For Sona Israyelyan, it used to be all about the music.

Sona was born and raised in Gyumri by her father, a construction worker, and her mother, a leather smith. At home, classical music was constantly on in the background. Her parents loved to sing with her when she was a child. When the earthquake destroyed everything in 1988 and electricity refused to function, the family’s evening entertainment consisted of their own sing-alongs. When Sona was 16, her parents, along with two of her older siblings, relocated to Russia, leaving her and her younger sister, Tehmine to live with their grandmother, Zhenya, until her death in 2004. Tehmine has since left to study in Denmark, leaving Sona, now 35, on her own in Gyumri.

 

 

For six years, until 2010, Sona ran the orchestra at Gyumri’s Octet Music School, coaching children who were dedicated to pursuing a music-focused education. She was also a key player in the fundraising efforts to rebuild the school, which had been all but demolished in the earthquake and was still reeling from its impact decades later. A major renovation, made possible by several donors, was completed in 2013.

Yet, despite her life-long passion for music, Sona eventually longed for a change. She was eager to branch out and explore the fascinating new terrain of IT, a primarily male-dominated field. While still working at Octet, Sona enrolled in a web programming course at Gyumri Information Technology Center (GTech), and eventually earned her certification as a PHP software and web developer. She followed that up with her participation in the highly competitive Microsoft Innovation Training in web programming.

 

 

“GTech enabled me to think differently, to reach new milestones and inspire others in knowing that everything is possible when you feel empowered through self-awareness, education and experience. GTech also taught me the benefits of teamwork,” something Sona says helped her when the high-profile donor Ian Gillan of Deep Purple visited Octet. She took the lead in teaching the kids how to play Deep Purple’s hit Smoke on the Water. “Playing hard rock was a true challenge for the teachers and the students, as we were used to only performing classical and jazz. It was a real shock for the famous rocker to hear his song on guitar, duduk, saxophone and the flute,” she said. But Gillan was impressed. “And we did it through effective teamwork.”

Today, Sona leads a team of four men at the website development firm AVROMIC. Just as musicians in an orchestra balance and complement one another, so must members of any team, she says. “For me, a team is comprised of different circles, which are connected. When one circle breaks up, the team stops functioning completely. Leadership is about creating these circles, growing these interdependent relationships, and maintaining the right balance.”

Succeeding in a heavily male-dominated field, like IT, is all about giving women access to the tools of empowerment. “Affirmation, education and guidance,” says Sona. “These are the things youth, especially women, need in order to progress. If we can create a conducive environment with access to these things, it can make all the difference in the world.”