Gabriela Avila ’19 MBA (Executive)
While Gabriela Avila was growing up in Quito, Ecuador, she watched her mother run a successful business for more than two decades. “I was raised with the idea that women are business leaders,” Avila says. After graduating college with a business degree, she began an operations management career in Ecuador.
When Avila moved to the United States with her husband, she worked for several local organizations. But after a few years she felt she had “hit the ceiling” with her business degree. “I attended a great business school in Ecuador,” Avila explains. “But I realized in order to continue advancing in my career in the U.S. market, I needed a higher education level from a renowned university.”
She decided to pursue a degree in the U.S., and when she was accepted into Eller’s Executive MBA program, she knew that being surrounded by seasoned professionals, with professors adapting classes to meet the needs of experienced leaders would yield a result beyond just learning how to be a manager.
This wisdom, along with practical applications from professors who’ve worked in the field, have expanded Avila’s knowledge and built her confidence. When she decided to look for a new job, MIS professor Joe Valacich suggested in class to consider a tech startup as another opportunity to learn. “I had been applying to large companies,” Avila says. “I never thought the technology industry was for me because my background is not in engineering.”
Avila began researching tech startups and she stumbled across a Tucson-based company called Codelucida. Founded by a University of Arizona engineering PhD student and a professor of electrical and computer engineering, Codelucida’s technology enables error correction in flash memory devices to improve the efficiency and scale of data storage. The company won UA’s 2017 Startup of the Year.
“I would never have dared to apply for something like this,” admits Avila. “But thanks to what I learned at Eller, I felt that I could do it.” Despite a lack of technology background, Codelucida’s CEO, a UA alum, liked Avila’s skills and the fact that she was in the Eller MBA program. He gave her a shot.
“I felt like it came from heaven,” Avila explains. “What I’m experiencing at work matches exactly with what I learned in class. Everything Professor Valacich said would happen in a technology startup, has happened for me at Codelucida.”
For example, Valacich taught about investment rounds, how they work and how to manage investors. “Within three weeks of joining Codelucida, we closed a big round of investment,” Avila says. And now that she’s working to scale the company for growth, Avila is using other insights and tools she learned in class. “I’m grateful for the practical applications I got from Professor Valacich, and I’m using them daily.”
Avila admits that not having a background in engineering has made it challenging for her to get familiar with Codelucida’s technology. She says she dug in by spending time with the CEO and reading about how the market works. Challenges aside, she’s enjoying the exposure to all aspects of a tech start up company. “I get to work on HR, marketing, operations—everything. It’s helped me develop my entrepreneurial mindset,” which Avila insists is key when working with a start up. “No job is too big or small,” she explains. “You have to get the company going. Sometimes you might make high level management decisions and other times you are focused on the smaller things. It’s all part of building the company.”
The insights Avila has received at Eller go beyond just classroom instruction. She has received “valuable suggestions and guidance” from her statistics professor, Eller Vice-Chair and Professor of Management and Organizations Lisa Ordóñez. “Professor Ordóñez shared with me how she overcame difficulties in her career and gave me great advice on how to navigate mine,” Avila says. “This is a new country for me. When I met with her I felt very inspired. I don’t think I would have met someone like her unless I was in the Eller program. She is one of the smartest women I’ve ever met.”
When asked how she would like to leave her own mark on the world, Avila says she hopes to inspire more young professionals to get into the tech industry. “I’m from Ecuador and I’d like to see more people like me from all over the world joining this industry,” she says. “I know that sounds big. But if I could do it, I would like for young people to dream bigger. And dream technology.”
Photos by Molly Condit.