The Improbable Techie

The Improbable Techie

How resilience and optimism took Liana Korkotyan to the center of Armenia’s digital transformation

I’m the type of person who would rather regret not doing something than doing it,” declares Liana Korkotyan. And with that “just go for it and do your best” mantra, life has been one mind-boggling roller-coaster ride for this Yerevan born self-starter. Her intrinsic optimistic outlook and unfaltering strive for excellence have taken her across the world and back again.

Today, as business group lead for Microsoft Central and Eastern Europe, she oversees the marketing operations of the company’s business applications products in over 24 countries across the European continent. From where she sits in Armenia, Korkotyan ponders the twists and turns of what she describes as an unlikely journey to the epicenter of Armenia’s technology-driven economic revolution. 

Korkotyan’s story begins in newly independent Armenia’s struggling public schools after the collapse of the soviet system. She remembers the formative 90s not with rancor but appreciation for the resilience they taught her. “All throughout middle and high school, I couldn’t escape the feeling that I wasn’t getting a proper education,” she recalls, describing how schools would remain closed for months on end in the absence of heating under sub-zero temperatures. “Still, I think those years taught us all to be resilient,” she says.

The great thing about the world of IT is that it’s shrinking that you can be based in one place and still have a global impact.

She first majored in English and Spanish at Yerevan State University of Languages and Social Sciences, explaining that she went for the humanities out of a despairing sense of “lack of choice” preponderant among many students at the time. Little did she know that her long-standing love affair with English would land her a job as a translator for the USAID Mission in Armenia. This would set her on a path culminating in her transformation into a fervent tech enthusiast with a deep fascination for the world of information technologies and the way “it’s enabling people to do things like never before.” 

Inquisitive by nature and willing to go the extra mile, Korkotyan soon found herself engaged with the mission’s partner projects, helping local small and medium businesses reach their full potential. “With all due respect to all the translators and interpreters of the world,” she says apologetically, “I felt like I had something of my own to say and was not satisfied with just translating what other people said. I wanted to be able to contribute.” 

Before she could fill in the blanks of a soon-to-be impressive resume, Korkotyan realized she had to go back to school. After two “fascinating” years with the American University of Armenia’s (AUA) MBA program, her thirst for learning was still unquenched. So she turned her attention to Georgetown University’s elite Master of Science in Foreign Service program, which boasted future heads of state and global company executives. 

The Improbable Techie

Korkotyan and her Microsoft team, along with partner Dom Daniel and the Central Bank, helped put on a 24-hour hackathon called “Fintegration."

“I wanted to know how it feels to go to one of the top schools in the world,” says Korkotyan with a sense of regret for the shortcomings of her past schooling. “But I knew there was no way I could get in.”

While her natural optimism was temporarily overshadowed by cold reality, fate and AGBU stepped in. Much to her surprise, she was accepted to Georgetown and while she couldn’t afford the tuition, AGBU was there to to ease the financial burden with a scholarship award. While modest in size, Korkotyan insists it was integral to her success at Georgetown and, by definition, later in her career. 

Korkotyan also credits AGBU for its foundational role in the establishment and continued support of AUA. She describes it as “something quite different” from the educational institutions she and the country at large were used to. She is also quick to praise the AGBU Yerevan Summer Internship Program (now Global Leadership Program), which she describes as “a great experience for those local Armenian-owned companies that host interns, because they teach the company new skills and perspectives. It’s also great for young people of Armenian origin from all over the world who get to experience Armenia and give back,” she adds.

With her Georgetown degree under her arm and well on her way in a newfound position as global program manager with the World Bank, it didn’t take long for Korkotyan to register on Microsoft’s radar. By 2015, she made the “180-degree” trip back to Armenia to head its local subsidiary. 

Optimistic about the future of humanity and the role of technology, Korkotyan has since been at the forefront of Microsoft’s push to usher Armenia into the fast-paced Age of Information that has swept the globe over the last half-century.

“I think this is an amazing time to be working for an industry leader like Microsoft,” says Korkotyan. “By sharing our practical knowledge and bringing in experts who are some of the best of their kind into classrooms and workplaces, we are changing how people learn, govern, and do business. We are changing lives. It’s exciting to be at the forefront of that change,” she adds.

While Armenia is not a commercial area for Microsoft, Korkotyan explains that the company’s focus lies with the country’s digital transformation, helping the government develop a solid digital infrastructure, while prompting companies to optimize and take their business to the next level.

“Notwithstanding our size and the shortage of professionals in the field, I believe in Armenia’s tech potential,” says Korkotyan. “The great thing about the world of IT is that it’s shrinking distances and opening up a world of new possibilities so that you can be based in one place and still have a global impact.”

The Improbable Techie

Korkotyan on behalf of Microsoft signs a memorandum of understanding with ACBA-Credit Agricole Bank for the development of SME sector. 

Even before Armenia’s velvet power swap, Microsoft had also partnered with the Ministry of Education and a medley of Armenian tech companies, including ArmTab, a local producer of tablets, to bring technology to first graders across several regions in Armenia, explains Korkotyan. “The idea was to introduce schoolchildren and their teachers to innovative ways of learning in an exciting and collaborative environment. But more than just about filling schools with tablets, the end goal was to change people’s mindset: to position technology as an enabler of education—a fundamental right of every child, I believe—rather than a tool to be feared,” says Korkotyan. 

While the project fell through due to lack of funding, Korkotyan looks on with optimism at the prospect of reigniting the project with the current administration once the dust settles down. Though still in its infancy, Microsoft has also been in talks with Yerevan State University to help them establish their own STEM program designed to educate the Armenian digerati of tomorrow.

Talking about her experience working in the largely male-dominated world of high-tech, Korkotyan is quick to point out that she is not one to put too much stress on the whole male versus female debate despite the apparent difficulties of rising through the ranks as a woman. “Maybe it’s because I tend to see the good side of things, but I don’t believe my being a woman hindered my career development. If anything, my experience has been one of respect and support,” reflects Korkotyan.

Instead, she draws inspiration from Hollywood actress-become-duchess Meghan Markle and her low-key but brave character to tell the young women looking to make it: “Do things the way it feels right for you. Success might not be immediate. It probably won’t be. It’s going to take some time. But persevere, even when no one’s looking, and you’re bound to make it.”

Banner photo: Liana Korkotyan at the Microsoft Armenia office in Yerevan, Armenia. Photo by Davit Hakobyan

Originally published in the May 2020 ​issue of AGBU Insider. end character

About the AGBU Insider

AGBU Insider profiles extraordinary AGBU program alumni across a diverse set of industries and passions. With exclusive interviews and photography, each issue reveals the Armenian impact on society, community, and industry.