You went to the 3rd Secondary School in Gdańsk, the famous “Topolówka”, mostly the forge of politicians and journalists but not exclusively so. In 2012 you took an additional final written exam in advanced maths and got 100 % in it.
That’s right, somehow I miraculously managed to do it. Although I have to admit that I have been interested in mathematics since my early years. My mum is a mathematician and I think that genetically I have a mathematical mind. I have always liked maths exercises, even as a form of fun, I simply did additional exercises. It might sound strange but as soon as I had completed a certain task, I got such a feeling of satisfaction or pride and that gave me a great deal of joy. And it went on like this, through primary school, lower secondary school, up to secondary school where I was in a maths and physics class. And this interest in mathematics was what must have helped me in obtaining this good result. I also took advanced physics but I’m not going to tell you the result because I don’t even remember it. I was always convinced that I wanted to continue with mathematics, so the choice of a mathematical course of study was quite natural for me. I did toy with the idea of studying physics and dabbling in physics, especially astrophysics, stars … it’s just another world. Mathematics, however, was my main choice so once I’d started, I just went ahead.
You seem to disprove the popular opinion that the ‘fair sex’ is no good at the exact sciences.
This is true but when the ‘fair sex’ does deal with mathematics, then she must be really good to be noticed. Because when a boy knows his maths then he simply does. And a girl must have a passion for it in order to make it to the top in this quite male-dominated environment.
You started studying maths which, given the situation, was quite a natural choice. But what pushed you towards becoming interested in informatics?
In the first year of mathematics, we had classes on the basics of programming. I was afraid of it at first because I hadn’t had much to do with programming before. It turned out, though, that I could sit down to a certain task and sit at it until I’d completed it. And then again came the satisfaction from a task accomplished. What came in handy here was probably my scientific mind and also logic, thoroughness and patience for work. And I managed to make it to the top in these classes, I was one of the best students in the group. All the more so that most female maths students shied away from programming. I was happy with myself and so decided that I wanted to find a way and complete a task. Apart from that, I would meet IT people in corridors and I figured out from their conversations that maybe instead of additional physics I could start studying additional informatics. I gave it a try and I am very happy with my studies, with both courses. Although mathematics has remained my main subject, I deal with it all the time and am really passionate about it, informatics is for me, maybe not as much fun or a hobby, but a subject which really gives me deep satisfaction. All the more that now we also have a team project so I started working with others as part of a team. In mathematics you generally work by yourself. As part of informatics, when it turned out that you cooperate with others during classes, I gained some immense satisfaction. The contact with others in informatics is much closer than in maths.
Is it hard to follow two courses of study at the same time?
I must admit it is. One course alone requires you to do a lot of work and nearly takes up your entire life, never mind two. I study at the same faculty so I rush from room to room in the same building , so it’s as if I studied one course. But there’s much more individual work. In mathematics I have to study for tests i.e. I have to do exercises at home to get ready for tests. In informatics it’s different because you mainly do projects, also as part of your homework. After many hours at university, I return home and sit down either to study for a test or to do a project. All this takes up a great deal of time and devotion but I get enormous satisfaction from it.
Does your mum help you with homework?
She does sometimes, I admit she does. But not in the programming, I have to do it all myself or with friends.
The ability to work as part of team is now highly sought after. I wonder whether you’d agree with me that writing algorithms and doing jigsaw puzzles, which as you said yourself is your hobby, have great deal in common.
At first glance it might seem like it’s not the same thing at all. However, what is important here, is certain personal characteristics of a given individual such as patience, meticulousness or the ability to spend a long time on a given task. Both tasks take a great deal of time. Of course, with jigsaw puzzles you don’t have to think things over and with algorithms, before you sit down to a code, you have to think about them carefully first. In both tasks patience is also important, that’s for sure, a lot of it. Plus the meticulousness, especially when things don’t work out and you have to look for a mistake. In both tasks you also have to have a great eye for detail to be able to find possible errors and work out what doesn’t fit and what’s gone wrong.
Yes, you do need the patience of a saint for it. Do you also have a drawing talent?
I personally don’t think I do. I find pleasure in drawing but I’m not happy with the results. Frankly speaking, the situation here is completely different – I do it although I don’t think I can. But it gives me pleasure anyway that I have a result of some sort and I simply want to master it. I love watching others draw or seeing the effects of other people’s work. I would love to be able to draw because it’s a useful skill to have. That’s why I draw although I don’t think I can do it. I draw to keep learning it all the time and keep going forward with it.
And are you making any progress?
People say I am.
Now, let’s talk a little bit more about sci-fi.
I generally like reading very much. It is also sitting in one place and concentrating on one thing. And sci-fi? I got really drawn into the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. I had my first encounter with the first book of the series when a family member borrowed it from a library. When I reached for it, since it was there on the shelf anyway, and started reading, I got so drawn into it that now I have the whole series on the shelf in my bedroom. It’s 40 books or so, so quite a few. And I’ve read them all several times. I have been exceptionally drawn to this series.
Thank you for the interview.
Thank you very much.
Gdańsk, 23 March 2016
Interview: Dr Tadeusz Zaleski
Photography: Piotr Pędziszewski