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

The best speaker I have EVER heard!

Over the course of my career, I have met a great many people and listened to a zillion public speakers ranging from royalty and heads of state to PTA Chairs and multibillionaires. Tonight, I heard the best speaker ever!

Michelle Hanton & Li CunxinThis evening I was very privileged to meet Li Cunxin. Many of you reading this post have probably seen Mao’s Last Dancer and may have even read the book which is his autobiography. I have seen the movie and read the book, but despite all this, nothing could prepare me for the man himself. He’s AWESOME! Personable, humble and approachable.

Why do I say he’s the best?
He’s got the X-factor – combined with his passion, his genuineness and his absolute authenticity which came through every inch of the way. He did not need notes and he owned the stage, holding the audience in the palm of his hand for the entire one hour presentation. I have to admit I shed a couple of tears as he recounted his reflections on going to bed hungry and the sacrifices his parents made for their children.

Li’s message is a simple one; have courage, be tenacious and anything you dream is achievable. He did not dream of being a ballet dancer, but he did dream of escaping from poverty and starvation. Ballet was an opportunity, grabbed with both hands. Even when he could have rested on his laurels, he didn’t and went on to achieve more and more because he believes in seizing the day and living life to the full, he thrives on a challenge to be the best he can be.

Thank you to the NT Government and sponsors of October Business Month for bringing us this wonderful speaker! I loved his message and whilst I’m fortunate to always have had food on my plate and never go to bed hungry, I do believe we should all live life to the fullest, believe in ourself and maximise all opportunities that come our way.

We should also always give thanks for being fortunate enough to live in Australia. Dare to dream, it can become your reality!

Michelle

Being True to Yourself – Part 1 – Authenticity

The Being True to Yourself Series, is a result of personal observations and experiences.

Authentic means being true to who you are.

Genuine.

It means not allowing a spin doctor, campaign manager, copywriter or another well-meaning advisor to change your way of speaking or behaving. Certainly there is a need to gain poise and polish, but this does not need to mean a loss of authenticity.

That is not to say we don’t evolve and change over time.

Of course, we do!

It’s part of life and the experiences we go through shape us as individuals. Some of us are very fortunate to have great role models and mentors come into our lives naturally. They help us evolve.

I am lucky to have had some wonderful influences, from a range of professional and cultural backgrounds in both my business and personal life.

When I embarked on my public speaking journey way back in 2004, or to be more accurate was thrust into it as a result of winning the Telstra NT Business Woman of the Year Award, I was a terrible speaker.

It was my biggest fear; I had to face it head on because there were expectations that went with the role. Expectations that I would travel around the country and speak at different functions.

Thankfully, I had wonderful support and improved no end, now I always receive excellent feedback. I developed and grew, but I have never lost my authenticity.

I will also never forget how hard it was to learn and how nerve-wracking.

The Turning Point

The turning point was when I received a very sage piece of advice.

It was simply ‘never lose sight of who you are; it’s what makes you unique’.

Those simple words gave me confidence and, amazing as it might sound, permission to be me.

I knew early on that I could not be a slick joke teller to break the ice, that’s not me.

I’m hopeless at jokes as I never remember the punch lines! I don’t try to tell them in the course of my normal conversations so how could I be expected to include them in a speech?

Sure, I’m not the same speaker I was 18 years ago. I’ve changed and evolved. A little older, a little wider physically and a little bit wiser, but I am still very much me.

How often have you a speaker and felt they were not genuine?

They may have something great to say, but because they are not using their own expressions, the words don’t ring true. They sound false even if they are genuine.

That’s because they are either, consciously or unconsciously, imitating someone or delivering a message in a style that is not their own.

The very best speakers in my book are those who have a passion for their subject and have had some training in public speaking, but remain true to who they are.

Subtle Nuances

I’m told I am very perceptive because I detect subtle nuances, read between the lines and realise something is not quite right.

I have often come across materials purportedly written by high-profile individuals, yet the moment I read it, I just know, they have not written that article or blog post.

How do I know? The answer lies in the tone and ‘voice’ used.

The more prominent you are, the more public speaking appearances you will make. This makes is all the more important that written pieces, especially those that will go to print,  sound like you.

It is for this reason that it is vital that speechwriters and ghost writers really try to understand an individual before writing for them.

The writing is the easy part, understanding who you are writing for is what makes the difference.

I’ve also noticed that authentic people are generally happier, less stressed people and will deliver their speeches with ease. Could that be because they are comfortable in their own skins, that they are true to themselves?

I’d love to hear your views and experiences on authenticity, either as a comment or email me privately.

Michelle