Start, Learn, Thrive – Fatima’s Story

Fatima Curukovic, Team Lead Global Web of Digital Engineering at PAYBACK, knows a thing or two about following your dreams. Growing up in post-war Bosnia, she has never let the fear of failure stop her and is constantly looking for new challenges that enable her to continue to learn and grow, both professionally and personally

by Natascha Zeljko | 09 Jun, 2022
Zero to Hero: Fatima's Story

Fatima's story is a classic zero to hero tale. It's a story about setting out, having courage, constant searching, finding, learning, arriving, and growing.

As soon as you open Instagram or Pinterest you are hit with motivational sayings such as “the sky is the limit” and all its variations, but how often do you meet people who not only diligently post about growth mindset on social media but also live it?

Let’s talk about Fatima. Growing up in a small town in the South-East of Bosnia, a post-communist country still scarred by the aftermath of the Yugoslavian War, career choice was less a matter of individual inclination and more an existential question. "I would have liked to study medicine. On the other hand, I was always good at math, engineering, and science." In the end, Fatima decided to study traffic and communication with a focus on telecommunications engineering. But with too much strategy and not enough love, it wasn't the right choice for her.

She then started working for a travel agency and became responsible for the American market. It was a job that required a lot of organizational talent and communication skills. She liked working with people. That was perhaps the most important insight she gained from the role. She also learned the first crucial lesson for her future career, the crux of what leadership is all about: How to build a real relationship with employees.

That experience of someone believing in you so unwaveringly and supporting you was an important one for me.

Fatima's boss, also a Bosnian, was based in the United States. She called every day. The first question was always: “How are you?” Followed by the same running gag: “Fatima, you are my ninja. Go ahead!" After many years in the US, her boss had internalized the typical positive American attitude. One particularly hectic day, Fatima momentarily lost her focus and pressed the wrong button. Instead of confirming a ticket, she had cancelled it by mistake. "I was totally shocked and was convinced that would be the end of my employment there." Here, she learned lesson number two: Leaders aren't just there for when everything is going smoothly. Leaders keep their cool and solve problems. The boss took charge of the situation and reversed the cancellation. "The contribution you bring to us is worth more than a mistake like that," she told Fatima. "That experience of someone believing in you so unwaveringly and supporting you was an important one for me."

A move was on the horizon. Her husband had been offered a job in Germany. Fatima and her little daughter, who was four at the time, were to move with him. A new country. She didn’t speak a word of German and only a little English. That was eight years ago. Today, she speaks both languages fluently. In Germany, she started looking for her next challenge. Fatima had taught herself a little bit of coding, so without the necessary language skills, the easiest next step would have been a job in an IT company. But she could not imagine spending most of her time coding – she liked tech, but she also liked working with people. Eventually, she got a chance as a QA intern in a gaming company. "I had never played games; I was never interested in games." But Fatima is blessed with an endless curiosity and thirst for knowledge, as well as a sharp eye for details.

She asked the right questions, helping to improve the product significantly. "Two and a half years after I joined as an intern, I became a QA lead." And that wasn’t all. As a Scrum Master and Agile Expert, she helped to optimize processes. Fatima considered: How do teams work with each other? How can we help colleagues work better and more efficiently? She was ready for lesson number three: a disadvantage – like having no specific knowledge about business – can become an advantage in certain settings and for certain people (those with an analytical mind and high motivation to learn.)

I wanted to learn more from different companies and enrich my career from different perspectives.

Fatima had had an incredible journey on her adventurous foray into the gaming industry. She had accomplished everything, learned everything, and played through everything at the gaming company. Now, it was time to move on. "I wanted to learn more from different companies and enrich my career from different perspectives." Fatima Curukovic came to PAYBACK through a temporary employment agency. Again, a new environment with new topics to sink her teeth into. "After less than a month, I knew this was my thing, this was where I want to stay. There were so many different tasks and opportunities! So much room for development! I felt like a kid at Disneyland." After five months, the contract was rewritten. A PAYBACK ‘Friend’, as external colleagues are called here, had become a PAYBACKer.

The new job accompanied lesson number four: Find a challenge that's a bit bigger than you, something you can grow into. For Fatima, motivation to grow and learn is intrinsic. If she doesn't understand something, she gets to the bottom of things. If she doesn't know something, she asks and keeps on asking until she understands, because even though she works at the intersection of tech and organization, she needs a basic understanding of it all. “Sometimes,” she says (in a casual and not at all cocky way) “coders think I’m a coder.” She then likes to joke: "I'm not a software developer, but I was married to one."

Today, she leads a team of 16 web developers. She was promoted from within the team. It can be a challenge when a former colleague becomes your supervisor, but Fatima says it wasn't a big issue. The key to people is authenticity, sincere interest, and communication at eye level. It's about not letting the connecting thread break and explaining why you have decided something, turning colleagues into allies. And, most importantly, keeping distance from yourself, not taking yourself too seriously. To this day, her first boss, the Bosnian American, is a huge role model for her – alongside other leaders and colleagues she had (and still has!) the opportunity to meet and work with.

This article is part of a content collaboration between FemaleOneZero and PAYBACK. The marketing & loyalty platform enables consumers to collect points with hundreds of relevant companies offline, online and on the move – with just a single card or the PAYBACK app. 

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