Meet our new technical co-founder, Dzhuliana Nikolova

It’s been a busy few months over in our camp, as we wrapped up our first round of mentorship, ran our first few events and started our hunt for a technical co-founder. We’re learning and growing quickly (walking the talk some might say), as we understand what you (the women in our community) want and need, and where the opportunities may lie to best support you.  

With that said, we’re incredibly excited to announce that Dzhuliana Nikolova has joined us as our new technical co-founder! We sat down (virtually) with Dzhuliana for a chat to hear more about what she’s passionate about, why she decided to join us and where she sees OneUpOneDown heading: 

Tell us about you! What’s your story?

I’m originally from Bulgaria and grew up in a small city called Burgas. Now based in London, I work as a Technical Product Manager at FLUID7 while working on OneUpOneDown in my spare time. I’m an ambitious person who has a strong desire to continually be learning and growing, and I have flipped my career (and life) on its head numerous times as a result.

I studied Landscape Architecture in Bulgaria before moving to London to complete my second masters degree in Graphic Design. The studying itself was challenging, transitioning from one avenue to another, but not as challenging as moving to an English speaking country and completely redesigning my life. I made this move because I was living in my comfort zone and realised I needed to push myself harder to grow. The massive shift came as I essentially changed from an extrovert not taking life too seriously, to an introvert who is much more focused, disciplined and in control of almost every aspect of my life. Moving to a country without speaking the language played a part in this, but it was also a conscious decision to get people to listen to me more, but let’s save that story for another day.

After finishing my studies, I started volunteering at FLUID7, with the intention to learn as fast as I could and upskill to become a web developer. I designed at work and taught myself how to code at night, which became my daily routine for a long time. All the long days and hard work was worth it, because I found something I loved and would get lost in for hours, and in the end I was promoted from a web designer to a programmer then business partner.

What is something you’re particularly passionate about, personal or professional?

This is a tough one! I’m quite a curious person and interested in many different things. My focus for the last couple of years has been in the education space, developing programmes to improve emotional intelligence, with an overarching link to personal development. I believe it’s one of those things that still isn’t discussed enough despite it’s rising importance in current and future workplaces. Nevertheless, I’m a big optimist and can see more and more companies starting to become aware of this need.

How do you define success and is this linked to your happiness? 

Firstly, success and happiness aren’t always intertwined. You may be successful but not happy and vice versa. When I think of what professional ‘success’ looks like for me, it’s when I overcome my fears, beat my emotions and kick my ego in the butt. Whereas happiness for me comes from the way I look at the world around me. It’s how I choose to respond to any given situation and how grateful I am for the small things – a warm cup of coffee in the morning, sitting in the garden, watching the sunrise and listening to my breath.

What do you think makes a great leader? 

I’ve read my fair share of biographies about great leaders (because I love them!) and the first thing they all have in common is that they’re able to tell stories effectively. If you’re able to explain highly complex ideas in an easy and compelling way, all while engaging and keeping the attention of the people you’re speaking to, then you have the power to impact their actions. Once you can impact their actions, you can change the world.

Why are you passionate about joining the OUOD team?

It’s simple. I truly believe in the two women behind OneUpOneDown. Not only have I seen how strong and powerful they both are, but I see how incredible their mission is, which wholeheartedly matches my core principles as a person. It’s hard to describe what happened when I first met Natalie and Christine, but sometimes you can’t explain these things. When something is right, you just know.

Can you please tell us a little bit about your experience with mentorship?

In Bulgaria the idea of having or being a mentor is very foreign and unusual so I have never really been exposed to mentorship, nor what it means to have a mentor. Now, through my first experience of mentorship (thanks to OneUpOneDown) I can say I understand the power it can bring, both in providing support and helping you avoid making the same mistakes that someone else has – saving you a tonne of time!

It’s funny, I recently had a conversation with my partner where he admitted that he feels like I am somewhat his mentor. It was surprising but awesome at the same time, because it reiterates that we have the power to influence those around us whether it’s intentional as a mentor, or unintentional as a friend, partner, mother, sister etc.

Who is a significant mentor you have had and how have they impacted your life? 

This might sound a little cheesy, but the women behind OneUpOneDown. How have they impacted my life? I changed my outlook on life, oh and I’ve joined the team as the new technical co-founder! 

To give you a little more context, here’s exactly how they’ve impacted my life: 

Last summer, I participated in Y Combinator for another start-up when I met Natalie and Christine who were also participating in the programme. Inspired by what they were doing I signed up to OneUpOneDown as a mentee and was lucky enough to receive Natalie as my mentor. I hadn’t previously had a mentor so I was a little unsure what to expect. 

Natalie supported me throughout the 3-month mentorship, and honestly, it was game-changing. The mentorship caused me to question and reconsider my point of view on many things. I realised the power of mentorship and how crucial it can be at every stage of life, to be challenged and supported through the good and the bad times. Natalie’s support also showed me that I don’t have to struggle by myself and do everything alone. It’s okay to ask for help, and now I’m a firm believer that everyone needs a little here and there, especially if it can save you time, money and stress!

What are you working to achieve through your position technical co-founder?

As a technical co-founder, my primary responsibility is to make the platform work smoothly and delightfully for the end-user (in this case mentors and mentees), while also striving to innovatively improve all aspects of the product. With relation to OneUpOneDown, I want to create an intuitive, innovative platform that will support mentors and mentees in getting the most out of their mentorship. While it’s hard to say what that will look like at the moment, I’m excited to see what we’ll create together!

What are the three skills you think are vital in today’s workplace and/or are going to be necessary for the future to excel professionally?

  1. Empathy – being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, feel the way they feel and understand the motives behind their actions is invaluable. 
  2. Active listening – the ability to really hear others and listen to their opinions, showing your value their words. 
  3. Taking action – the ability to get into action is a vital skill that represents a strong character. It shows you really care about a problem, situation or person as you won’t let something go undone, or rather, just ‘talk’ about doing something.

What is something you’d change in the world if you had the power to? 

Firstly, I’m very optimistic about our future! I believe the world is doing very well at improving our level of emotional intelligence as well as adapting to the rapid growth of technology and the social impact it has on society. If you take a look at the statistics over the past 10,000 years I know you’ll be optimistic as well. 

In terms of what I’d like to change in the world, it’s very closely linked to what the purpose of OneUpOneDown is. We’re on a mission to change the way people communicate and to  empower and support more women in developing into great role models for others around the world. I firmly believe we’re capable of fulfilling this mission, even if it takes awhile for us to do!

What are some of the practices that have helped you throughout your personal and professional lives?

Personal reflection – I’ve made a LOT of mistakes when learning about how to be a great leader, and something I do regularly is journal. I ask myself 3 fundamental questions after every meeting, every event, every difficult or positive situation:

  1. What are the mistakes I made this time?
  2. How can I improve this next time?
  3. What is the lesson I learnt?

Replace problems with challenges – A while ago I decided to  remove the word ‘problem’ from my vocabulary and replace it with the word ‘challenge’. This helps me think positively and not let what may be considered as ‘roadbumps’ get in the way of moving towards a goal. Also, I love a good challenge! 

Put what you learn into practice – Something that took me a little while to learn is that it doesn’t matter how many books I read or how quickly I listen to them, if I don’t practice what I’ve learnt, then I won’t progress. It’s better to pay attention, be present, take notes and assess whether what you’ve learnt is relevant when applying it to ‘real’ situations. 

Remember people’s names! – I’ve set myself a personal challenge to remember the name of every person I meet. To do this, I’ve started to use a methodology described by Ron White in 5 simple steps. The reason I’ve set myself this challenge is because I believe it’s incredibly important to remember people’s names. As Dale Carnegie says, when you remember someone’s name it shows you respect them, and that you’re genuinely interested in and focused on what they have to say, rather than thinking about whatever is happening in your life.

Stay humble with an ego exercise – Every person you meet is better in (at least) one thing than you, so use your time wisely and try and learn something from everyone! Learn and practise skills on the train, on the bus or wherever you go. Look at everyone around you and think about what this person might be good at, and what you can learn from them!

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