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November 08, 2018 | by

40 Under 40: Eugene Nonko’s childhood slide rule fueled his interest in computer science

Eugene Nonko is co-founder and CEO of MediaAlpha.

Eugene Nonko is co-founder and chief technology officer at MediaAlpha in Redmond.

Before launching MediaAlpha, Nonko was a senior software engineer at Microsoft.

Nonko, 38, grew up in Biysk, Russia, a city of less than 250,000 in southwestern Siberia. He has a master of science in information technology/economics from Altai State Technical University.

Eugene Nonko

  • Title: Co-founder and chief technology officer
  • Company: MediaAlpha
  • Residence: Redmond

You volunteer monthly with Food Lifeline in Seattle. What prompted your involvement with that organization? I witnessed food insecurity firsthand during my childhood in Russia, and I wanted to help address this problem in my community. It was also important to me to instill in my children the importance of giving back and staying connected with the community, which is why I volunteer with my oldest son, Ari. I heard about Food Lifeline from a friend, and I have found it to be a truly outstanding organization addressing hunger here in Western Washington.

You completed college at age 19 and came to the U.S. at age 20. When did you realize what you wanted to do with your life? I was lucky. I discovered my passion at a very early age, so there was never a time when I wanted to do anything other than what I do now. My first favorite toy — no joke— was a slide rule, and it was my early love for math that led me to computer science. I started programming at my town’s computer club when I was 9 years old, but since computer time was hard to come by, I also spent countless hours programming on paper and voraciously reading anything and everything computer science related. I sold my first program, accounting software for my town’s municipal transit authority, when I was 15 for $500, which seemed like a lot of money back then.

When you have taken risks, how do you manage doubt? I focus on the process. Risks must be thoughtfully and open-mindedly assessed to understand the expected outcomes. If a risk is then worth taking, then I try not to worry about the actual outcome and stay focused on just the next step I need to take.

Who has had the greatest influence on your leadership style? I’ve worked with some great people, but I never had a mentor or manager whose leadership style I sought to emulate. The only leadership style I know is to explain to others how I would approach and solve a problem.


This article originally appeared in The Puget Sound Business Journal, a weekly American City Business Journals publication containing articles about business people, issues, and events in the greater Seattle, Washington area.

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