I Found My Voice as A Latina in Tech

January 26, 2021

Stories

Bay Area

A picture of Genesys Works alum, Michelle Villagran.
Michelle Villagran, Genesys Works Alum

Connecting Latinx students to the skills, social capital and meaningful work experiences that provide an economic ladder to the middle class will not only help change their narrative, it will also help our economy thrive.

Being raised in east Oakland, I didn’t have many opportunities that exposed me to careers in STEM. By the time I was old enough to work, many of my peers took retail jobs. Working and going to school was common for older youth in my community. They wanted to earn money to contribute financially to their households to support their parents who worked hard, but often struggled to make ends meet. But I didn’t want to work retail. I wanted something different. During my junior year of high school, I was introduced to the Genesys Works program. It was my first introduction to tech and the corporate world. As part of the program, I was required to complete eight weeks of technical skills training the summer before my senior year of high school. I would also be placed in a paid summer internship with a top employer. Skills training was challenging. I had to learn new subjects at a really fast pace, but I didn’t let that hold me back. I knew that Genesys Works would give me the solid foundation I needed to obtain the career I always wanted and help me become economically self-sufficient.

Initially, I Was Discouraged by the Lack of Diversity in Tech

For my internship I was placed at the corporate office of Peet’s Coffee where I worked in quality assurance. The first few weeks of my internship, I felt discouraged because I didn’t see many Latinas represented on technical teams. I didn’t see myself in the people I aspired to be or the career I wanted to pursue, because Latinas only made up 2% of the tech workforce. The lack of representation fed into this false idea that I didn’t have the skills or the smarts to complete these technical tasks. Luckily, my supervisor and peers didn’t have the same opinion of me. They saw my potential, gave me projects that helped me develop my skills and encouraged me along the way. As a result, my confidence grew. I enjoyed the work, and I discovered that I was good at it.

Being Offered a Full-Time Job in Tech in my Early 20s Changed my Life

I carried the lessons I learned at Peet’s Coffee into my second Genesys Works internship at Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E). By that time, I was a freshman in college and vowed to be more present and take up space as a Latina in tech. During my time at PG&E, I had the opportunity to work with one of Oracle’s Construction Management tools — Primavera Unifier. That experience changed the trajectory of my academic and professional career. It led me to being offered a full-time job as a 19-year-old sophomore in college. Working with such a complex tool that early in my career piqued my interest in software development. I wanted to learn more, so I took additional classes to expand my knowledge and skills as a Unifier developer, despite already having a rigorous academic schedule and a full-time job. During my senior year of college, while most of my peers were applying to competitive internships, trying to get their foot in the door so they could add meaningful work experiences to their resumes, I was deciding which one of the two full-time job offers I would be accepting.

I was now one of the 4.8 million Hispanic women with college degrees, a number that has doubled in the last 10 years making us one of the fastest growing groups of women in the labor force.

At just 22, I was a college graduate working as a system implementation consultant in San Francisco, just across the bay from where I grew up in Oakland. I was now one of the 4.8 million Hispanic women with college degrees, a number that has doubled in the last 10 years making us one of the fastest growing groups of women in the labor force. Latinas are a force to be reckoned with. Our participation in the workforce is helping to shape our economy and this is something I knew I needed to share with the youth of my community. I wanted to let them know that more was possible for them. Most importantly, that they are an integral part of the fabric of this country.

I Found My Voice Mentoring Youth from My Home Town

A year and a half into my new position, I returned to my community to share my experiences with the youth. Like me, they had similar struggles, had few resources and were likely to be the first person in their family to go to college, start a business or work in corporate America. I knew my story would resonate with them.

I finally found my voice. I began getting more involved in the Oakland community and participating in social justice movements. Several young women who were beginning their transition from college to career started to reach out to me through social media. Even though I was just a few years older than them, I already had five years of professional experience and valuable lessons to share.

In August, I launched my first mentorship program with 10 brilliant young women that creates a safe space for them to discuss their college and career plans. My hope is that by sharing my journey, I could help guide them through theirs.

Companies are still grappling with how to create a diverse talent pipeline of skilled workers while the next generation of Hispanic young professionals lay untapped, yet eager to enter the workforce.

Growing up in Oakland, you are geographically close to tech jobs, yet so far from being prepared to pursue them. Although companies are partnering with Genesys Works to offer promising youth the chance to launch careers in STEM, we still need more. Roughly one million tech jobs remain unfilled.

Companies are still grappling with how to create a diverse talent pipeline of skilled workers while the next generation of Hispanic young professionals lay untapped, yet eager to enter the workforce. Connecting Latinx students to the skills, social capital and meaningful work experiences that provide an economic ladder to the middle class will not only help change their narrative, it will also help our economy thrive.

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