Carolina Valdes knows a thing or two about overcoming challenges – both in her career and personal life.
Born in Chile, Valdes moved to Australia in 2004 to complete her Masters in computer science at the University of Technology, Sydney – all with the plan of returning to her hometown to pick up where she left off. But with the vast opportunities available to her in Australia, Valdes decided to stay, landing a role as a programmer with NAB in October 2006.
But moving to Australia and securing a spot at one of the country's big four wasn't an easy feat. Studying in Australia meant quitting her job at a large, European shipping company in Chile to embrace life as a student once again – and the lack of funds that comes with it – in a foreign country, with a foreign language.
"It was a big change," she says, noting how difficult it was to leave her established career in Chile to start from scratch, despite the qualifications and experience she already had.
"Even though I had my engineering degree when I came to Australia, as a student it's not easy to find a job related to your background, so I started with pretty much whatever I could get. My first job here was actually as a cleaner, even when I had a computer background."
Valdes's cleaning gig only lasted a few months before the completion of her Masters degree and permanent residency got her a foot in the door, and she hasn't looked back since.
"Now I work as a business analyst for the online team managing the NAB website," says Valdes, who's now an Australian citizen living with her partner in Melbourne. "I love what I'm doing at the moment, being exposed to the NAB website and doing something that is for the customer, something the customer can see. It's really rewarding."
For Valdes, who originally wanted to be a doctor until her father and "biggest hero" introduced her to the world of computers when she was a young girl, career success is about being focused on what you want, rather than following what other people ask you to do.
"I guess I've been lucky to be in the right place and the right time, sometimes, but I've focused on what I really want and where I want to be, because if you become bored with what you're doing, then you're not going to be your best," she says.
"I really like to follow my instincts all the time, with whatever I do. That gut instinct tells you something."
Valdes's outlook on her life and her focus on doing what she loves has been shaped by the near-death experience she faced after being hit by a car in 2008 while cycling to work.
"I spent six weeks in hospital with several injuries – I lost my right kidney, part of my liver, I had a collapsed lung. It was really bad," she says. "Obviously that kept me out of work for a bit and it has pretty much changed the way I see life."
The accident, although terrifying, changed Valdes's perspective for the better, teaching her to achieve a balance between work and life and to make sure she's doing what she loves.
"I get a lot of satisfaction out of what I do at work, but it's also important for you to do things that you really want [outside of work]. For example, I'm learning to fly planes and will sit my exam next month for the private pilot course I started three years ago," says Valdes, who leads a very active life outside work including skydiving and marathon running.
Placing such importance on doing what she loves at work, as well as away from work, Valdes appreciates the flexibility and the culture at NAB.
"It's all those little things that make your life easier and better at work," says Valdes, who works from home once a week. "I love the flexibility. You can work from home and you can have flexible hours. Plus my team is a very good team. We work really well together."
mums@work | 09.08.13