A Rocky Start
When Tiffni Deeb started college at age 18, her heart wasn’t in it. After two weeks, she dropped out of St. Cloud State University, and at age 19 her first child was born.
But Tiffni has never lacked for energy. Her first job was as a clerk typist. “I didn’t know how to type,” Tiffni explained, laughing. She started by pecking at the keyboard, and eventually her typing improved. Tiffni asked her supervisor if she could use the computer in the corner. “My supervisor responded by saying ‘Sure, but to be honest, we don’t know what that thing does.’”
Her enthusiasm fueled her career. “I was a pest. I offered to do all sorts of little projects, and when I finished my coworkers had to scramble to give me a new task,” she said. Eventually she was given the opportunity to attend a five-day networking training, and from there her career bloomed.
As computers evolved and the internet made its entry into homes, Tiffni moved into web development, working first at Century College as a web developer and webmaster and later at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system office in Downtown St. Paul. There, she did project and portfolio management with vice chancellors and chief information officers (CIOs) at the 31 MnSCU colleges and universities.
“There are so many people along the way who have inspired and supported me,” said Tiffni. “I am where I am due to that amazing support.”
In 2012 Tiffni came to Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) as the director of technical services. One year later the CIO fell ill, and—true to her style—she stepped forward to tackle a new project.
“Of the 31 colleges and universities in MnSCU, I was one of only a handful of female CIOs,” said Tiffni. “It can be hard to be the only woman in a room full of men. Everyone is supportive in their own ways, but when you feel like the minority in the room, you feel pressure to perform.”
Removing the Last Barrier
Tiffni had been feeling that pressure for some time. “More than 10 years ago I wondered whether becoming a CIO was a step I would ever be able to take,” she said. “I doubted myself. I was a woman without a degree—was I capable of it? Was I smart enough?”
Doubt couldn’t keep her from pursuing success. “I decided I didn’t want a door standing in my way,” she said. “If lacking a degree was my barrier, I was going to remove that barrier. I didn’t want to hear a single excuse from hiring managers.”
Tiffni took her first online class in 2001. She received her associate degree from Minnesota West Community and Technical College and later transferred to Metro State. “My education has helped me tremendously, especially with leadership skills,” she said. Her capstone class was full of non-traditional students like herself. “I learned that you can have a full career and work toward a degree at the same time. The people in my classes helped me see what I have and what I don’t have, and gave me context.”
During her year as MCTC’s acting CIO, Tiffni had her work cut out for her. She oversaw the implementation of several new technology platforms which required converting credentials for every student and employee at the College—approximately 15,000 people. “When I think too much about hurdles, it can get overwhelming,” she said. “But I’ve learned that in order to make effective decisions, you have to be patient, and you have to listen. We were patient, we researched before we acted and our projects were successful.”
Last year—while in her role as the College’s acting CIO—Tiffni finished her bachelor’s degree at Metro State. “At first I didn’t want to attend the graduation ceremony and walk across the stage, but my family had been supporting me throughout it all and convinced me to go,” she said.
“I became both an acting CIO and a grandmother before I received my bachelor’s degree,” she said.
Tiffni’s interim role as acting CIO has since ended, and she has assumed the position of deputy CIO at MCTC. Her enthusiasm and dedication have built the foundation of her life journeys, and her achievements stand as shining examples of motivation and leadership. “I couldn’t have done what I’ve done without the support of so many amazing people,” she said. “When the barriers seem overwhelming, I remind myself that 80 percent is better than zero percent. The key for us all is to be patient, and tell ourselves what we will do—rather than what we won’t do.”