SPOTLIGHT ON MARY ZIEMBA, T’18
Updated: Sep 1, 2019
JUNE 17, 2019 | BY COLE ZAHARRIS & LEIGH MARSHALL
A New Jersey native, Mary is a product manager at Apple. She graduated from Duke in 2018 with a BS in Computer Science and a certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, with a particular interest in Internet privacy. While at Duke, she participated in Duke in Silicon Valley, interned at USAID and Apple, and was a member of the Catholic Center. She joined BOW as a first-year and later served as its Tech Chair and VP of Communications. She also serves as a member of the Duke Annual Fund Advisory Board.
Thinking back, why were you interested in joining BOW?
I was attracted to BOW because it was not strictly pre-professional—BOW emphasized building its members’ leadership potential and self-confidence alongside career development. Having attended an all-girls high school, I knew the positive effect an all-women’s environment had on my personal development, and finding an environment like that at Duke was really attractive to me. As a first-year, I felt somewhat intimidated by all the other smart people around me, and BOW’s leadership development and community-building activities were really key to helping me realize my potential not just at Duke, but now in the working world. I’ll never forget putting the finishing touches on my application in my tent in K-Ville!
What is the most important thing you learned/took away from your Duke experience?
At Duke, I took a Public Policy class called Enterprising Leadership, taught by one of my favorite professors, Tony Brown. A major part of the class was examining our personal leadership styles. I remember him saying something along the lines of, “If you don’t examine who you are and what you believe now, you’re very unlikely to do it in the future.” That stuck with me. It made me synthesize all the other important things I had learned about myself before and while at Duke—who am I becoming? What is important to me? Because what you believe translates into the decisions you make later—what job you take, where you decide to live, and so on. So, in short, I think the most important thing I learned at Duke was to be reflective about myself, and to know my values so I could put them into practice.
What advice do you have for BOW members trying to figure out what they want to do?
I remember hearing Lisa Borders, the CEO of the WNBA, speak at a BOW GBM. She told a story about how when she was at Duke, she thought she was going to be a scientist, then almost failed one of her first chemistry classes at Duke. And now Ms. Borders is an incredibly successful woman! Hearing her story was so reassuring to me, because I realized that successful people’s stories often did not draw a straight line to success. So, go listen to the stories of speakers at BOW and around campus—you’ll realize that as long as you’re searching for what you want to do and working hard, you can find success.
What do you like most about working at Apple? What are the greatest challenges?
I strongly align with Apple’s values—quality products, customer privacy, the intersection of liberal arts and technology—so working with people who also value those things is really amazing. I also feel very lucky to work side-by-side with so many smart people. One of the greatest challenges is having a lot of ambiguity in my day-to-day work—it's not always clear what the right answer to a question is. But this is really an awesome opportunity for growth, as it gives me a lot of autonomy and motivation to find the best solution and run with it.
What is a typical day as an engineering product manager?
I really love that no two days are quite the same. One day, I might be working with my business partners to develop requirements for an application; another day, I might be working with engineers on technical architecture. I also get to flex my design muscle and create wireframes for features my team and I might want to bring next to our application. I like having the ability to see the bigger picture of my application, while also being close to the engineering team.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I see myself still loving my work, and getting better at it every day. I might be pursuing an MBA, though I might stay in industry, gaining more experience to move closer to higher leadership roles. I definitely see myself staying involved at Duke and in my community.
What are some things that you like to do in your free time?
I serve on the Duke Annual Fund Advisory Board—it’s been an awesome way to give back to Duke, and I appreciate the ability to offer a young alumna’s perspective on where Duke should be in the coming years. Also, I’ve really gotten into cooking—I’m working on my technique by cooking through some of my favorite chefs’ cookbooks. I’m also learning Italian on Duolingo--I took it at Duke and want to keep my skills up. I also love staying active—my day is ten times better when I’ve ran or gone to the gym.