This month Hande Candemir, Contracts Manager at Blackboard, shares her story of growing up in Turkey and how this led her to a career in EdTech. Additionally, she recalls her first experience with mobile technology. We’ve come a long way since then!
Q: Was a career in the EdTech sector always in your plan?
I was born and raised in Ankara, Turkey before migrating to Australia ten years ago. My parents saw the benefit in education, and I attended private school from a young age where I always had within arm’s reach resources such as technology. Just after graduating from university with a degree in English language and literature, Turkey went through economic and political turmoil. I was teaching at the time, however the country’s unrest unfortunately meant a change in my career direction. I found myself moving into contracts and then sales before eventually landing with a software company in their education department. I’ve always believed the sky is limitless and feel very fortunate to have embarked on a journey that has combined my love of education, technology and finally coming back full circle to contracts once again.
Q: What motivates you and how do you define success?
At Blackboard, I wear two hats - one is sales, and the other is contracts. When wearing the sales hat, I'm happy when the sales team that I'm working with is happy. I get excited about their success and equally feel for their frustration. I'm the first point as Blackboard’s advocate in contractual negotiations in the Asia Pacific region, it can be challenging, but success for me is the ability to create a healthy balance between the two roles.
Q: How has being a woman shaped your experience working for a technology company such as Blackboard and more broadly in the industry?
Turkey is a secular country and growing up it was more like living in Europe than the Middle East. I attended co-ed schools, and there were opportunities for women both in education and in the workforce, never have I questioned how my gender might impact my career. An observation about working in contracts is that it seems to attract women, hard to put a finger on why that is without generalising but the role requires meticulous attention to detail which is a quality where women seem to excel. I’m surrounded by smart and professional women who do this each and every day for Blackboard. I feel proud to be a part of such a multicultural, diverse and global company.
Q: What’s the best piece of professional advice you have received and is there someone either family, colleague or friend who has inspired you?
Being organised! One of my very first managers once said to know your documents well and know where they are stored. This resonated with me, and being in contracts, I’ve made sure to follow through with his sage advice. It was not only organisational skills this manager passed on but also an understanding of how to work in a business environment – punctuality, communication skills with colleagues and clients and even how to travel internationally for business.
If I were to look closer to home for an inspirational person, it would be my mother and other successful women I’ve been so fortunate to be surrounded by or have met in my life so far. Turkish culture is very different to Australia. My mother has always been a strong, hardworking woman and while political circumstance cut her university degree short, she made sure to pass on her advice to be economically independent and resilient in life.
Q: Do you have any advice for young girls looking to pursue a career in STEM?
Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. I can honestly say this was not my story growing up and I now make a point of telling my young daughter that it’s okay to take a wrong step. My observation of young females in Australia today is that they are confident - a wonderful quality to have. There will always be obstructions in life, however, having that stubborn confidence, resilience and believing in yourself are skills that will help in tackling life head-on when it gets tough.
Q: What is the greatest transformation in technology you’ve witnessed in your career to date?
This might age me, but I clearly remember the sound of the modem dial-up while placing an ICQ voice call through to my cousin who was living in Istanbul. As one of the very first instant messenger platforms on the market, at the time it was a game-changer and it is incredible to think just how far mobile technology has come since then. Our lives have become easier in some ways yet more challenging in others. As a parent and working full-time, mobile technology has enabled me to juggle these roles. Some days it’s multi-tasking at its best yet I feel fortunate to be able to work for a company like Blackboard. We have unlimited access to technology; however, I never feel the pressure or that there is an expectation of ‘being on’ or connected 24/7. Australian companies seem to have found a good balance compared to other parts of the world.
Q: Is there a book that you’ve found inspiring and would recommend others read?
It would have to be Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. It's a good reminder to ourselves of how we have evolved and the different paths we could take in this universe. Given the current state of society and what we are experiencing, reading this book allows us to see our strengths and how huge an impact we have on the living organisms around us and our environment. This book is a great conversation starter. When I was reading this book, my husband and I often found ourselves debating the contents particularly within the Agricultural and Cultural Revolution chapters. Without sounding gloom and doom, it’s incredible how strong we can be as a society, yet also how devastating the solution of our strengths can be.