A behind-the-scenes look at the people who make us great.
Welcome to the latest edition of the Cogent Crew series, where we invite you to get to know the people who make Cogent what it is.
This month our Marketing Manager, Sophia Buckley, interviewed our Office Manager, Chief Events Manager and Go-To for all things Cogent, Mary Chen. Mary gives us the inside scoop on the new Cogent office, her travels to all continents of the world (except Antarctica) and the time she got stuck in a hole in Paraguay…
Name: Mary Chen
Job: Office and Administration Manager
Time at Cogent: 3 years
Soph: So tell us a bit more about a typical day for you at Cogent.
Mary: Well I think I’m one of those jack-of-all-trade types of people and I’m really hands-on with a lot of things around the office. I make sure that the office is run properly and I’m across a lot of our financial activities. I do a lot of our Board correspondence, organisation of our monthly meetings and a lot of the high-level admin work. I have a background in film and events so I also manage and coordinate our events. My day is very varied – usually taking care of whatever the CEO and GMs need!
Soph: It sounds so varied! So how did you get into the role?
Mary: My background is actually in film (script writing and film theory), art history and developmental economics focusing on international aid and how that manifests in different parts of the world and the complexities inherent in the process. I also did psychology for a year, but not being a numbers person, I dropped out of the course. When I finished Uni, I worked for a few of the major film agencies in Australia like ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) and MIFF (Melbourne International Film Festival), which I still work for as a consultant in their industry department. I very passionately worked in film for seven years but despite all the long hours never made much money! When I turned thirty I realised I felt a bit burnt out and exhausted, then I randomly found this job at Cogent. I had never worked in tech and I didn’t think it was an area that interested me but the ad that Cogent put out just really grabbed me. It was something about wanting to do great work but then also being able to go home at five o’clock to see your kids and your family which really appealed to me. At my first interview I met Mark (our CEO) and he was just lovely and we clicked straight away. I really think it’s changed my life because I’ve never worked in such a positive and fair workplace.
Soph: That’s amazing. If you could be one other thing professionally, what would you be?
Mary: My long-term goal is to own my own café and also to be a script writer. That would be my ultimate dream but I’m still saving for the cafe!
Soph: What kind of projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m doing a lot of internal event management at the moment as our marketing has really taken off over the last year and a half. We’re also trying to expand our portfolio and doing a lot more JS and AWS work so we’ve got a whole suite of events which support that. The other big thing is our new office, which will be on my plate for another six month or so, so yes, that’s a big ongoing project.
Soph: Can you tell us a bit more about the new office?
Mary: Well we’ve actually moved offices about four times and our last one was at a shared space on Bourke Street. We’ve grown so much over the past eighteen months that we really felt like it was time that we got our own space. I was part of the group that scouted spaces around Melbourne and it was really hard because real estate in the Melbourne CBD is so sought after. We also had such specific criteria, it wasn’t really just about how much it cost; the energy and the ethics of the building were also really important deciding factors. We wanted to find a place where we’d be really comfortable and that we felt aligned with. We actually looked at the building we’re in now (Donkey Wheel House) twice. The first time they showed us the top-level office which was a little dark for us, but as luck would have it a couple months later, they called us because we really got along when we met and there was an opportunity for a lower level office which we loved. It ended up being quite a long process because they’re an ethical organisation, they’re very specific and very particular about what we could and couldn’t do. They didn’t just want to take our money and they were really involved in helping us with the process. So after about six months of organisation we finally moved into Donkey Wheel House and it just feels like we’ve been here forever.
Soph: It’s such an amazing space! So maybe that was your favourite, but if not, what has been your favourite project so far?
Mary: I think the office as it was really interesting to be across the style and the logistics. I’m quite good at organising and being practical with money but I also have a real interest in the aesthetic side so it was a great project to manage. Everybody thinks they’re a designer but I actually got try it out and it was really, really fun! Its been great getting feedback from people on what they hoped for the office, trying to manage expectations but then also trying to give people what they want was really challenging.
Soph: Well you’ve done such an amazing job, we all love our new space! What’s your favourite thing about working at Cogent?
Mary: I think my favourite thing about Cogent would have to be how grown up everybody is and how there’s just no agenda or politics. I think because our interview process is so rigorous, and of course a big part of our focus is on someone’s ability, but it’s also greatly about a person’s fit and their intention for wanting to work for us. I think we’ve done so well with keeping that at the forefront of our recruitment process. I also love working with authentic people without worrying about hidden agendas. You can let people know how you’re feeling or what you’re doing and they’ll provide feedback that is genuine and that you can rely on. My experience in the past in the arts was that it’s a very tough industry that’s competitive and brings out the worst in people. Whereas I think Cogent has the opposite effect on people because everyone else is bringing their best self, you want do the same. I think that’s the best part of Cogent.
Soph: What’s your favourite thing to do on the weekend?
Mary: I read a lot, watch a lot of films and I also write a bit (but not as much as I used to). I love photography, I especially like taking photos of people and animals. Every year, I set goals relating to my interests, like reading a book a week, which I sometimes fall behind on, and I try to watch about 150 films a year. It used to be like two or three-hundred when I was in Uni! I also cook and I hang out with my rabbit. I’m a big rabbit person! A big animal person really.
Soph: What kind of moves do you watch?
Mary: I like most genres, I just think that people love movies for a reason because it touches on something fundamental about how we understand the world and how we perceive ourselves and how we try to think beyond our experiences.
Soph: Where’s the best place you’ve ever been?
Mary: Well I am from South Africa originally, and because of the nature of my step dad’s job (he’s a math and physics research professor) we moved around every few years. By the time I was older I’d lived on every continent except Australia (and Antarctica) so I randomly decided to move to Australia! I’d actually say Australia is my favourite place, it has everything, and that feeling you get when you’re in the outback – of being utterly alone is so unique to this country. I think Australia is amazing.
Soph: That’s awesome! Where else have you been?
Mary: I lived in South Africa until I was 14, then we moved to North Carolina (USA) for a year and then I spent my last year of high school in The Netherlands. I took a gap year after finishing school to live and travel around Japan, Taiwan and Korea. We also moved to Paraguay for a brief stint when I was about two, I have very few memories of it but I do remember one – where we lived we didn’t proper toilets (this was the 80’s) and our place had these holes dug in the ground in the shed outside as toilets. I remember once falling in! It was so deep, way over my head and I remember waiting there for what felt like a really long time…but eventually I was found!
Soph: Wow, what a crazy story! If you had private chef for a night what would you get them to cook for you?
Mary: I love spicy food. So I think maybe Thai or Vietnamese. Vietnamese I could eat every day because it’s so fresh and spicy. Or Korean food, anything with spices, really!
Soph: What’s the best advice anyone’s ever given you?
Mary: To be content. You can strive for all sorts of things and your ambitions and desires can be endless. But nothing can really guarantee happiness unless you’re content with what you have and who you are. I think its also important to partner that with wanting to do better, but on your own terms. I think a lot of self-help books have an underlying message that somehow you’re not enough and I think this sense of inadequacy is the root of a lot of unhappiness. I think its important to work out where you should be going in life based on learnings, experiences and also trusting your instincts, instead of trying to satisfy other people.
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