Thanksgiving is Thanks to a Woman!

Are you thinking: gee Michelle’s a bit behind the ball on this one – Thanksgiving has been and gone!

Indeed the date has passed; and I hope all my American friends and connections received my good wishes post on Dragon Sisters Facebook page?

In Australia and in many other cultures, we don’t have Thanksgiving Day per se. But like many of the American global cousins, when it comes around, I share in reflecting upon all the good in my life which I have to be thankful for. I’m not forgetting, Canadian Thanksgiving in October or the similar secular observances around the world.

You may not know but until Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation in 1863, each American state scheduled its own Thanksgiving date.

What I think is just fantastic is that he did this because of a 74 year old magazine editor, Sarah Josepha Hale. Ms Hale had been lobbying for 15 years(!) as editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book.

Until President Lincoln responded, she had been ignored by past Presidents. Her letter asked him to have the “day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.”

She explained, “You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.” (Source: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler et al.)

And that is how the last Thursday in November became American Thanksgiving Day.

Forgive me for crowing about girl power again – but there you have it: all thanks to one persistent lady!

Maybe my blog title today is a bit cheeky because, of course, Ms Hale can’t be credited for the existence of Thanksgiving, but wasn’t she an extraordinary woman?!

I found that little snippet about her very inspirational. I hope you do too.

Michelle

An Interview with a Top Influencer

A/N My interviewee this week is recognised as one of the Top 25 European Office 365 Influencers. Only two women made this list.  She is also one of the 4 women recognised in the Global Top 25 Office 365 Influencers.   As if that’s not enough, she’s also been awarded the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015.

Tell us a little about your career and how you ended up where you are today.

I was born as the first child of a very poor family, living in Eastern Hungary. I inherited my father’s skills at problem solving; he had been always good at school, but he didn’t have the chance for any higher education.

In school, being the smartest and poorest child in the class was a very bad combination. Since I didn’t have too many friends, I turned to what I was good at: learning. My math teacher recognized my math skills and managed to let me into the programming classes. I loved sitting next to the Commodore +4s! Controlling what they should do was one of the most powerful experiences I’d ever had at that time. There was never any doubt that I wanted to study programming after high school.

When I was accepted at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, I thought my life was on track – but a few months into my studies, I realized that university was too much of a burden. The costs of my studies and living in the capital were way too much for my family to afford.

I was at a huge decision point. Everything suggested I had to stop my studies and look for work. Nobody believed there was any way to avoid this and stay at the university, continuing my studies. But I didn’t give up. I was sure there must be some way.

I made the decision: I would look for a job AND continue my studies. Due to the programming awards I had received during my high school years, I found a programming job at one of Hungary’s biggest and most well known IT companies.

Five months after starting university, I found myself working there. I was saved! Those years were the hardest period of my life, though. I studied hard. I worked hard. I slept for only a few hours every day. My parents got divorced. But I was free.

For the first time in my life, I was doing what I loved, and I could do this because I made it possible for myself. In the end, I finished studying and got my degree after seven years. And I already had 6.5 years work experience which proved to be a HUGE benefit.

What makes someone good in your chosen field?
First of all, you have to be passionate about your job and you have to be persistent. Also, you have to love learning new things every day.
Last but not least, you have to be a team player. Even if you work from home like I do, IT projects are always complex, there’s always a whole team of professionals involved.

What mediums/areas do you mostly operate in?
What I do is quite complex. I help enterprise organizations with their Information Architecture (how to organize and classify their content, how to “clean up” and optimize their processes, etc.) as well as with Enterprise Search (how to make the content findable and discoverable, how to help users reduce the time spent with searching – especially with non-productive searching).

It sounds like it’s an IT role, but it’s much more about understanding people’s content, intent and behaviour. It’s much more about psychology. Maybe this is why I not only like working on people’s Information Architecture and Search solutions, but also mentoring them with their own life and career path. It’s amazing how similar these two things (consulting and mentoring) can be!

What can be challenging about your profession?
First, in IT, we have to solve complex problems and we have to deal with new kinds of problems every day. If you don’t like that, you’re lost.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a programmer, an administrator, a project manager or a system architect – if you don’t like solving complex problems, you cannot be good at it.

Secondly, in what I do, it’s very challenging to be able to think like my customers. Even organizing our own stuff can be challenging, just think about your kitchen or children’s rooms. But being able to understand the content and knowledge of someone else quickly and to provide a structure that helps them – this is something that’s never easy. But this is why I love doing this!

Thirdly, you should never forget: IT is always about serving humans. Always. Even if you never see the end users and customers, working with those bits is always about making people’s life easier in some way.

What do you most like about your profession?

I really like solving the complex problems of my enterprise customers, I like it when I have to use my brain power. Because every customer and every project are different, I learn a lot from each engagement. What could be better than being paid for learning time? 😉

But beyond that, I like the human part of my job the most. I like travelling the world and seeing beautiful places. I like meeting people, making new connections, having friends literally around the globe. I like helping others with their journeys.

I especially love helping young women with their career paths: to find their real passion, their real mission. To motivate and inspire them – this is what I like the most.

What has been your most embarrassing professional moment?
A few years ago, before my children were born, I was working for a company in a role I didn’t really like, for quite a low salary. I wanted to quit, but at that time I was too young and not brave (self-confident?) enough to discuss it with my managers.

I applied for a job, which I really wanted, at a consultant company. To my great delight, they invited me for an interview. I thought the interview went well, and felt good that evening. The very next morning, one of my managers invited me to his office. Each of my managers were there, and when they closed the door behind me, I realized it must be something serious. It turned out, that one of the guys who invited me to that interview the day before, was a good friend of one of my managers. And of course, he’d called him asking about me.

It was a really embarrassing situation and an annoying discussion that I had with my managers that morning. I felt lost. I even felt stupid. But in the end I got a promotion at my existing company and my salary was almost doubled! It was a happy ending, but I wouldn’t encourage anyone to be as stupid as I was then.

Be self-confident. Be brave. Trust yourself. Maybe you won’t get the promotion I got that time, but even if you leave, it’s much better to do so in a friendly manner. I needed a few more years to learn that, but was lucky to learn that lesson through experience.

What has been your most nerve-wracking professional moment?
My most nerve-wracking moment was many years ago when I had to make a presentation to a hall full of around 100 people I didn’t know. I’ve always been comfortable presenting to small familiar groups where you get some interaction. But to stand on a stage and not even be able to see the audience out there, let alone gauge their reaction is quite something.

It’s something I volunteered to do because I knew it would be hard – something about facing your fears and all that!

What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out their careers; especially in your field?
Never give up. Even if you feel it’s impossible – it’s not! There’s always a way to move forward! Be curious. Be passionate. As Walt Disney said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” – See more here.

Is there anything else you would like to share?
It takes time to build skills and move up the career ladder – don’t be impatient. Don’t pull yourself down, but don’t be over-confident either.

I thought I knew it all at 25 and I look back now and see that all those people who told me how important experience is were absolutely right.

Most importantly – be yourself. Find a role that fits who you are. Don’t try and be someone else. Be proud of who you are.

Agnes Molnar
Agnes Molnar

Agnes Molnar is a Consultant, Speaker, Mentor, Author and Modern Working Mother. She is based in Budapest, Hungary. You can learn more by visiting Search Explained

Contact details: aghy@aghy.hu

Self care – an essential

419290_511331578905810_463274963_nLooking after yourself. Taking care of number one. It doesn’t always come easily. However, it’s also absolutely essential we learn to practice this on a regular basis.  In today’s electronic age it’s too easy to always be ‘on’, to feel the need to check emails and answer mobile phones with little regard to the day or the hour.

I know, from first hand experience, that we are faced with onerous responsibilities, tough decision making and coping with a myriad of demands on a daily basis. It’s so easy to allow ourselves to be engulfed by the burdens that are an integral part of todays corporate landscape. This frequently includes a tightened budget which translates into more needing to be done with less. Less human resources to tackle tasks have a tendency to result in longer hours, placing even more pressure on individuals.

Self care should be embedded in our lives. We are all different and there is no one size fits all but, the one thing that is common to everyone is that, unless we practise self care we are unable to continually thrive and function at optimum levels.

Most of us naturally place our families first and foremost – definitely the way it should be. But, it shouldn’t be at the expense of our own sanity or the risk of losing ourselves.

Self care means setting boundaries. It means valuing and respecting our own worth. It means being able to say no without having an attack of the guilts. It means carving out time especially for ourselves and regarding it as a necessity as opposed to an indulgence.

Michelle

Appreciating the English language

As a reader and a writer from way back, I’ve always enjoyed the richness of the largeEnglish language. Words paints a vivid picture for the reader and the text just seems to effortlessly flow when the author hits upon the right combination. In contrast the wrong choices of structure and vocabulary, cause even the most interesting material to become cumbersome.

Whilst I’ve always appreciated the wide selection of vocabulary available, I’ve never really given it a great deal of through until recently. To be more precise, it’s been my move into the world of teaching English to speakers of other languages that has caused me to pause and think on the vagaries, complexities and challenges that English provides.

You might like to check out this blog which is updated each Saturday with the word of the day. It comes with a short story using that particular word. It often introduces me to new vocabulary and the stories are interesting reads.

As I grow older I appreciate how very fortunate I am to have grown up as a native English speaker, but more so to have met people from so many different countries who also speak English as their first language albeit, with varying accents and expressions.  It’s this wide international experience, coupled with my formal training that has helped me become a more effective teacher. There are so many different ways to say the same thing that it’s no wonder people studying English get confused!

Michelle

International Women’s Day 2015

This is thhttp://www.internationalwomensday.come first year, in a very long time, that I have not attended any International Women’s Day (IWD) events as none, as far as I am aware, are being held where I currently live. My contribution this year to IWD has been to include the day as part of my English language lessons, providing a reading piece, vocabulary list and encouraging discussion as it falls in line with the our ESL topics.

The class discussions, where the majority of students have been women in their early to mid-twenties, have been interesting and thought provoking because, although some had heard of IWD, none of them were aware of the history or knew much about why this day is so significant.

In 1910 women from a number of different countries were attending a conference on Copenhagen, Denmark at which Carla Zetkin, a German delegate, made the suggestion that an annual day should be set to mark the struggle for women’s rights. Obviously other attendees thought this was a great idea and so IWD was born.

Why the 8th March? Well, this was the day of the very first protest March was held in New York in 1857 to demonstrate against the horrific conditions faced by those women who worked in the garment and textile industry.

Over the ensuing years IWD has grown to become a movement that has highlighted so many concerns that affect women. Issues have included gender equality, women’s health issues, violence against women, disarmament and education to name but a few. Check our further details here on the UN page for 2015 as there’s some great reading there.

I’ve been fortunate to attend a number of IWD events ranging from breakfasts, lunches, dinners and public marches. I’ve always learnt something each time I listened to a speaker at the each of the events and been grateful for the wisdom they have shared. A collaboration of women is a most powerful thing.

Clearly the key to improving the world in which we live comes down to education, not just for women but for everyone, because it is only through education (both formal and informal) that we can begin to understand that there is more than just our own little world. Through education the world is opened up, we become aware of alternate ways of living and thinking. We learn about collaboration, we learn about respect and we learn about those who have gone before us, often making sacrifices, to pave the way for future generations.

We should never underestimate the power of the individual to make a difference and women joining together are indeed a force to be reckoned with.

Michelle

Education – a key to change

EductionThe rights of the individual, the topic of our informal conversation class last night, provided for a stimulating conversation. We always begin our informal sessions with one of the students, introducing the area they’d like to talk about, and as this is a vast topic the scope is enormous, with the choice being very much up to the speaker as to which aspect of a topic they choose to explore.

As this is a C1 level class, it means there is a high degree of fluency, so the evening is always enjoyable and there is no predicting which way the conversation might flow or which areas we may segue into. The experience is highly authentic for all concerned including me.

Our lively discussion kicked off with genital mutilation of females and somehow or other managed to, very naturally, finish with the right of individuals to exercise their votes at local and national elections. How did we end up here? Well, it all came down to the our discussion that both these areas need individuals to be educated in order to stop a barbaric practice (genital mutilation) and the importance of voters exercising their right to vote in order to ensure the systems in our countries do not fail those who need them.

If we do not provide access to education for everyone, then there is little chance for improvement. Without education individuals are left in a position of ignorance, it is not their fault that they are unable to make an informed decision.

Education takes many forms, formal and informal including life experience. What is clear is that it is only through education that we evolved and therefore it must be the fundamental right of every individual to receive a basic education in their formative years. Easier said than done, but if each of us, as individuals, does our own little bit towards ensuring this is happening, the world will surely but slowly change.

I am very fortunate to have received an excellent education, not just formal but also in the university of life, and as I get older I appreciate this even more and realise that this is the most wonderful gift that an individual can ever receive. It is a gift that cannot be taken away and I thank my parents for the sacrifices they made to ensure that I received this wonderful gift.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Michelle