Balancing the Grind with Simona Turin, CEO of academyEX

Simona Turin’s path from military leadership to tech innovation and now to the helm of academyEX is a journey of meaningful transitions. It’s clear that Simona has a knack for not just navigating but also pioneering in spaces where few have tread before, especially in promoting diversity in the tech world.

With academyEX, she’s channeling her vast experience into empowering women and minority communities through education, aiming to shift the landscape of tech and leadership opportunities.

In our conversation, Simona shares her insights on the challenges of breaking into new fields, the importance of representation, and how academyEX is crafting a unique educational experience that mirrors the rapid pace of technological change.

Simona, your journey from leading a combat unit to pioneering in the tech world and now driving change with academyEX is incredibly inspiring. What motivated you to transition from well-established corporates to focusing on empowering women and minority communities through education?

Throughout my career, I’ve often found myself being ‘the only one’ or ‘one of the first’ whether in high stakes combat teams or high-growth tech startups. I believe that to grow our economy sustainably, we need to focus on how we bring more women into tech and leadership positions in order to tap into this incredibly powerful talent pool.

Having been deeply involved in mentoring and coaching women in the tech industry, I’ve seen firsthand how self-doubt and a lack of representation can hold individuals back. Joining academyEX was my way of taking bold action to address this issue head-on. My career path has been a journey in defying stereotypes. “I joined the organisation because of you…” or “I went into tech because you gave me a living, breathing example to look up to…” is the greatest compliment someone can pay me.

When we take the lead, we pave the way for others to follow. My daughter’s belief that women are natural leaders and should hold positions of influence shouldn’t be just her belief – it’s a belief I want to see embraced by everyone. Let’s continue to be pioneers and create a future where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.

Throughout your diverse career, you’ve often been ‘the only one’ in many spaces. Can you share a moment or experience that deeply impacted you and how it has influenced your approach to leadership and inclusion?

As I navigated various boardrooms throughout my career, my focus was always on proving my worth, on ‘adding value,’ so to speak. However, there came a point when this mindset shifted. I began to recognize the inherent value of my unique perspective simply by being present.

I gained confidence in the value of my own experiences and insights, realising how they could drive meaningful conversations forward. This shift marked the difference between merely trying to ‘add value’ and truly ‘being valuable.’

While I made a concerted effort to gain experience across all facets of business – from revenue to product, and from engineering to customer support – there comes a time when you must own the fact that your distinctive viewpoint deserves a place at the table. 

academyEX stands out for its commitment to flexible, impactful learning tailored to adults, particularly women. How do you see this model transforming the landscape of online education, and what are the key factors that contribute to the high success and completion rates among your students?

academyEX was built on the principle that learning should never cease, especially for those entrenched in their careers. However, crafting learning solutions for a workforce balancing jobs and myriad responsibilities presents a daunting challenge. In their quest, companies often resort to ‘online learning,’ yet this approach often falls short. Online learning tends to be solitary, which is precisely why it often disappoints.

For over a decade, academyEX has been tackling this challenge head-on. We believe that courses should foster connectivity, especially in remote settings. Our learning environments are akin to joining “a community of changemakers and industry shakers.” Our learners frequently express that the true value of being part of such a community lies in the rich, stimulating conversations they engage in with like-minded individuals. These discussions delve into issues that deeply resonate with them, their communities and their families.

Our projects are not merely academic exercises but practical endeavours aimed at making a tangible impact. They are about empowerment, excitement, and the pursuit of discovery over mere theory.

With an impressive 85% completion rate, our formula is proven to work. Furthermore, it caters to a diverse audience; the majority of academyEX learners are over 35, migrants, or come from Maori and Pasifika backgrounds – groups that often struggle with traditional learning models.

Given your extensive background in tech and digital innovation, how have you applied your expertise to enhance the learning experience, especially in keeping pace with rapid technological changes?

As someone who doesn’t have a traditional academic background, but who has decades of experience across various industries, my role at academyEX involves collaborating with our academic staff to shape courses that are practical and relevant to the real world. We aim to empower our students for lifelong learning and to become trailblazers of meaningful change.

The concept of ‘staying ahead’ rather than ‘keeping up’ in one’s career is central to academyEX’s philosophy. What advice do you have for individuals looking to navigate their careers in this constantly evolving landscape?

Investing time in learning and development is not only challenging but also essential for remaining relevant in today’s fast-paced business environment. It’s a rewarding journey that requires curiosity as its driving force, a principle that forms the core of all our courses at academyEX.

When choosing an education provider, learners must seek more than just theoretical knowledge. Our approach to learning is interactive and engaging, encouraging collaboration across functions and backgrounds. This approach exposes learners to diverse perspectives and fosters a deeper understanding of various disciplines, enhancing the overall learning experience.

Reflecting on your remarkable career and the transitions you’ve made, what would you say to someone feeling disempowered or contemplating a significant career shift, especially later in life?

Don’t wait for someone else to give you agency to live. Don’t wait for permission – just go and do it! Everything you want is on the other side of fear. I love being a little bit uncomfortable and afraid – and I make it a daily practice to push myself. When we are determined to break barriers, we break them not only for ourselves but for the others who follow and this moves everyone forward. 

About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.