My journey as a Latina in tech

For me, the decision to study computer science was a straightforward one. I had always loved solving problems, organizing things, and making sure everything in my life happened efficiently. It was only natural I’d find my way into programming.

My first opportunity to build something that solves a problem came about in my high school computer lab. The assignment was to create a computer program, which at the time meant building in tools like Visual Basic. The calculator I built (a lot like this) immediately sparked interest in pursuing a career in technology. At that time, I was starting the process of applying to colleges and felt I finally found my focus.

After high school, I was accepted into the Universidad Simon Bolivar, in my native country of Venezuela, to study Computer Science. My courses were very fast-paced, and the curriculum was complex. As I looked around at my peers, I realized there were not many women in my class. At one point my mom kept asking, “Where are your girlfriends? Why are all your projects with men?” I didn’t yet realize that was something I would have to deal with throughout my career.

Up until college, I had excelled in school and had never failed a class—I had graduated #1 in my high school! However, I failed physics in my second quarter at USB, which was a big shock for me. The failure didn’t get me down; it only motivated me to push harder and helped me discover my true passion for software engineering—a base that would guide my entire professional career.

After graduating with high marks, I decided to move to the U.S. to learn English and pursue my Masters in Software Engineering at Texas State University (TSU) in San Marcos, Texas. My great uncle was a professor in the business school at TSU, and I had visited him once and loved the town. My now-husband and a good friend also had the same idea, so we moved, studied, and completed the same program together.

After finishing my studies, I took my first engineering role, working on the backend team at USAA in San Antonio, Texas. My husband and I were dating long-distance at the time, and he had moved to San Francisco for a job. It was a challenging 1+ year apart, but after working hard at USAA, I was offered a career-defining role at the insurance software platform Guidewire which allowed me to move to the Bay Area.

From individual contributor to team leader

My time at Guidewire contributed significantly to who I am as a professional. I began my 7.5-year journey there as an individual contributor on the engineering team, then moved to a tech lead role where I led the performance team, until finally moving to engineering management.

When I started leading teams, I discovered a new passion. Managing allows me to help people achieve their goals, remove their blockers, and make their lives easier. Since I like organizing and making things happen, being an engineering manager allows me to do all of that.

I’ve always been the only Latina on every engineering team I’ve worked on, which makes me feel low in spirits because I know there are a lot more Latinas with great backgrounds and stories to tell, yet we barely represent 2% in tech. Without peer representation, I don’t get the opportunity to learn from others like me and share accomplishments and challenges. I’m more self aware of my rare representation and it makes me more motivated to change this “2% ratio” and take full advantage of the opportunities I do have.

For Guidewire, I helped translate products for Spanish speaking customers and sat in multiple sales and executive meetings to facilitate communication between customers and our team. I toured customers through the headquarters and explained how our engineering team works. It was a great experience to learn how new customer deals happen while I was interpreting from English to Spanish.

In 2018, I was a keynote guest speaker at Guidewire’s annual conference in Las Vegas. After lots of practice, I presented in front of 2,000 people. Those 5 minutes of my presentation went by really quickly, and I enjoyed it so much. After the event, a customer from Puerto Rico who recognized my accent came to talk to me about how proud he was to hear a Latina on that stage. That was so rewarding to me!

Learnings from difficult challenges along the way

My experiences working on and leading engineering teams have been great, but there has also been a fair share of challenges along the way.

Once after a big promotion, a co-worker pulled me aside to give me some advice and suggested that I “got a position that I was not ready for,” and that I was “not set up for success.” This harsh feedback made me very sad and insecure. But instead of giving up, I reached out to people who supported me through my career for guidance. I spoke to my manager, and he encouraged me not to let it get into my head. I had to keep telling myself that If I wasn’t good or “ready,” I wouldn’t be here.

Another time, a candidate I was interviewing for a role on our team chose to ignore me entirely while I was leading his interview and only spoke to my male co-worker instead. My co-worker was an ally for me at that moment and stopped the interview a couple of times to remind the candidate that I was the one leading the discussion. We didn’t end up hiring the candidate, but the unconscious bias he displayed was a reminder that we all need to speak up and raise awareness of these issues, or they will continue to happen.

Where I’m at now and how I keep going

In the summer of 2019, I joined Scoop to continue my career as an engineering manager. Scoop’s mission was very compelling to me—to bring commuters together in carpools they love. I related to the pain and negative effects of a bad commute given all the long drives that I had to do in Venezuela while going to college.

At Scoop, I manage the backend and frontend teams supporting customers and commuters, and I’ve also had the opportunity to do some other activities like participating in building the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion taskforce and lead the creation of employee resource groups.

Supporting my fellow engineering community has been important for me, and I recently gave a talk for KeepTruckin about my experiences working as a Latina in tech, and had some tips that have helped me achieve success along my journey. They may help you, too:

  • Be authentic, be yourself. That includes your accent, your hand movements, your gestures. Just be proud of who you are and where you come from.
  • Build a support system. Make sure you have someone who supports you either at home, work, or in your family. Find someone who has your back—someone you can trust who pushes you to be your best at all times.
  • Let go to grow. You need to get out of your comfort zone if you want to grow your career. It will lead you to a better you wherever you are.

Denise Videtta

Adam is the Content Director at Scoop. When he's not writing, he's trying to perfect his pizza dough recipe or running.