De La Mano: How One Latina Got Into Tech and How You Can Too
As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, I’m reflecting on my experience as a first-generation Latina immigrant and the ways I can work to support and uplift the larger Hispanic and Latino community. Particularly, as someone who made a career pivot and now has the privilege of working in tech, I know first-hand how intimidating it can feel to explore opportunities where there are still not a lot of us in this space or it’s unclear the types of roles available to help get our foot in the door. As a Latina now in tech, I hope to continue raising awareness, educating, and informing our community about access to resources and opportunities they might not otherwise know exists.
Born in Colombia and having grown up and been educated in multiple countries – from Australia to Europe and then the U.S. (my father’s work had us moving around) – my bi-cultural upbringing and education taught me a lot about getting comfortable with change and always being the “new girl”. Although not always easy, it did teach me about adaptability and more importantly to ask questions. My mother would always say, “Pregunta, mi hija – no sabrás si no preguntas” // “Ask, darling – you won’t know unless you ask”.
If you’re first-gen or the first to embark on a lot of things for your family (e.g first to graduate or first to work a corporate job) the path isn’t always clear, so being comfortable asking for help or guidance is very important. Latinos are actually more likely to be first-generation college students than any other racial or ethnic group. In fact, 44% of Latino students are the first in their families to attend college and get a corporate job. It’s not easy learning to navigate new systems, languages, or cultural nuances, but in order for our community to progress and own your journey, we must. Further, having people we can identify with to help show us the way and share that knowledge is key to helping other Latinos like myself break into tech. This is why I’m personally very passionate about spreading the word and inviting my ‘comunidad’ to learn from and with me because a win for me is a win for my community.
“Pregunta, mi hija – no sabrás si no preguntas” // “Ask, darling – you won’t know unless you ask”.
I’m a strong believer that you have to do the research first to know what you’re trying to break into because you don’t know what you don’t know. Whether that’s sending emails, making calls, and reading articles, as well as leveraging platforms like LinkedIn to follow and connect with other professionals in roles or companies that you aspire to have or are interested in learning from. Making the decision to pivot from a career in sustainability into a role in tech seemed far-fetched at the time. After all, I definitely didn’t have a traditional tech background nor did I write code or build software (spoiler alert: you don’t need this to break into tech). I also didn’t really have connections to a lot of Latinos in tech at the time. As I saw it, if I didn’t have the network I needed to break in, then I was going to have to build it.
Of the few contacts I knew in this industry, I reached out to them through LinkedIn and set up calls to learn more about their roles, companies, and industry. With each call, I learned a little more about what tech could offer me – both professionally and personally. Through these ‘charlas’ I learned about other avenues into tech for those with a background other than engineering, like UX (User Experience) researchers, Customer Success Managers, and ultimately what I found as my calling, being a Creator Manager at LinkedIn.
As you begin your career or plan to pivot, there are a few things to consider:
- Build connections whenever possible: Make sure you connect with people you know and trust on LinkedIn like friends, family, colleagues, or former classmates/professors. But don’t just stop at connecting with those you know, research proves that connecting with acquaintances and people you meet at conferences or events can help you land your next job. Also, follow those you admire working in tech or your industry of interest – this is a great way to learn from and stay updated on the latest from those in the field.
- Own your narrative: Don’t be afraid to own your personal and professional experiences and how those past roles and opportunities have equipped you for the future. Be sure to frame how the skills acquired, clients served, or projects you’ve led or owned (no matter how big or small) will benefit your future team and employer. Even if your background is different from the job description or different from peers landing jobs in the same industry, you should still explore the opportunity.
- Pay It Forward: Once you’ve broken into the industry, don’t forget to share those insights, tips & tricks, and pieces of advice with your audience and community. On LinkedIn, we don’t share for the sake of entertainment – we create for the sake of creating economic opportunity. The Hispanic and Latino community has such an opportunity here to help others through education, access, and sharing our own journey in hopes of bringing others along with us.
Bottom line: Don’t underestimate the power and impact your simple act of knowledge sharing can have on helping others access opportunities.