​ Maria Atanasova (‘11), Human Capital Director, EMEA, Progress: "Never Trust Your Fears - the Only Reason You Cannot Do It is Because You Haven't Tried It"

In a series of interviews, we will feature some of the region’s prominent business experts coming from various industries. We now introduce you to AUBG alumna Maria Atanasova (‘11), Human Capital Director, EMEA, Progress. She has been part of the HR team at Progress (Telerik back then) since 2010 with a dynamic career path following the growth of the company. After Progress acquired Telerik in 2014, Maria took the role of a Global Human Capital Business Partner for the entire Progress engineering group (about 800 people). Today, Maria is a Director of Human Capital for the whole EMEA region, responsible for the overall employee experience and HR development in three major offices (Bulgaria, UK and the Netherlands). She is also acting as a strategic business partner for the Developer Tooling business unit at Progress.

Maria has extensive experience in the full spectrum of HR management, as well as in leading the research, assessment and development of key global company initiatives such as Progress employer branding, global talent acquisition philosophy and candidate experience journey.

Maria has a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the American University in Bulgaria, a diploma in Human Resource Management from CIPD, and has recently completed an HCI Strategic HR Business Partner certification. The recipe for success she follows in any HR initiative or program is: “Business-driven, employee validated.” She believes that working with software engineers has taught her to always look for the better solution, to be brave and to experiment.

What are the top three skills employers are looking for today?

Being part of the Human Capital team of Progress for more than 8 years now, I have seen how timeless a great company culture can be. Even though it’s a cliché, the essence of every company culture and environment are the people. Therefore, it's critical to understand what are the skills needed, and even more importantly - what are the behaviors that would make one company a great employer.

The behaviors I have seen critical for the success of any employer looking eight years back that are still valid today are agility, a fearlessness of change, and drive for constant improvement. I have been working in one of the most dynamic industries globally - the IT sector. Competition is fierce, companies are rapidly growing, changing strategies, technologies and owners. People who are working in those companies are faced with new, ever-expanding roles and responsibilities, sometimes with new managers, definitely with new hard skills they need to learn, and to top it all - many stretch goals. That is why being flexible to the environment and immune to change are the top competencies employers are looking for today.

If you could give your younger self just one piece of career advice, what would it be?

"Never trust your fears - the only reason you cannot do it is because you haven't tried it." This is the advice connected with being really agile and open to new challenges, without questioning yourself or others. Just being open to trying even what seems to be far from you comfort zone. My younger self has been so lucky (truly pure luck is what brought me there) to start my career with an amazing team of go-getters and smart engineers, who showed me that there is a solution to every problem.

What business leader—past or present— inspires you the most? Why? 

Back in the days, even when she was just my work mentor, Bela Stankova, also an AUBG alumna – class of 2008, became my genuine inspiration. Today she is a successful entrepreneur, creating a career as an executive coach abroad, a mentor to numerous women in technology and an amazing mom. Bela has been the embodiment of that constant drive for excellence and improvement. Whatever others have seen as impossible, Bela has managed to find a way to achieve and even make it look easy. My work with her has taught me to be empathic, but also assertive. She has given me plenty of feedback to help me develop and learn new skills, which has shown me that we should never fear feedback. People who actually give you feedback - they care. Bela has thought me that unlocking people's potential, making them achieve results beyond their limits is what makes an HR person, a true coach and a successful professional.

The liberal arts education puts emphasis on discovery, creativity and critical thinking: by exploring a lot of disciplines, rather than focusing on just one. In what ways do people who have received a liberal arts education bring value to business?   

The liberal art education is definitely the foundation for building some of the critical behaviors employers need today. Through the opportunity to explore various disciplines and to get a breadth of perspectives and knowledge, AUBG students become more flexible and don't focus just on the "one right answer."

AUBG graduates believe that there are plenty of right answers depending on numerous factors and they are definitely fearless when it comes to change. As an alumna myself, I remember vividly - we have learned about change and what drives it in our Economic class, then two hours later in our History lectures we hear about how only through change there is progress, and then in our Literature class we uncover that change, be it even painful, has driven some of the best poetry out there. 

Furthermore, the liberal arts education in AUBG encourages students to have active extracurricular activities experience by joining a diverse list of school organizations. This further shapes skills around communications and building relationships with team mates, teaches accountability for actions not only before your professors but in front of fellow university colleagues. I have been part of two major organizations that have given me not only the most precious moments of my student life but the most transferrable skills - the Residence Life and AUBG Olympics. Working in a team, building trust, understanding the different personalities of each member, their strengths, etc. - those helped me find a job when I graduated and I still use them today. That is why each business will definitely receive a true value in hiring a liberal arts graduate, as they would get a well-rounded professional, who has learned not only hard skills, but also a variety of soft ones.

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