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

Being True to Yourself Series – Part 3. Right – wrong: is it a matter of perspective?

A/N – I’ m delighted to have Bob McInnis as my very first guest blogger.

Right – wrong: is it a matter of perspective?

While I believe there are some absolutes, I am less certain about a lot of things. I read voraciously, listen attentively, think deeply, reflect and synthesize. The condensed product bears a resemblance to the original ideas and witness to a subtle and supple value set. As a recovering postmodern fundamentalist, I lived for decades with a clear, if not personally interpreted, set of rights and wrongs. In 2000, a shift happened in my belief structure (which is a whole different post) but an idea horizon was created and I can never return to that self-satisfied and self-assured state.

So, on this side of the divide, how do I manage truth, fact, discernment and right or wrong? In unfamiliar situations, I am careful, thoughtful and cautious. My understanding is informed by my current values and available information. I do make decisions quickly but my rigorous defence is less strident. If new information disrupts the value pattern, I rethink and where possible re-enact the choice. In familiar circumstances, I think the process is similar but feels more intuitive; as if I can blink and true is revealed (or not).

Regardless, testing right or wrong should be a habit we adopt in every situation. Is the decision just? For me? For others involved? Is it ecological? Does it conform to confirm the values you espouse and aspire to? Will you celebrate or regret the choice in one day, one week, one year? Are you committed to making the right choice? Even when the wrong one is easier? If yes (or no) are you prepared to accept the consequences?

I have applied a current burden of proof to the idea that we are all both responsible for our actions and complicit in the side effects of our inaction. I believe this is right. I have adopted a principle, which I first saw posted in the San Francisco airport “If you see something, say something.” Even though the poster was from the Department of Homeland security, I have expanded it into a wider vision. If I see anything that is immoral, illegal, hurtful, abusive, unsafe or manipulative I name it loudly. This approach isn’t without consequences. I have lost friends, caused a ruckus and received a black eye for my troubles, but from my wider perspective, it has always been well worth it.

Right-wrong: it is a matter of perspective. Yours. You arrive at the decision point, with the sum total of your knowledge, experience and biases. If you put the choice to a factual burden of proof, as best you can and apply the personal rigor above, you will be blessed with discernment and confidence to choose right from wrong in each situation.

You’ll find  more great reads from Bob MInnis on his blog.

Back at my own desk – finally!

What a whirlwind it’s been the last six weeks. Whizzing back and forth across time zones between Australia and Europe meant no time to get really settled in properly at home.

It’s great to finally be back home this last week with my feet back under my own desk. All my own bits and pieces surround me, including the dogs who take turns coming into the office and curling up on the carpet.

Don’t get me wrong globe-trotting is great; especially with business class upgrades – thanks, Qatar Airways – as it meant arriving back home, after delayed connections, less drained than usual. I’ve been able to hit the ground running rather than staggering in a fuzzy jet-lagged state. Sky beds are wonderful!

Michelle & Yvonne
Yvonne and I at the end of our intense, but fun-filled strategic planning day.

As I’ve been absent for a year, there have been no face to face meetings. Online meetings and agendas are all very well, but sometimes a face to face meeting is essential. Tuesday saw us hold our first Dragon Sisters strategic planning meeting for the new financial year (in Australia the financial year starts on 1 July). Yvonne and I also factored in a ‘Me time’ lunch down at Cornucopia. So lovely and relaxing down by the water.

The end of year review in June allowed me to take a helicopter perspective of operations. It showed just how much is changing; how new developments have been shaping our modus operandi in exciting ways. Being a collaboration of global professionals, we’ve been lucky in that we can almost always react in time, and frankly opportunistic, ways, to meet needs and demands.

I found it very interesting to note how diverse client businesses share marketing commonalities no matter where they are located or what their business is. I was surprised to see the biggest growth areas of our operation is brand and strategic positioning for businesses that have been in existence for over five years as compared with newer businesses. I guess it just goes to show that everyone is conscious of the need for a regular and independent organisational objectivity assessment. Clients must also be impressed with what we are doing with their LinkedIn profiles and social media management as additional requests continue to come our way from the same businesses.

The Dragon Sisters Writing Bureau Service is another area that grows on a daily basis so we’ll be continuing to beef up our team. I’ve personally had the pleasure of tackling a broad range of fascinating subject material.

As a result of the review, we have packaged some services based on most popular requests. As always, there is never a dull moment, but those of you who know me well, know I love to keep challenged. So if you know of another wonderful challenge or a client who might benefit from working with me don’t hesitate to make a referral.

Michelle

My next steps

In Australia, July 1st marks the start of a new financial year. For most businesses, regardless of size, the precursor to this is a period of frenzied activity. Wrapping up the old financial year and preparing for the new: creating new strategies, setting and taking new directions, evaluating the past year’s performance success factors and deciding where to focus energies and resources next. It’s a part of the year-end process that I enjoy because it is a wonderful period of reflection where the results are normally visible and measurable. I derive great enjoyment from my involvement with my clients and personal students, both as a business woman, a teacher and as a bespoke coach.

En route with my niece
Singapore stopover with my niece

This year, the 1st of July also marked the date I arrived back in Australia after almost a year spent working in Europe. Instead of travelling solo, as I so often do, I was accompanied by my 13-year-old niece, who I was bringing on her very first visit to Australia. My son, who’s been spending the last couple of months in Europe was also accompanying me. We took time out to make a short stopover in Singapore and introduce Alexa to a little part of this island that hold so many memories for all the Van Buerle family.

My very long journey back also allowed me plenty of thinking time. Time to reflect on what direction to pursue next in life. Teaching, guiding and coaching is such a rewarding, enriching, privilege on so many different levels, not least of which, is the sense of making a significant contribution to both the personal and business growth of clients and students alike. The wonderful thing about introducing new experiences, concepts, thoughts and ideas is that I can help people develop and grow so that they can achieve their goals regardless of whether on a personal or business level. Alexa’s experiences on this trip to Australia will be with her for the rest of her life. She will be able to use them as building blocks for her future. It is not too dissimilar to the experiences I offer my clients in the sense that it is building capacity for growth.

There is a misconception that a coach/mentor is a guru-like figure who spends their time telling lesser mortals what they should be doing when, in fact, nothing is further from the truth. It is about greater understanding, empathy, trust, respect, confidentiality, mutual liking and being on the same wavelength. It’s an egalitarian relationship of strong integrity and authenticity. I often develop a special relationship with those I work with and in some cases it even becomes an ongoing friendship.

My role as a coach/mentor has developed from working with diverse cultures and organizations. People began to consult me on matters that they were ‘stuck on’, life and business areas that they wanted better results from, identifying ways to move forward, strategies to move in new directions. My business achievements, life experience, cultural range and above all, my passion for progressive, empowering growth, seemed to resonate with individuals from widely varying backgrounds, age groups and levels of experience. They all have had the common objective of wanting to effect positive, meaningful change.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You could say that this kind of work crept up on me. I’ve found that there is nothing more fulfilling than working, either as a coach, mentor or teacher, to facilitate the achievement of powerful outcomes. With the wonders of technology, it does not seem to matter where I am geographically. My only real limitation of being able to help more people is time. Whilst working full-time I was only able take on a very small number of personal clients which was why the year in Europe was so wonderful, as it opened up considerably more free time in my work diary.

On my long journey from Barcelona to Darwin, I had time to think carefully and decide that I am making the time. I do not want to be bogged down in a corporate job. Sure a high salary is nice, but at the end of the day it is not fulfilling for me. Instead, I have decided that I am making the time to do what I really enjoy and that is being able to take on a few more personal clients through our Dragon Sisters global network. I am very happy with this decision and excited to think about the new goals, the new solutions and the new individuals that I’ll be able to work with over the next twelve months.

So, to all those who’ve been asking whether I will be available this year, the answer is yes. If you or someone you know is struggling to find solutions to achieve business ambitions or just generally wants to get life on track, I’d be happy to have a confidential, exploratory ‘chat’ about how I may be able to help.

Michelle

P.S. You can contact me via michelle@dragonsisters.com.au

DECISION MAKING

We make decisions every day of our life from the moment we wake up each morning. Some are small ones; I’ll just lay here for another 5 minutes, one cup of coffee or two, a piece of toast or cereal? Simple, easy decision we make without much thought at all. We make all these decisions based on what we feel like at that given moment in time.

When it comes to making bigger decisions, we often tend to face a huge dilemma. We become decidedly more indecisive, although perhaps a better word to use here would be cautious. We often spend ages considering and weighing up all the facts. We might make lots of columns with pros and cons. Go through a myriad of for and against arguments before we feel in a position to be able to actually make a decision.

Why is this? Why don’t we make a snap decision in the same way we decided to lay in bed an extra five minutes?
The answer is because we don’t always trust ourselves even if we know what we really should be deciding. We fear making a decision. Yet, after we’ve gone through this whole process of whatever systems we are using to help us decide, we often find that our final decision is not at all what the logical sequence of working out has determined as the best course of action.

Nope, it’s something else. Something that defies all the logical, well balanced and structured analysis, we’ve just spent ages going through.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Why?
Well, life is not logical. We need to recognise that there are no wrong decisions. Each decision is made for a reason that comes from deep inside of us. Maybe it’s because there is a life lesson to learn, maybe it’s because we’ve developed our awareness to such a level that we know to trust our gut feeling.
Gut feelings are impossible to explain but are very real. Decisions have been made in this way since time immortal. We just know that something is not right. We may not know exactly what is wrong; we can’t quite put our finger on it, there’s a little niggling voice in our ear, or a feeling in our bones, all highly illogical. We often cannot explain it, but we just KNOW.

Of course, we need to ensure that we make a balanced decision. This means we must always do our homework when making a decision, but at the end of the day we need to be sure that it is both from our heart and from our minds. It means examining the options and looking at the implications. Twisting, thinking, sometimes tossing and turning in our beds at night as we allow all the varying scenarios to run rampant in our minds. Finally, we make a decision.

Is it the most logical one?
On some occasions, yes it is. But not always, in fact, it’s often illogical. Sometimes, it’s seemingly completely the ‘wrong’ decision, defying all logic – but, hey, it’s all good because this is a learning process.

While we mustn’t be ruled by our hearts in a business setting, we shouldn’t simply discard our feelings and base an important decision purely on logic. Emotions are what make us human. Feelings are what give us compassion and make us who we are. Feelings are what many a successful business person has based their greatest decisions on.

Speaking from a personal perspective, I often base my decisions on what my gut instinct has told me, even when everything and sometimes everyone, screamed I was mad. In the end, it’s turned out I made the right decision, and there have been lots of great win/win situations occur as a result.

It’s not all smooth sailing and sometimes we experience pain as a result of our feelings. It can be a physical pain that affects us in a material sense or on an emotional level. However, when we learn to control and examine how and why we feel a certain way, we are on track to being able to make the right decisions for ourselves. Each of us has to live with our own decisions. I have found that it gives me great conviction, and commitment, to my decisions, when I follow my instincts. It gives me the courage to ‘own’ each decision and, when the going gets though, to have the courage to see it through. Empowered decision-making is a great tool in life and business.

Does this resonate with you? I’d love to hear your feedback on how you make decisions. If you would like some tips from the Empowered Decision Making tool that I use, just inbox me, I am happy to share.

Michelle
P.S. It’s always better to make a decision than not to!

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

Paper…..such precious stuff

I suspect we take paper f1528657_625843537472168_378676817_nor granted most of the time but since I have been here in Spain I am rediscovering what a wonderful commodity it is and what an important role it plays in our lives.

Thursday saw me return to Seville again in the hope of securing my identity card. This week it was much colder and there were about 25 people ahead of me in the queue and no friendly American to chat to. I spent the time jiggling from one foot to the other as I tried to keep myself warm for 45 minutes waiting for the sun to come up and the doors to open.

The tall thin chap from last week, who I’ve now named Scruffy, was at the desk all rugged up with a bright yellow scarf round his neck and a sweatshirt that had seen better days. I did notice he’d managed to have a hair cut since last week. Very pleasantly he gave me a number and shooed me into an enormous waiting room complete with toilets. It was a different one to last week with only a couple of people in front of me and desks with loads of staff so I thought it boded well for fast processing or maybe the fact that there were loos there meant things were going to take a lot longer!

My number flashed onto the board so I approached the nearest desk where I was told to go into the next room. I found myself back where I started last week faced with the same woman who’d told me I needed more paperwork. A glance at my papers and she still didn’t seem happy, told me to wait and left the room to consult with Scruffy, who seemingly must be fairly senior. Sour Puss returned, and without a word to me, bashed something into her computer, loaded paper into a printer and then looked up, smiled and handed me the precious identity card. I beamed at her and skipped out the door!

I made a quick dash to find the International Bookshop which my American friend told me about last week. Pushing open the door I inhaled deeply, allowing the smell of new books to permeate my senses as I walked through the store in search of the English section. The selection wasn’t huge but for someone starved it was like manna from heaven! I delighted in browsing through the shelves and came away with 2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Fiction, The Goldfinch, which is a lovely thick 864 page book.

At the bus station I grab my English newspaper which is providing not only news for me but is proving to be a source of great interest for several students who have never seen an English paper before.

Paper is definitely a most valuable commodity (not only in the form of my precious ID card), but because the sight, feel and smell evoke our senses stimulating our brains into absorbing, scribbling down our thoughts or simply escaping into the depths of a great read.

Michelle