Tongan software engineer, Ikani Samani: “I came from nothing, but education was the great equalizer”


Ikani Samani | Brigham Young University | MBA

Ikani Samani believes young Pacific Islanders have limitless career potential. After growing up in poverty and briefly pursuing a college football scholarship, Ikani decided to break the Polynesian athlete stereotype and pursue a career in software engineering. After graduating from Utah Valley University with a B.S. in Computer Software Engineering, he worked for 5 years as a successful software engineer. He is now pursuing his MBA at BYU while working full-time at WeWork. He hopes to mentor young Pacific Islanders interested in tech and empower students to find a skill that will make them valuable to their community.

Ikani Samani, MBA candidate and software engineer.

Ikani Samani, MBA candidate and software engineer.


How do you feel about the Pacific Islander athlete stereotype?

I went into sports, because people around me would tell my parents that I had a good chance at getting into the NFL. My parents and I didn’t know any better. There were no Polynesian software engineers or Polynesian CEOs that we knew of. As a community, we haven’t exposed our kids to more careers. Our community as a whole needs to widen up our access to opportunities. We need more successful Polynesians outside of sports and athletics.

What academic barriers did you experience growing up?

I came from poverty. I came from nothing, but education was the great equalizer. Knowledge is empowering if applied correctly. I didn’t have any college mentors. I didn’t have anyone to look up to. There was no one around me that went to college and told me what I needed to do. I realized that there’s so much more to college than just getting there. Many athletically talented people didn’t stay because they didn’t have the academic skills needed [to graduate].

What motivated you to change your career from football to software engineering?

My motivation was to get out of poverty. I grew up super poor from Tonga and then moved to the States when I was really young with my parents and 6 siblings. I went to college on a football scholarship but then realized that software engineering would have more long-term benefits than a career in the NFL. I decided to go to Utah Valley University and get my degree in computer software engineering. I get to build dope things, and I get paid really well. I’m really blessed but definitely have felt imposter syndrome at times.

What’s next for you?

I’ve worked professionally for the last 5-6 years doing software engineering, and I recently decided to pursue my MBA. I wanted to learn another skillset and associate myself with other successful people. Eventually, I want to build a company of my own and invest in Polynesian ventures and up-and-coming entrepreneurs.

Ikani with his wife and two daughters.

Ikani with his wife and two daughters.

How do you stay involved in the Pacific Islander community?

I’m currently the VP of Product Engineering at Utah Polynesian Professionals. I help Polynesians who want to pursue engineering by mentoring and teaching them interview skills. I do whatever I can to help our community. There’s so much more that Polynesians can do.

What advice do you have for students preparing for college?

  • Find a skill that you can learn in college that will make you more valuable to society and to your community.

  • Think about careers that can make you profitable.

  • Make sure you follow your path and make money off something you love.

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