Titi Fakuade has undoubtedly paid her dues in the African tech industry. With over 20 years of experience as a telecommunications expert, she has held both technical and leadership roles at local and international companies.
Titi is currently the Chief Technology and Information officer at MTN Benin. Before her current role, she spent over 13 years at MTN Nigeria, managing Intelligent Network and Value Added Services, and almost four years at Lonestar Cell, Liberia, a subsidiary of MTN Group. Her experience and expertise have earned her recognition as an award-winning tech expert and author.
To inspire others, she journaled her growth, experiences, and productivity recipes in a book titled Limitless: 11 Strategies to Master Life and Career. In this episode of Expert and African, we dive into her journey, her insights on being a woman in a male-dominated field, and her advice for young individuals aspiring to succeed and achieve career growth in the tech industry.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: You started your career as a systems engineer in Nigeria when the country just began its mobile telecommunications journey; how was it getting into a male-dominated industry at a time when not everyone would've been interested in it on the continent?
Titi Fakuade: I started in 2001 with Resourcery limited, a leading ICT firm in Victoria Island, for close to five years, working on PABXs, which are small telecom systems, but majorly for small enterprises, corporate businesses, and the likes.
I got exposed to different parts of the business: end-user devices, installing windows, land switching, and fibre cabling. We had to support different organisations like Mobile, British American Tobacco, British Airway, and a lot of banks. Then in 2006, I joined MTN Nigeria and have since moved across the board.
It was tough at that stage, especially in the core technical part; you hardly find a lot of females, but I didn't let that deter me. It’s totally different from how it is now, and also I have evolved in the industry.
OK: What does it mean to be the Chief Information Officer of a telecommunications company?
TF: As Chief Information Officer, I am in charge of the technology strategy, purely from an information technology perspective. I oversee the information technology division in terms of strategy, driving the roadmap, and executing business plans to make sure that anything that we need to do as a business is fulfilled. And also, I have a team that I work with.
OK: Can you share your experience of moving from a technical role to a leadership role?
TF: The technology experience, the expertise, is very key because, in leading people, you also have to be able to define the vision, drive that strategy, and make sure that in terms of execution, it is done well. When transitioning, there is a tendency to want to go back and still do the work instead of waiting for somebody else to do it. But you have to give opportunities for people to shine and learn.
I started the transition with my new job at MTN, where I needed to work within the interconnect space. I was on the planning side, not in the operations. In planning, I had to conceptualise. Having a technical understanding, I could design and plan as to how things should be, and then send it out for execution and make sure that it is executed according to the plan. This has been over 16 years since I did that transition and the experience is still residual in my brain.
OK: What are the challenges that come with these responsibilities?
TF: One, technical, in terms of systems performing as they should be. The other part is the people. You have to work with people, not only with systems so you need to understand people, motivate and bring out the best in them. Over the course of my career, I've been exposed to different experiences and training that have helped so much in identifying those challenges and looking for creative ways to solve them.
OK: Looking back at how far you've come, did you imagine your current career level would be like this?
TF: If someone had said, I will be working in another country, I'll say, “no, I can't leave my family.” But it's about being adaptable. Also, your view of the world changes as you evolve. And you also find creative ways to balance things out.
OK: You’ve spent a cumulative 16 years with MTN. If you’d agree with me, you hardly find experts and professionals staying at a company for that long. Why did you do that? Or is it a thing with your generation?
TF: I won't say that it's with the generation. When I left my first place of work after 4 years, I had a mindset of working for two years in the next place I went. But on getting to MTN, my mind changed. MTN is a great place to work. You're exposed to many experiences and training, then you work with a great team.
The fact that I was in an organisation for 16 years, I was not in one role. I was moving roles. I even did a lateral move at some point. I was able to see things from a different perspective, and that was a turning point.
I think everybody's path is different. How are you enjoying your current job? How is it challenging you? You need to set your expectation. And if you feel it's not being met where you are, you can make a decision. The fact that you have stayed long in one organisation versus going into multiple organisations does not really matter as long as you grow as an individual.
And we should also understand that there is the waiting phase where you'll learn, gain experience, and then understand the time to move, which will come with different things.
Gathering experience in an organisation or multi-industry can pay off in the long run because when you're a specialist and you go into a different industry, you get exposed to different processes, and you can then apply your skills to those organisations.
OK: Let’s talk about your transition to Liberia. What was it like?
TF: I transitioned from Nigeria, where I had a big team, to Liberia as the Head of Technology, which was quite different.
New culture, new people, leaving my family transitioning, and changing my personal life. So it was tough; it took a lot of courage. It's like facing your fears and doing things afraid. But I'd made up my mind that I was going for this, and I put in plans. It's been a great experience. I don't regret the move at all. It has challenged me to discover more about myself. Because I have faced that fear, I'm not afraid to face the next challenge.
OK: Can you share some of your achievements?
TF: It's a combination of many things. One thing I love about the work is that with technology, we're able to provide solutions. You're meeting the needs of customers.
So when we conceptualise technology delivery and it comes to life, and you see people using it, and it’s adding value, that's a fulfilling moment for me. Apart from providing value, there’s the validation that comes externally. And then also the family bits, combining everything and still being able to grow the family and bond together.
OK: For someone that has played roles in the telecommunications industry in the 2000s and is still in the industry in the 2020s, what are the trends that you've noticed between then and now? What trends should we look out for in the telecommunications industry?
TF: A lot of things have evolved. We've gone beyond 2G, 3G to 4G, and 5G is here. Things have really evolved, and customers' behaviours have evolved. Now, big data and analytics are very key. Cybersecurity is another thing; there is also Artificial Intelligence. There are so many things.
OK: What advice would you give to someone interested in telecoms?
TF: For anyone looking to go into telecoms, it's broad. It's good to get exposure to a broad view of telecoms. Once that exposure is there, you can start using that to identify niche areas or areas of interest and then gradually focus and start building a career path from training, exposure, work experience, and also learning on the job.
Most of the areas have specialised training and specialised courses that you do with the equipment manufacturers that would help you to grow along the journey.
OK: How do you stay productive?
TF: Most times, I set goals and track them. They help me with clear directions. Also, empowering and delegating are very important. Reflection is key. Reflection helps you look at what has worked well, what hasn't worked well, and what needs to move on.
There are a lot of other things that I do. Some of them I have documented in my book, Limitless:11 Strategies to Master Life and Career. The life skill I would want to stress is that the mind is very important. Everything starts from your mind.
And also, as you grow in your career, understand that you're building a brand. People know you for what you deliver and what you don't deliver. You also have to nurture relationships, not burn bridges as much as possible.
OK: Do you believe in work-life balance? If you do, how do we achieve it? If not, what's the way out?
TF: Work-life balance is a myth. I think I would rather talk about integration. Most times, we integrate all parts of life into whatever we do. I'm not sure if we can say it's a balance. Because, at some point, we're focusing on family, at another time, it is work, personal, fitness or different things. So, in terms of balance, one just has to be creative in looking for ways to integrate all of them together, depending on what is happening per time.