From Being An Undocumented Student To Becoming Intuit’s Front-End Engineer – Here’s Maria Martinez

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Maria Martinez has been working at Intuit as a software engineer for 4 years, her first job out of college after graduating in 2017. She currently lives in San Francisco, California.

In this article, she tells us how she got into tech as an undocumented student, and how Intuit helped her thrive in her career with good management practices and employee resource groups. 

Hey Maria, Can You Tell Us What You Do at Intuit?

I am a front-end engineer―I work on web user interface and I use technologies like JavaScript, TypeScript, React, CSS, HTML. Intuit provides financial software, such as QuickBooks, TurboTax, Mint, Credit Karma and Mailchimp, to small business and self-employed individuals, such as Uber and Lyft drivers, helping them tackle their most challenging financial problems. I keep the website up to date, add new features, create tests for customers, etc.

How Did You Start There?

I actually was referred to Intuit’s internship program during my junior year of college. I was struggling to find an internship and didn’t know where to look or whether I was qualified enough because I had no prior internship experience. That’s when I realized the importance of having a network. I was lucky enough to get an internship in the San Diego office. I really enjoyed that summer there, and they later offered me a full-time role. I came back to Intuit’s Mountain View office and started working full-time.

What Is The Most Rewarding Aspect When It Comes to Working for Intuit?

One of my favorite things about Intuit is how customer-facing and customer-obsessed we are. We truly know who our customer is. At Intuit we use our “follow me home” program to get to know our customers, what problems they face and what might help them. As an engineer, I’m able to interview customers, test our data, and see what solutions actually help.

I also work with customer service agents directly and see what problems are most frequently arising and then we brainstorm together to fix these things for the customer. It gives me such relevant and invaluable insight into the customer’s journey with our financial products.

When It Comes to Career Progression, What Kind of Support Did You Find the Most Valuable?

My managers are my biggest supporters. When I first started, I had a manager who had a vision for my path to promotion and became a real advocate for my career path. He found a mentor for me, who became my current manager. My manager has also been a very outspoken advocate for me. She’s just a great manager overall. She always asks questions like “How can we help you progress in your career?” 

I’ve also been part of employee resource groups, like Intuit’s Women’s Network and Intuit’s Latinos Network, and I’ve used their resources a lot because I love the community they’ve built.

Let’s Go All The Way Back to Your Studies. What Got You Interested in The Industry?

It goes back to high school. I had this one teacher, she was amazing, Ms. Pendergast. She encouraged me to take Computer Science, which at the time I was not really interested in. I didn’t do well in that class, but she saw something in me and she kept encouraging me to apply for other scholarships and programs. I applied to Google’s Computer Science Summer Institute (Google CSSI for short). 

It was an immersion program over the summer where they teach you everything about computer science at Google’s headquarters. I went to this program for three weeks, and that’s when I fell in love with computer science. I decided to study statistics and computer science at Pomona College in Claremont, California.

Did You Experience Problems When You Were Taught Computer Science?

I definitely noticed both gender and race discrepancies right from high school. I was one of the few women in the classroom, which is one of the reasons why I felt like I didn’t really enjoy computer science. Being one of three women in my computer science class made me feel like an outsider – like I didn’t belong. Even though my teacher was a woman, I always felt intimidated to speak up in class. In my mind, “What is the point of raising my hand to answer if one of the boys will answer it correctly?” The women were the only ones with no prior knowledge of coding so this made it worse.

But the summer immersion program I mentioned was actually specific to underrepresented minorities, so I think that’s why it felt so comfortable because I didn’t feel like an outsider. Everyone looked like me or had a similar background. Not having to worry about being a minority allowed me to focus only on my learning. For the first time, I could see myself pursuing this as a career.

Then I went off to college and struggled with finding study groups or mentorships. I just couldn’t get myself to ask for help from others. No one looked like me. My class was not diverse at all and I had a hard time adjusting, especially since before college I had been surrounded by people of color. I could see things getting better for those in the classes below me, but I wish it was this way before I arrived.

Could You Elaborate on Some Issues That You’ve Faced During Those College Years?

One of the struggles I have is that I’m part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, so I’m an undocumented individual. I was struggling to find a job that would support my DACA status. DACA was a relatively new program so many companies did not know about it. 

One time at a college career fair, I went up to a company that only takes US citizens. I asked them if there were any exceptions to the rule. When the recruiter found out I was not a US citizen, he advised me to marry my friend standing next to me: “Why don’t you marry that white guy? He looks like he has papers.”

I was shocked and embarrassed. He made me feel small. I couldn’t believe he had just said that to me. I left the Career Fair immediately. I told the organizers later on, but I could tell that they didn’t see anything wrong. They were almost surprised that I even raised the issue, and they dismissed the severity of it. It took me many years to realize it was something that shouldn’t ever happen: it’s always better to speak up, even if people won’t listen.

What Has Changed Over Time?

My first day on the job at Intuit was the same day that the now-former President of the United of States ended DACA. I remember my manager pulling me aside, bringing the director along, and telling me everything was going to be okay and wondering how they could help. It meant a lot to me, because it was my first day. 

Coming from a background where I had told no one in my life about my undocumented status, I am now in a company where everyone knows but nobody judges me. Quite the contrary, they support me. I realized how good it is to just feel safe around other people―I didn’t have that luxury where I was born. I consider myself extremely lucky to be here, doing what I love, not having to worry about things I shouldn’t be worried about.

What Kind of Initiatives Is Intuit Doing to Help People Of Color Feel Seen?

There’s the Girls Who Code program. We basically have a group of high school girls come in every summer, and we teach them how to code. I was part of this program as a mentor and I got to mentor one girl for a whole summer. It was really amazing to see someone who could have been me. It’s so important to reach out to people of color and women early on when they are still in their formative years.

Another thing that I really appreciated about Intuit is how during last year’s Black Lives Matter protests our CEO addressed these events early on and offered his support to all Black employees. Receiving this from the CEO meant a lot because it made it clear where the company stands. 

I do think we still need to have more diverse hires at the company, but I know we have programs in place to support those efforts and we will get there eventually. 

Can You Share Any Tips For People Of Color and Getting to Tech? 

Mentorship has been so important to me. In the beginning, I really wanted a mentor that looked like me or shared a similar background. But then I realized that mentors can come from anywhere and they don’t necessarily have to be just like you to understand your struggles. Just find any sort of mentor―they can still give you meaningful advice and connect you to the right people.

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Abbianca Makoni

Abbianca Makoni is a content executive and writer at POCIT! She has years of experience reporting on critical issues affecting diverse communities around the globe.