First thing’s first…Palo Alto seems like a nice place to live! Just saw that you biked to the cafe. Do you live close by?
Living at the Stanford dorms has its perks. Being close enough to walk to a lot of places I need to be is really nice…I can even walk to the Google offices if I want.
So, how are you liking the coffee here?
A quaint start…but one I don‘t mind. See, there are all kinds of coffee shops you can visit, but the differences between blends…all very subtle.
Thank you for freeing up your Saturday morning to meet up with me. We’re excited about your background and potentially having you involved with our organization.
I’m glad you’re having me; when I got the call from my stepdad, I was nothing short of intrigued. There’s not a lot I’d skip tennis practice for.
How was the transition into the states?
Actually, pretty easy, all things considered. Adoption opened the door, and school guided me in.
How do you consider this different from your early life?
Siberia was a lot rougher than anywhere else I lived, in more ways than one. I had to learn to adapt quickly, you know…but I wasn’t born there. I grew up somewhere much warmer.
So…I have your file in front of me here, and as a personal statement, your success at Wimbledon is a true marvel! In fact, you broke my godfather’s record as the youngest competitor. That’s nothing short of amazing. Any background with that?
See, when I was growing up, I was forced to spend a lot of my formative years hidden at a nuclear facility. There wasn’t a lot for a young girl to do, so I was given a ball and a racket and spent all of my time hitting the ball against a wall. It started out almost like therapy to keep me from going crazy but turned into something I grew to love. Playing professionally seemed like something out of the question at the time, but it also seemed wrong not to chase my potential. Guess you could say it was a challenge to see how far I could go.
The truth is that no matter where I travel to, Paris will always be my home.
Profile interview by Iva Romanov for
What is it that drew you to tennis?
Well, since I grew up without any opponent and had to teach myself a lot of the ropes, the singular aspect of it was a huge factor. There’s no one to rely on, and nobody has to rely on you. You’re only as good as you are. My life doesn’t revolve around that kind of mentality, though, of course. The workplace is an incredibly team-driven atmosphere. There was also something very appealing about how it felt like I could “own” it. I grew up without knowing much of my real parents, so having something that I could fully call my own was very nice. And…of course, the fact that tennis is a very attractive and stylish sport never really hurt. [laughs]
How did you feel after winning the tournament in Wimbledon?
Call me foolish, but I had faith in my abilities, even if I wasn’t sure if the professional league was something for me. Something that really caught me off-guard was how soon I grabbed this victory because I was…what? Seventeen? Yeah…seventeen sounds right…I think all of those crowds were surprised when the face of the greatest challenger these tennis heroes faced was from a younger generation.
Ever consider designing your own tennis wear line?
[laughs] That’s fun to think about, but my mind doesn’t work that way. I prefer dealing with computers and security systems…paper and thread, not so much. Buying whatever strikes my fancy and just becoming a kind of a brand whore is more my style, I guess. The simple, clean styles of the outfits I wear on the court just feel so nice and crisp to wear, kind of like a breath of fresh spring air. Even out of tennis wear, I still tend to gravitate towards simple, light, and airy because of just how good it feels. Without even meaning to, I became your grade-a high school prepster.
When you got awarded your tennis scholarship, how did your peers at Sanford seem to handle it? Have you had any good experiences with tennis there?
So many of the players I’ve met at Stanford are amazing competitors, but I haven’t found a perfect match just yet…a lot of my colleagues seem taken aback by me, maybe even a little intimidated. Doesn’t help that I’m reserved by nature and just kind of keep my distance because of…what I’ve gone through, but I really hope I haven’t severed any potential friendships. I just want to work hard and hone my craft as much as possible.
So you’ve stepped away from tennis, then? You’re only 21, that’s still rather young…how did you come to that decision?
I don’t ever think anyone such as myself could simply walk away from tennis as a sport, or a lifestyle, even. There’s not many places I feel quite as happy at as when I’m standing on that familiar court, crushing both my competition and my own self-doubt. However...during my youth in Russia, I picked up coding because it seemed like a viable survival option. It comes so naturally to me at this point, like no string of letters or commands could even intimidate me anymore. Guess you could say that they’re two sides of the same coin when it comes to what I feel most natural with. As for learning opportunities, coding seemed like the better of the two options, since the field is constantly growing and changing. Seeing the flow of information evolve and how we as people use it as it changes fascinates me. Stanford was such a perfect fit for me then since I can learn and grow and hone my craft in so many different ways here through everything from cybersecurity to hacking to whatever opportunities Google as for me. Palo Alto is so different from Saint Petersburg, but there are so many doors just waiting for me to open here.
So tell me how you got into Stanford?
Thinking back, there are so many systems and technologies that didn’t exist when I was growing up, but we all take them for granted these days. Some of the people I looked up to the most and some of the greats of the technology world attended classes here. Everyone from Sergey Brin, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs…I knew I had to find a way to get here. The hardest thing was keeping up my GPA at Wycombe Abby while maintaining a full schedule on the ATP circuit. And, I’ll admit, having a letter from my stepdad didn’t hurt either.
Do you have a close relationship with your stepfather?
It’s complicated. His high-profile job and busy travel schedule keep us apart, and sometimes, I feel like a stranger in his presence. When I was still attending high school in London, it was a lot different though, and we were able to spend a lot more time together. We both lead such hectic lives that it’s really hard for the two of us to meet up these days. However, we shift things around to make time during the holidays, and as awkward as times can be after being apart for so long, it still is really nice to reconnect with family.
What exactly are you working on while you’re here?
Besides my studies? I’ve been brought onto the Google team, where I’ve been working on a couple of different tasks. Mainly cyber security, and it’s fast-paced and always changing. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Given your interest in Cyber Security, we may have a unique situation at Jespionne where you could be a good fit. Interesting…care to tell me more?
Sounds about right. [laughs]
When was it that your mind shifted to the tech world?
I had always had an interest in science, math, machinery…technological advancement as a whole. It’s just a no-brainer when it comes to thinking of what is most important to the world at large and what’s the most at risk. And that comes into focus when you realize what it is we- and by “we,” I mean the whole world –pour so much money and resources into. Security. So many countries all over the world have so much to lose if science can’t keep up. That’s true for the United States.
Does it collide with your life outside of your profession?
The thing is, sometimes our work life and personal life aren’t very separate at all, and some of us would never want to admit it. This especially true when you lead a life like mine. Some of us seem to have lives where everything is already in its perfect place without really needing any effort. People put it there. People are the ones who create the tools that allow us to put everything in the place it needs to be. Just so happens I’m one of those people.
Is there a line for you between security and over-involvement?
There is. There should be, at least. But that line’s already so fine, to begin with, and constantly shifts on a daily basis. It’s hard for someone as in-tune as me to understand, and so much harder for your average citizen to keep up with. When are we going overboard, doing too much? What is private, and what is not?
Do you consider yourself a private person?
Yes, I’d say so. It seems like everybody starts off as a private person. But when you lead a certain kind of life, you have to give up a piece of your privacy here, some identity there, all to gain intel if you get what I mean.
You come from a country under a lot of scrutinies when it comes to privacy and attacks on privacy. What is your take on that?
Well, look at the United States. It has the potential to suffer from the same thing happening to it as Russia. I think both groups of citizens have been failed by their government and those in positions of power. However, I really do believe that there’s hope for both countries if we can rectify all of this before it’s too late.
So I take it you’re not a fan of Trump?
Haha, you be the judge. I will say that it’s suspicious how…exposed everything he says and does is if that makes sense. There’s got to be more than what we’re seeing.
Ok then, let’s focus on your work with Lockheed Martin. What have you enjoyed so far about it?
I think the best part of working within it is seeing how such a position of power can peacefully change things for the better. Working for tech companies can move past what it seems like in the movies, and that alone is really reassuring.
Right now, I’m at STAR Labs, which specializes in research and tech development. The organization handles all kinds of things from solar studies to nanotechnology to improving upon 3D printing. It’s kind of like the first step in a long line of improvement and innovation, but a very important first step regardless.
How does Iva see the future from her eyes?
I see a level of security, but not as we know it today…something that’s not intrusive and actually keeps us safe. I see Russia happy and free from all of the strife it bears on its shoulders. I see Teslas everywhere…or at the very least, yours truly on a bicycle without a single worry about what toxic things I’m putting into the air. And I see funding going to the right places to continue the discussions that need to be had, helping to ease and make the lives of the average citizen more comfortable. And maybe teaching a class or two at Stanford when if I ever have the chance.
No, let’s talk about why you chose this area for your education?
As I’m sure, you know from my file that I’m adopted, but my grandmother always told me I had her best friend’s creative streak and my great grandfather’s ghost in my veins. Eyes have been on me for most of my life, for good reasons and now, I have kind of a unique perspective on privacy and how much we need to protect ourselves from any threat of invasion…in any sense of the word.
So is it true, did you really feel the eyes of KGB on you as you were a kid, given your family tree?
For sure, some in Russia consider Trotsky, a hero…some, a traitor. It’s not really something I am completely comfortable bringing up, but both my body and my soul will never allow me to forget.
My grandmother always told me I have her best friend’s creative streak and my great grandfather’s ghost in my veins.
Do you think espionage exists on a large scale?
It doesn’t take a genius in any sense of the word to figure that out for yourself, and you already seem to have an answer of your own. I don’t really think I need to give you any kind of a solid answer…but one man’s backstabbing spy is another man’s death-defying hero.
I understand you were contacted by the Federal Security Service?
I would rather not discuss that.
Jespionne is here to provide you with safety if needed. Is that something you are interested in?
Saying that I’m not interested would be dishonest. But if there’s anything we should be crystal-clear about here today, it’s that I know where my loyalties lie and my duty to my country– so it’s not like I’m going to compromise my own safety without thinking things through very carefully first. You’ll have to give me a piece of your own privacy, a little morsel of intel of your own, however…
Well, look at the United States. It has the potential to suffer from the same thing happening to it as Russia.
Well, I’m sure it must be a different feeling here on the west coast do you get to go to San Francisco often?
I’m lucky enough to have a flat in the bay area which I use when I have to be there for work or getting away on the weekend. Love the city, but there’s so much to discover as far as nature goes in the neighboring towns like Sausalito, Headlands, and Napa.
How does this compare to home, is there anything you miss?
Well, not the weather but going to the Bolshoi Ballet is a childhood memory that still stays with me and something I wish I could experience more here on the west coast but until then I’m learning to love the 49ers.
Wimbledon / Street Photo San Francisco / Roadside Architecture / Greg Nash / Lockheed Martin / Elon Musk / Bettmann / Corbis / Marco Grob / Norman Jean Roy / Teatr Bolszoj / Thomas Hawk / Zbig Zbyszek / City of St. Petersburg / Jack Devant / Joseph Chuber
Wimbledon / England / Stanford University / ATP World Tour / San Francisco / Bolshoi Theatre / Frida Kahlo / Trotsky / Google / Cybersecurity / Lockhead Martin / Google Head Quarters / Day of Action / Hyperloop / Frida Kahlo / Leon Trotsky / Benito Mussolini / Silvio Berlusconi / Matteo Renzi / Aldo Moro / Bolshoi Theatre / Net Neutrality
February 19 th, 2018