Interviewing Women in Agile – Aga Gajownik

Originally posted by Agile Business Consortium on 13 March 2020. Source

To Celebrate International Women’s Day, which was on Sunday 8 March, throughout the month of March, the Consortium have been interviewing key women in the Agile Community.

In this interview, we have Aga Gajownik. Aga is a dynamic social entrepreneur, startup strategist and educator, passionate about helping ambitious people to make things happen. She specialises in creating development frameworks for digital leadership and entrepreneurship education using Agile methodologies and experiential learning. Currently based in Singapore focusing on innovation consulting in fintech. In her spare time, you’ll find Aga volunteer teaching crochet or dancing Forró.

Aga, can you tell us a bit about what you do?

My career is built around supporting the professional development of ambitious people. I started working for myself straight after university. I used to coach, train start-ups and build communities. After 7 years or so of doing this, I decided to take my knowledge and bring it to the world of traditional education. I launched an Edtech social enterprise called  Scrum Educational Experience, which takes technology and entrepreneurship knowledge into schools through structured educational hackathons and inspires young people to explore careers in the tech industry. 

 I am currently based in Singapore wearing my Agile Coach and Innovation Strategist hats focusing on enterprise innovation. I mainly help teams to become more innovative and implement agile ways of working in their daily schedule. While doing so, I try bringing educational hackathons to local schools in various countries.

Do you have a female role model who has inspired you over your career?

I have met many amazing women in my life. Starting with university professors, colleagues and clients, every single one of them has inspired me in one way or another! However, if I was to pick one person who constantly brings inspiration to my life, I would pick my mum! She is one of those women who helped me set my true north when I was young.

My mum is a teacher. She worked full time, but at the same time she would always come home and be there for us, creating an amazing environment where we could grow and thrive. I was encouraged to develop different areas of my life, and she would always have this special ability of maintaining work-life balance. I knew that no matter what I wanted to do in my life, I always wanted to have this freedom, be able to go home and spend time with my family who I really care about.

Thanks to her I have the ability to avoid and deal with professional burnouts, and she will always stay my role model. In professional development, you often have people that come and go, and you can learn from them and increase your skills, but there are some things such as values that are on a higher level.

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone starting in your industry?

Just start! I always say, “if you never try, you’ll never know”. If you have an idea about what you would like to do with life or what you would like to do professionally, just start doing it and set yourself up for experimentation rather than trying to get everything right first time. Also be prepared to fail and learn from the failure – just pick yourself up and carry on, because it is all about the journey and learning.

So, treat the beginning of your career as a massive experiment loop – see what you like, and try to navigate your career away from things you don’t like.

What is the worst piece of advice you have ever received?

I have had several mentors in my life that would tell me how to do things, even though the pathway they would give me wasn’t aligned with who I was. I used to feel bad about not following some. However, when I grew and became more confident, I realised that it was much more important to find my own path rather than trying to copy other people. Everyone has an amazing potential, but we are all built from different lego pieces and some things that work for some won’t work for others.

So, I would say that you should always pay attention to what your reality is and then see if the advice aligns with your values, otherwise it’s ok to “ditch” the advice.

What is one thing that has mattered the most in your career?

Resilience and ability to adapt! The industry I ended up in changes very very quickly.

My first business crashed because I didn’t have a very good business model, then with my second attempt I ended up being exhausted due to time demand. My life changed the moment that I redesigned my business model, became much more agile and more responsive to everything around me. I chose what opportunities were truthful to me and this made a huge difference.

I would say, focus on long term goals whilst still being agile and being able to change depending on circumstances and opportunities arising. And never giving up!

What is the biggest mistake you have made at work?

I didn’t research enough at the beginning! I got thrown into entrepreneurship because of the economic crash, which was also the year that I graduated. Because the job market was so tight, I ended up starting my own business. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a very good business model, and I was one of those entrepreneurs “enterprising” during the day and working 14 hour shifts at The Dorchester hotel at night to pay my bills.

Looking back at this, I wish I had more knowledge on how to become an entrepreneur and more ability to learn from the process which is something that agile gives me. This is why I am a huge advocate of agile methodologies and things being introduced in schools, which is an opportunity I didn’t have when I was finishing university.

If I was to do it again, I would be more strategic about it, rather than diving deep without having too much knowledge.

How do you empower other women?

I try to be a role model! It depends on what age they are, because when we are talking about young girls, I always try to go into schools and speak to them. Before moving to Singapore, when I was living in London, I was a STEM Ambassador, which is a community of professionals that are in tech and go into schools and speak (join, join, join!).

Also, I have been a professional speaker for several years now. I speak at women-led conferences and universities, where I like to focus on empowering people in general. Being a woman and telling my story about being in tech and having my entrepreneurial agile journey, I really focus on trying to support and empower.

To be more practical I also have a programme where we offer coaching services for as much as people can afford, if they believe we can help them. I really do believe that everyone should have access to agile knowledge and coaching. 

Also, in Singapore, we are launching a networking programme focusing on diversity and inclusion. I really enjoy getting involved in community activities, because I believe that when women get together, we are so collaborative, and we focus on building and supporting each other rather than competing. If it’s within my capacity I will always support, inspire and empower any women around me.

Together, we can make amazing things happen!

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