Knight Funded Women in Technology Forum member and CEO of Learning One to One Foundation Erika Twani took some time to share with us her insights and experiences in the realms of business and technology. See what she had to say about achieving success, facing challenges, and the importance of finding a “mastermind” group to have your back.
Q: Can you share a little bit about your background?
ET: I’m originally from Brazil and came to the U.S. 20 years ago. Before that, I was in college by the age of 16 and graduated at the age of 21 with a degree in software engineering. I started a company at the age of 18 with a few other business partners. By 25, I sold my shares and came to the US. I made this move because I wanted to be closer to the people that create technology, rather than the people who consume it. I wanted the opportunity to learn how to create and not just use.
First, I came to Silicone Valley, where I joined Oracle, and then I was transferred to Miami. After staying with Oracle for six years, I moved to Microsoft, where I started working with technology and education and found my true passion—to make sure we develop powerful technology to transform lives through education. In 2011, I left Microsoft to start Learning One to One Foundation.
Q: What made you interested in pursuing a career in technology?
ET:My passion for technology started when I was ten years old. I loved the way that computers could do things for us, instead of someone doing a manual job. I was fascinated with the idea that a machine could do things for you in a much more efficient way. Interestingly enough, I have a degree in software engineering, but I never worked in that field. I found out that sales and marketing was what I was really good at.
Q: Who were your role models or mentors?
ET:I had quite a few role models throughout my career, including some of my business partners, former managers, and inspirational leaders. As you get older, you understand what the role of a mentor really is—it’s much more of a business relationship, but in the format of counseling. But a mentor doesn’t have to be just a single person. It can be a group of people as well, such as the Women in Technology group. That is much more powerful, because you have different minds advising you about the best way to perform something or to think about something. This is what I call the “mastermind” groups. Even if it is a group of friends who have companies and who are all in the same position and facing the same challenges as you are, that could be your mastermind group, where you can freely discuss ideas and get feedback.
Q: To what do you accredit your success?
ET:I believe that first and foremost, having a goal has helped me succeed. Having a specific goal to accomplish regardless of the position you’re in within an organization or within your career path is crucial. Goals are what translate to success at the end. You have different goals at different times in your career, and it’s always important to continue to challenge yourself to reach and even exceed them.
Q: What has been one of your biggest challenges as a businesswoman?
ET:I think that once you have a goal and put something in your head that you’re going to accomplish, you do it. Anything before reaching a goal or milestone is a journey, and you have to enjoy that journey. Challenges as well as successes come along that journey. I prefer not to differentiate myself as a woman in business. I prefer to think that if we’re equal, we’re equal.
Q: What’s next for you? What are your goals for the future?
ET: My specific goal right now is to put in the market the very first learning-process-oriented app for schools in the industry. That’s a huge goal, and one with a worldwide reach. We are launching it in September.
Q: How has being part of the Knight Funded Women in Technology Forum benefited you, and how could an Executive Forum benefit other women?
ET: This is the mastermind group I was talking about. It is so powerful, and everybody should have one, even if it is a group of friends to sit down with and talk about life and business and things that are important to one another. The most important thing is to make sure that all the members in the group are at the same level—same experience level, same role in the business, etc.—so that each member can really take advantage of each other.
The Women in Technology Executive Forum has been truly amazing, and more organizations, especially in South Florida, should invest in groups like these. At the end of the day, you’re creating a powerful environment in the area that can only benefit the region and our community.