Drawn to technology through working in project management, Erika Flora is an IT Project Management Expert and Technology Instructor. Holding over twenty IT and technical certifications, she is a gold standard for other women in technolgy.
Erika can attest to the fact that sometimes where you start in your career is not always where you end up. Flora has taken an indirect path to becoming an authority in technology, a path that eventually led her to become the President and Principal of BEYOND20. BEYOND20 is an IT and project management training company that among other services, provides certification instruction to IT professionals.
Flora earned both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Florida—neither of which were in a technology or computer science subject. Despite not studying these topics, Flora was drawn to technology through project management. Her certifications include: ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) Expert, Certified Scrum Professional (CSP), and Project Management Professional (PMP).
Because of her expertise in IT, Flora has been featured by the Project Management Institute (PMI). She speaks at IT industry events such as “Everyday Agile: Incorporating Agile and Scrum Concepts into Any Project” at PMI Phoenix this year and “Project Management Career Roundtable” as well as at the Association of Women in Science (AWIS) in recent years. In addition to the many of awards that her company BEYOND20 has won, Flora herself has won the National Association of Women Business Owners award and PMI’s “Volunteer of the Year” award.
I actually began my career as a microbiologist. I was pre-med in college and was fascinated by science. Once I graduated from college and got into the field, however, it was not what I wanted for myself long-term. Thus, I ended up looking at a number of other potential careers. It was not until a few years later that I fell into project management and ultimately into IT. In reality, these were happy accidents—I asked a ton of questions, said yes to a lot of opportunities, and leaned into any and all new and exciting technologies and projects that came my way. After being in the industry for a few years, I found that I really enjoyed teaching and sharing my knowledge with others. I do that now through writing, blogging, volunteering, and speaking.
The name BEYOND20 came from a Gartner research study that looked at root cause when mission critical IT systems failed. What they found was that 20% of the time, it was due to failures in hardware, software, and natural disasters. A surprising 80% of the time, it was due to failures in people and process. For example, someone made a change and didn’t realize the impact or didn’t follow a consistent process or followed a bad process.
That’s what we are passionate about –fixing the people and the process issues in organizations. Essentially, going beyond the 20%. We are a company that believes wholeheartedly in “best practice” and we do this through:
- Strategic planning, assessments, and governance: We help organizations design long-term roadmaps to reach their goals and address pain points
- Training (ITIL / ITSM, Agile / Scrum, PMP, Security, and Lean Six Sigma)
- Designing and re-tooling processes
- Implement tools, dashboards, and reporting – So they can make data driven decisions (Enterprise Project Management tools like Project Server, SharePoint, IT Service Management tools for the enterprise that go beyond just improving the Service Desk, etc.)
We believe that projects and IT services can be delivered better than they are today, and we give organizations the tools to get there. I am one of the co-owners of BEYOND20, and we are a certified woman-owned, minority-owned small business based in the US with offices in Phoenix, San Diego, and Washington, DC.
CSM is the most popular certification for people practicing something called Scrum. It’s a way to deliver projects in a way that delivers high-quality products quickly to customers. Lots of companies that develop software use Scrum concepts to quickly release a new app, a new version of software, etc. At BEYOND20, we use Scrum everyday, not only in developing software, but also in creating course curriculum, developing long-term strategic plans, coaching executive leadership and project teams, as well as managing our own day-to-day work. Scrum has been a large contributor to our success and growth as an organization.
Some of the tips I would give to young women in technology are:
- Work hard and become really good at your craft
- Be bold about what you want for yourself
- Learn to clearly articulate your value and what you want (take a public speaking and/or writing class to improve your skills)
- Find mentors that you can learn from
- Gain strong technical skills
- Make mistakes and learn from them
- Mentor others and share your knowledge
- Read, read, and read some more
The barriers I have faced in my career have been both outward as well as inward. From an outward perspective, I look young and am often underestimated by others. Even more so, however, I find that I limit myself. This is something that, unfortunately, I see a lot of women do. We apologize too much. We are fearful of making mistakes or tooting our own horn. We work really hard, but we don’t do a great job of advocating or pushing for what we want. As a result, we get passed over for promotions or increases in pay. Over the years, I have learned to ask for what I want and not accept no for an answer.
The best way to stand out in today’s competitive marketplace is to differentiate yourself; and one way to do that is through certifications. It shows a potential employee that you are serious about your career and have some level of understanding and proficiency in that area. Having certifications has absolutely helped me in my career—in setting myself up as an expert in the industry, in finding jobs, etc.
At BEYOND20, I get a chance to do work that truly matters. We change lives, we train people to be far better at their jobs, improve their resumes, and find exciting new jobs. We help companies see the forest (not just the trees), come up with an actionable strategic plan, and solve some of their most nagging problems. We give leadership teams—many times for the first time—visibility into their organization and the ability to make decisions based on data they can trust.
In an industry where technology is changing, it is important to keep your technical skills current. It is also vitally important to develop strong soft skills (collaboration and cooperation / team work, communication both through writing and speaking).
Absolutely. Businesses are depending more and more on IT, so it may always be an industry where jobs are in high demand.
Which skills do you think are necessary for pursuing a career in IT, or a specialty field like computer programming or software development?
Computer programming and software development are great specialties. Degrees in Computer Information Systems (CIS) or Management Information Systems (MIS). If you do not have a technical degree, any technical certification you earn may be helpful (Microsoft, Oracle, etc.)
If you can find an internship that will hone your skills, that will be very helpful to you as you start looking for jobs after school. I would also recommend getting involved and volunteering with local technology-minded professional organizations. This is a great way to network with local professionals and learn new skills, and I know a lot of people that have gotten jobs this way.