Jacqueline Huerta, Latin@ Software Engineer: "I knew instantly that I wanted to pursue a career related to software and computers"

by Infosys Foundation USA | October 28, 2016

Jacqueline Huerta has been a software engineer for the past nine years. Today she works for Infosys Limited in Silicon Valley. Originally from Morelia, Mexico, she is the youngest of three children and the first member of her family to attend college, earning advanced degrees in computer science (CS). She began her career in Mexico and three years ago moved to the United States to further her career.

This past May, the Hispanic Heritage Foundation (HHF) and Infosys Foundation USA hosted a Latinos on Fast Track [LOFT] Summit bringing together 300+ Latino students, young professionals, and tech entrepreneurs at Stanford University’s campus to learn more about the technology industry, to network with peers, and to explore career opportunities. Jacqueline was invited to be a guest speaker and share what it is like to be a Latina software engineer. We recently interviewed her about this experience.

Q: What sparked your interest in technology?
JH: “I grew up in Mexico, in a modest, single-parent home where expensive consumer technology was simply out of reach. One day when I was 12, I got to use my friend’s family’s computer and tried out different software programs. Immediately I loved everything about the personal computing experience. I knew instantly that I wanted to pursue a career related to software and computers. Once in high school, I took free computing courses and picked up simple software programming languages. I was determined to attend university and succeed.”

Q: Tell us our how you got your first job.
JH: “Opportunity knocked on my door before I even graduated from university. My mom’s employer knew about my computer skills and offered me a job in a local family-owned drug store chain. This helped me gain real work experience and after a few months I joined a German company doing business in Mexico. This was no small feat for a recent female graduate living in a small Mexican town burdened with high unemployment and few opportunities for its youth. I was exposed to different cultures and worked with Europeans and Latin Americans. Spanish is my native language, but English was the official language of the company, so over time I got more comfortable speaking English with colleagues and customers.”

Q: Have you ever felt excluded as a Latina working in the software industry?
JH: “Early in my career in Mexico, I was a database administrator and the only woman on the IT team. Some male co-workers told me that because I was a woman, they believed I was not qualified for the job, and therefore my opinion did not matter. The blatant exclusion left me sad and angry. But later in my career, I was fortunate to work at companies, where often I was the only woman on my team but felt included. I learned that everyone’s opinion matters and no one is excluded because of gender or heritage. My ideas and experience matter, and I feel valued and appreciated as a colleague and as a person."

Q: What did you speak about at the LOFT Summit?
JH: “I was fortunate that my tech career enabled me to move to the United States. However, I see very few Latinos in the tech industry here. It dismayed me to learn that less than 4% of all computer science degrees are earned by Latinos. Being able to speak at the HHF conference –a speech delivered entirely in Spanish--was my way of demonstrating that diversity is possible in Silicon Valley and the tech industry, and there is Latina representation. Sharing my experience and providing guidance to other young Hispanic women and men who are just starting out is important—they need to hear what it takes to become a software engineer, see what it’s like to work in the tech industry, and the various career strategies that can be applied. I was able to pursue my dreams and build a career in tech but it was through a lot of hard work, being consistent and persevering through challenges.”

Q: What are the biggest obstacles preventing Latinos to purse CS-related careers?
JH: “There is a fundamental lack of awareness about the value of computer science and related job opportunities in the Latino culture. My extended family lives in the Los Angeles area, and I watched as my cousins entered lower-paying service jobs (restaurants, landscaping, cleaning) because they did not get any encouragement or guidance to aim higher. The idea of pursuing a career in computer science is not on the radar because many kids do not know any computer scientists and lack an understanding of how CS is foundational to the global economy. If parents communicate that college is too expensive and they are unable or unwilling to pay for it, kids are likely to be discouraged and not apply to college, missing out on potential scholarship opportunities.

Q: What is being done to increase more diversity in Silicon Valley?
JH: “Events like LOFT Summit are great because they bring together a diverse group of people that share a common Hispanic heritage. It was an awesome experience to be asked to help HHF and Infosys Foundation USA to inspire Latino youth to aim high. It was good to know about what Infosys Foundation USA is doing to help the community learn more about CS Education. After my presentation, several people came up and shared how their stories were similar to mine and we exchanged emails. I even got to meet a young woman from my hometown of Morelia who is studying in Salinas, CA. Some of the participants that day wrote me e-mails to tell me how much they enjoyed my speech. That was personally very inspiring and I continue to encourage them over email.

Going forward, I would like to reach out to youth in Mexico as well as the Latin@ youth in the Bay Area to encourage more teens to study computer science, help them see the whole picture about where CS can take them, then also guide them to not lose hope or give up. I’m a living example---if you really like something, you can figure out ways to keep going forward to learn and improve yourself.