing projects and product launches, which includes tasks like content development, coordinating with PR agencies worldwide, conducting interviews, and collaborating with marketing, creative, and product teams.
Additionally, I’m responsible for various corporate communication initiatives. This encompasses activities such as media training for executives, providing support during industry events, drafting company statements, updating investors, and preparing briefing documents. In essence, my role revolves around managing the company’s reputation.
Please describe Opera Mini and how it works.
Opera Mini is a mobile web browser that was launched in 2006. It is designed to be a fast, data-efficient browser that compresses web pages before they are sent to the user’s device, resulting in reduced data consumption. It can reduce data usage by up to 90%, making it an attractive option in regions with expensive mobile data. It offers several other unique features, such as offline file sharing. This feature allows users to share files offline with nearby devices, making it a practical choice for users in areas with limited connectivity. Another great feature is the built-in ad blocker; not only does it speed up web browsing, but also enhances the user experience.
Opera Mini has gained immense popularity in Africa – particularly in Kenya, where it has a significant market share and a brand awareness level of over 90%. Opera Mini has been downloaded over 1 billion times on the Google Play Store and has millions of users across the continent.
What role do you think Opera Mini is playing in shaping the growth and penetration of internet use?
Opera Mini has played a crucial role in shaping the growth and penetration of internet use, particularly in regions with challenges related to data costs and limited connectivity. Its data-saving features have made it an attractive choice for users who want to access the internet without worrying about high data expenses. By reducing data consumption, Opera Mini makes it more accessible for users to search for information and engage with online content.
- Local data centers – We’ve always been aware of the costs of data being the major issue on the continent. Therefore, ever since we entered the market, we started providing the products that can solve this issue such as Opera Mini. But to make a proper data-saving browser, you need technologies behind it, so we started to successfully install new local servers, including one in Nairobi. The servers speed up online browsing, making the connection up to four times faster than before when using Opera mobile applications like the popular Opera Mini browser.
- Free data campaigns – With the advent of the pandemic and the subsequent shift to online activity across the globe, Africans were once again confronted with the challenge of high data costs and limited access to online learning, work, and socialization. In response, Opera forged strategic partnerships with leading telecom companies across Sub-Saharan Africa, aimed at providing people with free browsing through Opera Mini. Working closely with MTN and Airtel in Nigeria, Safaricom and Airtel Kenya in Kenya, and MTN South Africa, Opera has been able to offer nearly 40 million people across five African countries, including Kenya, up to 3 GB of free browsing each month. This initiative has helped to empower users throughout the continent, enabling them to establish businesses, connect with loved ones, and embark on educational journeys, all with greater ease and affordability. In Kenya alone, Opera has invested over 2B KES into free data campaigns over the past couple of years. Opera is continuing to expand the scope of its free data campaigns in order to bring more people online, most recently partnering with Safaricom to launch an inaugural free data campaign in Ethiopia.
- Africa First Strategy – We believe Africa has a bright future – which is why Opera adopted its Africa First strategy in 2020. This means our mobile products and services are developed first and foremost with the African consumer in mind, and we invest in the region to bring more people online and offer them the fastest and most reliable internet connection. Our Africa First strategy also means we partner with local, regional and global leading companies to ensure we bring the best online experience to our users and also that we employ brilliant African colleagues across key cities like Lagos, Nairobi, Johannesburg and Cape Town who fill key functions such as business and product development, marketing, operations and editorial reps, to name a few.
How would you describe the current internet landscape and how do you see it evolving in the next few years?
The current internet landscape in Kenya is showing steady growth in internet penetration, with a significant number of users accessing the internet via mobile devices. The region has a young and tech-savvy population, making it a hotspot for internet adoption. While there has been substantial growth in internet penetration, challenges such as high data costs still exist. Opera Mini has helped address these challenges, and with continued investments in infrastructure and data-saving technologies, internet access is expected to become more affordable and widespread in the coming years.
Opera is committed to providing affordable internet access, localized content, and innovative digital services to facilitate digital adoption in Kenya. As the internet penetration rate continues to rise, Opera aims to be at the forefront of this growth by offering solutions that address the unique challenges and needs of Kenyan users.
How does Opera Mini stay ahead in the face of competition?
When Opera entered the Kenyan market, it didn’t simply transplant its existing technology. In contrast to many other tech companies, we conducted a comprehensive analysis of the issues facing the local population and devised a unique solution: the cutting-edge Opera Mini browser equipped with data-compression technology.
This innovation allowed users to conserve up to 90% of their data while browsing, resulting in more affordable internet access. Our overarching mission has consistently centered on reducing the digital divide and ensuring universal access to information as a fundamental human right.
Opera Mini effectively delivers fast, secure, data-saving, and user-friendly web access. Its capacity to adapt to the specific needs of markets like Kenya positions it as the preferred browser for those seeking efficient internet access.
What new developments can be expected from Opera Mini in the coming years?
Opera will continue to bridge the gap in access to digital finance and other digital services, with Kenya at its forefront. Overall, Opera Mini will remain at the forefront of promoting internet adoption.
Are there any unique challenges you face as a woman in technology and how can they be addressed?
I’m a relatively young professional, only 25 years old, which has often meant that I haven’t been taken seriously. However, the world is evolving, and there’s an increasing number of remarkable professionals who have achieved more by the age of 30 than the previous generation did by 60. I genuinely believe it all boils down to being a master in your field.
Focus on refining your elevator pitch, understanding your strengths, and addressing your weaknesses. At Opera, we’re fortunate to have many incredible women in various roles, including Product Directors and Marketing Directors. What sets them apart? They understand their true value.
Furthermore, businesses worldwide are adopting diversity and inclusion initiatives, seeking the right balance among different enthnicities, genders, and nationalities. I believe this is the direction the future should take – built on the foundation of equal opportunities.
What advice would you give to girls who are aspiring to be communication professionals and especially in the technology industry?
- Do not self-reject. Scientific studies widely show that women tend to self-reject more often than men. We tend to stress, overthink, and doubt ourselves. “What will they think of me? How can I even dream about something like that? What if they say no?” Every time these thoughts cross my mind, I remind myself to not self-reject. If you try, you might fail – but you might also succeed. If you don’t try, there’s only one outcome.
- Take baby steps. There is a saying: “Dreaming about winning the lottery without even buying a ticket is quite absurd.” Every enormously grand aspirations can be broken down into more manageable fragments. Break it down into small, manageable steps, and start off with that. Amplify your understanding of the industry you aim to excel in through open sources, follow your dream companies on social media, enhance your personal brand by updating your LinkedIn profile, craft meaningful posts to stand out, and boldly challenge the status quo.
- Find people who did it and ask how they did it. I believe that there’s nothing more beneficial than conversing with someone who has reached your desired goals. Connect with them on platforms like LinkedIn or Facebook and inquire about their journey, ask about their essential skills, and seek any advice they have to offer. Extend an invitation for a brief 10-minute virtual coffee chat to establish a more meaningful connection. Continuously expand your network and broaden your horizons.