Who is Maritza van den Heuvel (@maritzavdh)?

When I started the “Who is” series on my blog, Maritza was among the first people I invited. I did that because I was curious about the women behind the blog Becoming an Agile Family It was only when she answered the questions that I learned that she currently is triple-authoring a collection of real-life stories on continuous improvement with Jim Benson and Corey Ladas, among others. I don’t know much more about her, except that she is living in South-Africa. (Did you know that Dutch and South-Afrikaans, are similar?)

What is something people usually don’t know about you but has influenced you in who you are?

With a surname like Van den Heuvel, many people assume that I am Dutch. I am, however, a born and bred South African. My husband’s grandfather emigrated to South Africa in the 1950’s and my husband is therefore a 3rd generation Dutch immigrant. The irony here, however, is that I did live in The Netherlands for a full year when I was just 18. I was a Rotary International exchange student and I spent the year after completing my secondary education repeating a year at a Dutch school in Horn, in Limburg, and living with different Rotary families.

This single year of my life has played a critical defining role in my life. It has set the tone for my future in many ways, from my ability to deal with whatever comes my way right through to my active interest in politics, my thirst for travel and my love of cathedrals and carillon music. To this day, I also bake speculaas during December using a traditional wooden windmill cookie mold. I suspect it even influenced my choice of life partner, ultimately! And yes, I still speak and write Dutch fairly decently.

If you would not have been in IT, what would have become of you?

After returning from The Netherlands, I studied Linguistics. I had always had an affinity for languages, one of the reasons Rotary chose me for a European location, rather than an English-speaking country. I firmly planned on becoming a translator, and I did in fact practise as a translator and simultaneous interpreter for a few years before I migrated to the world of software development via technical writing. If I had not moved to IT, I would most likely be working in a language-related field – or writing for a living! I still plan to write my own book (or two) once my current book collaboration project is complete. Better yet – if somebody would pay me (a decent amount!) just to read books all day and review them, I would seriously reconsider my current career path

What is your biggest challenge and why is it a good thing for you?

My children are both my biggest challenge and the greatest gift life has given me. I think there is no learning experience that molds you quite as much as being a parent. If I were not a parent, I would be a much more selfish and less patient person. And being part of their learning journey – discovering life through their eyes all over – is a tremendous education in itself.

What drives you ?

An unquenchable thirst for knowledge, backed by a compulsion to do anything I do to the best of my abilities. There is also a bit of a restless spirit there – something that drives me to keep moving, never standing still in one place too long, whether that’s a physical place or a pit stop on my career path. As a result, I have migrated through a number of IT disciplines since first becoming a technical writer. I’ve been a tester, managed a Support desk and most recently spent the last few years in product development as a Product Owner and/or Product Manager. If there ever were a poster child for the concept of a Lifelong Learner – that’s probably me. As long as there is some new concept I can wrestle with and turn over in my head or hands, I’m happy.

What is your biggest achievement?

There are many achievements that I’m proud of in my life, both personally and professionally, big and small. But the one that I’m currently most delighted about is achieving my green belt in Shotokan karate this past December. It’s been hard work, physically but especially mentally. Nothing teaches you humility quite like attempting to perfect the subtleties of some of the more challenging kata combinations – especially as a “late starter” in martial arts. Right now, achieving a black belt seems like a remote possibility, but as my sensei recently impressed on me there is nothing that stands in my way of getting there – except possibly myself.

What is the last book you have read?

The Litigators, by John Grisham. Nothing spells holiday to me like racing through a fun read.

What question do you think I should also ask and what is the answer?

How does your family really feel about the fact that you practise your agile and lean techniques on them at home? My husband sometimes teases me, especially when I get super-excited about seeing a particularly shining example of self-organization emerging in our children as a result of my experiments. But I believe everybody sees and feels the tremendous.wiktionary.org/wiki/tremendous) positive impact these experiments have had on how we share responsibilities at home, and more importantly, on how we communicate with each other, instead of keeping all our ideas, plans and ToDo lists hidden away inside our heads.

Who do you think I should ask next?

Aslam Khan of Factor10. He frequently blows my mind with his views on software development and reminds me of how much I still have to learn.