Women in Business Q&A: Monica Nicolau, Chief Technology Officer, Sylvan Learning

Monica Nicolau

Since she joined Sylvan in March 2011, Monica Nicolau served as Sr. Director and then Vice President of Software Development for SylvanSync and became the Chief Technology Officer in June of 2015. Prior to Sylvan, Ms. Nicolau worked at Micros Systems, Inc., now Oracle Hospitality, where she held a variety of roles that included Director of Software Engineering. Ms. Nicolau holds an MS in Computer Science with a specialization in Software Engineering from Johns Hopkins University.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I credit my parents and their early guidance for the person and leader I am today. They taught me to be curious and learn all that I can both academically and from life experiences, to work hard and never cut corners, and to be brave and stand by my own judgement so long as it is informed, and to not be afraid to fail.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Sylvan Learning?
I was fortunate enough to work in organizations that helped and challenged me to continuously learn and get better at my craft and at working with others.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Sylvan Learning?
Building a technology team that can deliver on our commitments is the proudest accomplishment of my tenure at Sylvan Learning. This team, working together with many other functions in the organization, has designed and built SylvanSync, our digital tutoring delivery platform. We just hit the 9 million mark in tutoring sessions delivered to students on the platform and are still going strong.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Work hard, be patient, and believe in your abilities and success will follow.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
That listening skills are as important as communication skills in working collaboratively to deliver strong results.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I put the same amount of effort in working hard as I do in enjoying life. I love reading and traveling and try hard to make time to enjoy both. I am not always successful but on balance I think I am doing alright.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Two things - the pay gap and career opportunities, especially in the STEM fields. Half of the global population are women and we all lose when some of them are not empowered to help solve many of the pressing problems our societies face today.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I was very fortunate to have an amazing mentor in my first job as software engineer. I think the best mentoring happens organically. My mentor was universally respected, gave me constructive feedback and was willing to share with me his wisdom, knowledge, and skills. The most important lesson I learned from that experience was just how important mentoring is in everyone's career. As a result, I try my best to mentor others and I find it extremely rewarding when I help coworkers grow in their professional life.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
It's hard to pick a few from the long list of amazing female leaders along the history as well as in our times but I will do my best. I admire Marie Curie for her pioneering research on radioactivity and for being the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, fellow computer scientist, Grace Hooper, for her lifelong curiosity and accomplishments in her field, and political and social activists such as Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Malala Yousafzai for their bravery and not accepting the status quo.

What do you want to accomplish in the next year?
At Sylvan we are starting a technology-fueled, business transformation project to replace our back office systems with a new modern, cloud-based one. I am looking forward to building an easy to use, intuitive system to enable our learning center staff to spend less time doing administrative work and focus instead on working with our students and parents to drive more educational and business success.