July 2, 2020

The Top 5 Lessons I’ve Learned As A Latina In Tech

Today was a not so good day at work.

I’ve had better days. The issue itself isn’t even regarding my day-to-day work with clients or my immediate team. The issue is regarding how one of the largest technology companies in the world fails to understand and account for my personal living situation, during COVID-19. But that’s a whole different story, for another time.

Regardless, it’s moments like this that remind me why it’s so important — more now than ever — to share our stories and our experiences with the hopes it may help someone else along the way. After all, this summer I will complete my fourth year working in tech and it almost feels like I’m graduating all over again. It’s as if I’m reaching a new chapter in my career, or at least I like to think so.

Latinas only make up approximately 2% of the tech industry and with that said, my journey has been multifaceted and I would describe it almost like a love — hate relationship. I have really good days. I have really bad days. Nevertheless, my journey has shaped both my personal and professional growth and it’s been empowering to continue to overcome obstacles that many women of color face in a predominantly white industry. So, I share these lessons I’ve learned with the hopes that they may resonate with other women of color who are considering the tech space, or who may also be navigating this thing we call our careers.

1. Authenticity matters

It is extremely difficult to walk into a space where you are visibly the minority and have to learn how to be your authentic self. It’s uncomfortable. And it’s not so much about learning to be your self, but learning to be patient and even ok with the fact that the majority of people will not fully understand you and your experience. In fact, people might even underestimate you. People may have preconceptions about your ability, your background and so forth. And most of the time, they will not even realize it. Yet, in this environment, it becomes even more important to be you. There have been countless moments in my very young career where I’ve made the tough call to express a thought, an opinion, an idea, or a personal value in a space that might not fully understand where I was coming from — yet I continue to do so anyway. It’s not always easy, which leads me to my second lesson.

2. Authenticity is hard

Authenticity is hard. Authenticity is even harder in a predominately white male space. I don’t want to write a blog about authenticity and ignore the fact that it’s not the same for every one. There are levels of privilege and systems of oppression that prevent many people from being their true, authentic selves, and this is especially true in corporate America. As I reflect on my last four years, the moments I am most proud of are when I chose to be myself despite the challenging circumstances; for example, at first, it was extremely difficult to communicate to my managers the importance of my involvement in diversity work as a Latina in tech. I needed them to fully understand that this was part of my experience and that it was shaping my overall wellbeing at this company. These were often uncomfortable conversations. They require lot of vulnerability and courage. And it’s not fair that the burden often falls on us to educate our leadership teams, but it’s also been rewarding to be able to stand in front of my entire global company, and deliver a presentation on the importance of Hispanic Heritage Month at Google. As challenging as it may be, it’s important to consistently express yourself in order to create progress towards a more inclusive workplace.

3. Build a community

It truly does takes a village. There have been many moments when I’ve questioned whether the tech industry was where I needed to be, or where I belonged. I still recall how a little after my second year at this company, I began to be harassed online for simply being Latina in tech, in a time of political controversy regarding the issue of immigration. I immediately became a target and even feared for my physical security at some point. I was scared. It also reminded me that my presence at this company and this industry can also be a form of resistance. Thankfully, my manager was extremely supportive and empathetic to my situation. But not everybody is as lucky under these circumstances. And as much as I love the work I do with my clients, it was ultimately the support of my community that reminded me of why it’s more important than ever to see Latinas in the tech industry. My Latinx peers immediately reached out to offer their support and words of encouragement. They shared this with their own managers and a few hours later, management teams across the US were offering their full support. It made a world of a difference. The community I’ve developed with other mujeres, Latinx peers, and allies continues to remind me why our work and presence is critical in tech for present and future generations of Latinx leaders.

4. Be bold

We need to take up space. We need to take up space, unapologetically. My experience growing up was that I was often reminded to be “una buena hija,” or a “good daughter.” This expression is usually is associated with following the rules, not asking too many questions, and being humble. I’ve had to learn to dismantle that doctrine and instead, I have decided to ask too many questions, challenge the status quo, and be confident in my ideas and work. This can really make people uncomfortable. Yet, these qualities can also bring a lot of value in a place where products and solutions are constantly evolving; in a place where we are in a constant state of optimizing the way we get things done. But we have to own it. We have to believe in ourselves. And, we have to be bold. Undoubtedly, if we begin to be bold, we will inspire other folks in the room to do the same.

5. Ask for help

I think there is a general fear of asking others for help. For whatever reason, as a collective we decided a long time ago that it demonstrates “weakness.” As a Latina, this can even be more frightening in a space where you are pressured into working twice as hard to simply get enough credit or recognition as your white counterparts. However, growing up Latina there was also an important component of community. We help nuestra familia, nuestra gente, in whatever way we can. And so asking for help and working with others to reach a common objective, can actually be a competitive advantage in the tech industry. It’s imperative that you work as a team and demonstrate the ability to collaborate with others — not only is it important, but it’s actually a leadership quality! We are leaders.

The journey has not been easy. It’s remarkable to look back, pause, and realize how resilient we are for navigating this space. I could probably write an entire novel of every single time I’ve been knocked down, but I rather focus on the times and the people who have helped me get back up every single time. And if you’re like me, once the storm passes, we will continue to work towards our goals even more determined, with more confidence, or as I like to say “with tunnel vision mode,” and no one is going to stop us.

Shamara Valdez

Studied @Georgetown. Latina. Currently @Google. Hija de Immigrantes.