An update on Week 1 of Zoom University

10 Apr

It’s Friday morning and this week has felt like it has lasted FOREVA! Yesterday I had a moment of panic not being able to remember if it was Wed or Thurs until I remembered that I had just done Wed lectures. You know your life has changed fundamentally when you mark the days with which zoom lectures you’ve attended. 😅

Earlier this week I wrote a guide  To (now Online) College Students – You need a plan to succeed taken from my experience juggling being a mom to three girls, being a partner, cleaning, cooking, and being a full time student at Stanford University majoring in Computer Science.

Now that I’ve had my first 5 days of #zoomuniversity let’s dive in and talk about the good, the not so good, and the I wish this quarter was over.

The Good

I’ve kept up with my notes checklist and have tried to be kind to myself. I haven’t had a day where I didn’t work hard and yet I still feel behind. The things is some days I am super productive but half of that productivity goes to caring for my household and mom duties so I feel like I didn’t get enough done school wise. But you know what, I’m effin killing it.

Checklist for Wednesday: Look at that productivity!

Checklist for Wednesday: Look at that productivity!

Overall keeping a Google calendar and a checklist is going well. I just found out that Google Calendar has a sidebar with a task list if that’s more your jam but the task goes away once you check it off and well, I want persistent proof if what I did! 🙂

Celebrate Your Successes!

The Day 90 comment you see is my 90 days of not drinking. I didn’t really take a moment to celebrate that and I should – it’s a big accomplishment. I was using alcohol to numb pain from past trauma and at the back of my head I always feared that I would become an alcoholic like both of my parents. So the decision to go dry and to invest that time and energy into therapy and healing has been my biggest 2020 win.

Advocate For Yourself

Shout out to Engineering Professors Who Have Empathy + High Emotional Intelligence

At this point I have emailed all of my professors my education accommodation letter (here known as your OAE letter) and a note on my circumstances. Below is an email I sent:

Screen Shot 2020-04-10 at 9.18.34 AM

Email to professors re: my circumstances and asking for extensions over weekday deadlines

I was incredibly appreciative that they quickly responded. I won’t post their response to respect their privacy but they followed the below:

This is How You Should Respond to Your Student During This Time of Uncertainty

  • Acknowledge that their situation is challenging
  • Ask clarifying questions about how you can best help them
  • Reassure them that you are more than happy to be flexible and do what you can to ensure that they succeed
  • Follow through

That’s it. It’s not that hard.

Sadly, not all professors have responded in that manner and it pains me that I have to keep following up. My next step – since I won’t give up on advocating for myself – is to reach out to my advisor and office of accessible education coordinator to explicitly ask for extensions for assignments that are assigned and due on weekdays without a weekend in between. Some people won’t help you unless you make them. It shouldn’t have to be that way but sadly that’s the reality for a lot of people in power.

If there was ever a moment to follow the “Squeaky Wheel Gets the Oil” mentality – this is it! We’re in a pandemic, I’m about to follow Ms Londynn B’s example and bring it like:

*youtube video of Londynn B singing One Day – I don’t want no Problems*

The Not So Good

How do I balance being a family caretaker while going to school full time?

unnamed

Valentina, my 3yo, doing youtube preschool – That FACE says it all

A real challenge has been figuring out a balance of caring for my 3yo while attending live Zoom lectures (I have about 7 HOURS of lectures on M/W/F), taking notes, keeping up with dense readings, cooking, showering and looking human, and being there for my teenage daughters. I’m not going to lie – it’s been rough.

My 3yo doesn’t understand why we can’t play and cuddle all day if I am sitting right there in front of the computer. I’ve tried to make a 2 hour rule where every two hours I spend up to an hour with her doing ballet, phonics, going on walks, and just being there for her. But as you can expect, with all of the lectures, sections, readings, and HW’s I feel like I’m running a marathon every single day.

What has kept me going is that SO FAR I am still above water and that I’m down one week – 8 to go. Check in with me next week after all my psets and quizzes are due >_<

I’ve reminded myself that I am an incredible parent and that I am carrying a much heavier load than most and that all I can do is try my best. Love yourself and your efforts. This isn’t a time where you have to thrive – getting by as well as you can is an incredible feat PERIOD.

My Weekends are Meaningless 

In order to “succeed” this quarter, and by succeed I mean pass all my classes and absorb as much as I can, I have to work every day. No weekends. That’s a bitter pill to swallow but unfortunately this is a time when I have to make sacrifices. I’m working from 8 AM – midnight with “breaks” in between to do all my mom duties. If I don’t do a bulk of work on weekends there is no way that I can get all of my schoolwork done.

Working Out – Ms Mariah Carrey Says It Best

*gif with Mariah Carey shaking her head. Text: I don’t hear you, I don’t see you, You don’t exist to me”

I have nothing else to say on that.

Week 1 And I Wish This Quarter Was Over

I’m not going to lie, I wish we were done with school for the year. It’s rough not being around friends, not sitting next to them in lecture and exchanging looks, tips, and smirks as needed. And that’s coming from an ambivert closer to introvert side.

Follow Up With Friends – A Text From You Might Be Just What They Need

As humans, we have a tendency to center ourselves and feel like we are the only ones going through it. We isolate ourselves and wallow in our despair.

But this is a GLOBAL Pandemic. We’re not alone. Reach out to your loved ones – those that bring you joy.

I’ve been texting close friends to both check in on them and to maintain the relationships that I cherish. People are setting up all kinds of slacks and zoom meetups but I’ll be honest – I don’t have the energy to make new friends. Leaning on and being there for existing strong friendships is what serves as a salve when I need a meaningful connection to those outside of my home. Do what helps you!

Focus on What You Can Control

I want to end with reminding you (and me!) that there is only so much under our control. Don’t stress the small stuff – assess what you have to do, what you can do, and move forth.

My guiding thoughts these days:

  1. Prioritize schoolwork that is due soon – we want to graduate y’all!
  2. It is okay to give 80% to one class, 75% to another, and 100% energy to the courses that you want to absorb and that will help you professionally. These percentages will change week to week – do what you gotta do!
  3. When I feel like I can’t do this – reach out to those that will uplift me
  4. Lead with positive energy and mentality. Getting stuck in the – how am I going to do all of this mentality helps no one. Take it a bit at a time, chip away. One step at a time.
  5. Some days I will not be able to do any of the above. I will be kind to myself on those days, try to get some tiny task done and call that day a win and know that I will feel better tomorrow.
  6. We are all struggling.
  7. This will pass

Find your guiding thoughts, mantras, whatever keeps you going. And remember:

The mere act of living through a pandemic while going to school, caring for others, working, etc. IS A MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENT and we should all get an A on all of our coursework just by completing the course!

As always with much love and strength,

Susana

To (now Online) College Students – You need a plan to succeed

5 Apr

In the midst of the pandemic, first responders are struggling to keep our fellow Americans healthy; service workers have lost wages and tips; many of us are or will face the loss of a loved one; and many of us are trying to figure out how to keep the fridge stocked and a roof over our heads. Those are all incredibly difficult and life altering problems.

And so is the real issue of dealing with an education system that has moved online. For many students in the US, this will be the first experience with online learning or #zoomuniversity. As a former community college student (and many times failed online school student – side eyeing you Kaplan), I’ve juggled raising a family as a single mom, working 50+ hours at a high stress job, and taking a combination of in-person and online coursework. So I like to think I know a thing or two about the matter.

Making a plan that works for you – and how to interact with that plan to set yourself up for success

There’s several apps and tech out there but I like to keep it fairly simple. I make use of Google Calendar, iOS notes app, and sticky notes. My tips below:

  • Google calendar
  • Keeping up with the Lecture Schedule + Study Groups
  • HW, Quiz, Exam release dates + deadlines
  • The art of note-taking and asking questions
  • iOS notes app
    • Daily checklists
    • Check in with yourself
    • Journal
  • sticky notes on my display screen

Google Calendar: What to Add and Why

This is a tricky balancing act. Add too many items to your calendar and you will have an anxiety attack just looking at all the deadlines. Don’t add enough and you risk missing an important deadline or lookahead for exam studying.

Lecture Schedule

Personally I add lecture times or the time when the pre-recorded lecture will be up. Either way for the time window I include the length of the lecture plus an additional 15-30 minutes (depending on class content) for pausing and rewinding. This allows me to see the pockets of time that I have to dedicate for each class and I can “reschedule” it to another day or time when I know I can focus on content digestion.

Keeping up with lecture: The merry-go-round that never stops

Ay. We’ve all been there: class is recorded, we have overlapping classes, and we PROMISE ourselves that will catch up on the weekend – always on that mythically eternal long weekend that somehow always flashes before our eyes in a second with no progress on lecture. Before you know it, it’s two days before an exam and you’re are binging on lecture videos trying to LEARN new content instead of reviewing something that was taught weeks ago. Don’t fall victim to this vicious cycle – it never ends well.

Lecture Accountability: Form Study groups

What has worked best for me is setting up study groups pronto! More than one – including with people you don’t know. I use groupMe, group texts, Slack to communicate with different study groups. I then schedule days when we will go over HW problems (which rely on lecture) so that I HAVE to be ready. There’s nothing like the pressure to stay up to date because you want to help your friend out with their questions – it should always be a give and take dynamic.

The Art of Note-taking: How to Absorb content while viewing a video + Post on Piazza with my name (Not Anonymously)

I download the lecture slides (if available – all online classes should be required to have slides) onto my iPad. Before I saved for my iPad, I used to print out the slides (I am so, so, so sorry mother earth) and write notes on the pages.

With my iPad I can now follow along with the video and pause the video when I have question or am unclear on what was said. I note the time of the video and write what my question is. I continue with the lecture if this doesn’t stumble me up for the remaining content and see if my question is answered. If not then I post on piazza or whatever student Q&A platform the class uses and note what I am referring to (both content summary and timestamp of video) and state how I understand it (so prof has an opportunity to explain it further or differently if I misunderstood) and ask my question.

I publish questions with my name – not anonymously. Why? Because fellow students are more likely to answer a question if there is a name attached – that’s just human nature, and because someone I know or knows of me will be even more inclined to give an in-depth question. I had a CS class in which I made it my mission to give in-depth answers to all questions but especially to those posed by Latinx / Black students. Sue me.

Find the ways in which note-taking works best for you but know now that an online class will require more effort to master the content.

HW, Quiz, and Exam Dates

I add when a HW/Quiz/Exam is out and when it is due. That way I can see if I have multiple classes with the same deadline. I then reach out to my counselor, Office of Accessible Education coordinator, and professors – in that order so that I can see what accommodations are available to me, ask for those accommodations and get appropriate documentation if needed, and then email the professor and lead TA with a blurb on my specific situation, a specific ask, and attach the documentation.

If you’re floundering from day 0 because you have a lot on your plate (caring for children, parents, siblings, working, etc.) please follow the above. There is no reason that we should suffer alone and quietly. Squeaky wheel gets the oil is something you need to embrace as needed.

iOS notes app: checklists are my jam, journaling, inspiration

I use my notes app for pretty much everything. During a quarter I aim to post every day with a list of TODO items using the checklist feature.

Below is an example of recent posts. As you can see I forgot the tomatoes and I need to charge my phone 🙂

 

An example of my TODO list
I have been eating a lot of cheeze-its. We’re in a pandemic – don’t judge me!

What the Checklist is for – and what it Shouldn’t do

More importantly, you will notice that I don’t get through everything on my list in one day. Completion of tasks within the day is NOT the point. The point is to keep an inventory of TODOs, prioritize accordingly, and carryover anything that wasn’t done to the next day. No judgement. This is meant to help you – not make you feel worse.

You will also note that I include the mundane (grocery shopping), along with school work. I have one day where everything I did centered on cleaning and errands. Celebrate everything you accomplish because it is exactly that, an accomplishment. There will be days when you are too tired *raises hand*, too depressed *raises hand*, too busy with caring for loved ones *raises hand*, too whatever to do the schoolwork that has to get done. Be prepared for that. It doesn’t make you a failure, it makes you human – especially since at minimum you are dealing with stress induced by the pandemic and all the changes and uncertainty that it brings.

Journaling – I was terrible at it until…

You guessed it, I used my notes app. I’ve tried to buy pretty stationary, notebooks, blogs *yes this blog – stop judging me!* to establish a daily-ish journaling practice and it just never took. A few months ago I started some intense trauma therapy and to stay anchored and document my progress and state of mind I started jotting down notes under each day. Things like, how I felt when I woke up (e.g. feeling groggy, good / bad sleep, # hrs of sleep), how I felt that day (e.g. a good day, in a funk, a really bad can’t get out of bed day). I included workouts I did – never what I didn’t do. What I cooked that day, a memory I made that day w/ friends or fam, etc.

These check-ins lead to the practice of self-awareness and introspection – one of the most powerful skills you can hope to develop. It also allows you to look back and question false statements such as “I was so lazy this week.” Were you lazy? Or were you just dealing with extra shit that week? This has helped me identify what triggers my anxiety and depression – also a very powerful and life-altering skill.

There are no rules – jot down what you want!

Inspiration

If you ever need an idea for a startup, social justice issue you should care about, or a poem – I got you. I write these down too. But I keep these in separate notes. I love being able to reference these to undo “writers block”, get a brainstorm for CS group research projects going, etc.

Sticky Notes! Printouts! —> Physical Inspiration Board

Before being a full time student at Stanford, I was the Global Business Development Lead for the Technology Transactions & IP Group, Data Privacy Group, and the Life Sciences Industry Group at a top three law firm. Yeah it’s a mouthful and it was a lot. To keep me from losing my mind from all the deadlines, being the only Latina in the entire department, working in all white spaces in a corporate setting, reporting to some very childish and a-holy personalities (though also some incredibly supportive and amazing partners who I owe a lot to and learned a lot from), and to keep pushing myself to achieve more I kept an inspiration board. Well that’s a stretch.

What I did was print out articles of bad ass mujeres achieving despite their circumstances and graphs and visuals on tech trends; maintained a white board with my upcoming high level strategic goals, handwritten messages from colleagues, silly drawings, and sticky notes all over my screen with sayings like – “Remember Who You Are”, “You’ve Been Through So Much Worse”, “Look at You Miss Chingona – Get it!” and the such. I loved that board. It kept me rooted in who I was, where I came from, and most importantly where I knew I was going. It reminded me that even though I ‘just had a HS diploma’ that I was keeping up and outrunning colleagues who had advanced degrees from Ivy Leagues.

These days, I remind myself how far I’ve come since taking my first introductory CS class. How far I’ve come since the shitty childhood I had in Boyle Heights / East Los, the trauma, the abusive relationships, being a single mom at 23 to two toddlers in LA without help from anyone, all the shit I had to crawl through to get to where I am. I told you I was a chingona. 😉

Osea – Be your own cheerleader

So use these sticky notes to be your own cheerleader. Because no one, absolutely no one should be a bigger cheerleader for you than you are for yourself. Because there will most likely be moments (and at times repeated long periods) when you fail, when you feel that you have fallen into a hole so deep and dark that no one sees you anymore and from which you don’t see a way out. In those moments, that’s when you can tap into that inner cheerleader and urge yourself to take it a day at a time, un poquito a la vez, because this is what your new measure of success may be – Am I a little further (no matter how much) than I was yesterday? Sometimes you will feel like you walked back, other days like you didn’t move at all, but there will be days that you advance. Un Dia a La Vez. 

TLDR / In Conclusion

Be prepared. Make a plan. Continuously check in and update that plan. Find what works for you and adapt accordingly. Check in with yourself – not just academically. Be kind to yourself. Know that You will get there and You will be cheerleading yourself on the whole way.

Like I love to say, we have to Take Life By the Horns and Make it Your B!tch! 🙂

A Perspective: What a Canceled Commencement Ceremony means to a First Gen College Student

23 Mar

I knew that life was going to fundamentally change when reports of COVID-19 projected a global pandemic but like many Americans, I tried to shut my eyes to it as I continued with life. In the eve of Winter quarter finals, my life was consumed by long hours of work at Huang basement, raw emotions, and constant sleep deprivation. I was carrying 19 units with four computer science classes and to keep from breaking down I willed myself to take it one day at a time whispering to myself that I was almost there.

What kept me going was knowing that Spring quarter was almost here. Spring quarter embodies hope, a calm over the campus, photoshoots of senior fountain hopping, and bodies browning under the gorgeous California sun as they study in the lawn in front of Green library. And this Spring quarter would also mean accomplishing a goal long deferred.

My life has taken many turns; three and a half years ago it took a turn up as 14 years after graduating from high school I had the privilege of going back to school full time as an undergrad studying CS at Stanford University. With thick skin and mental strength acquired by experience I was better equipped than my Latinx / First gen peers but in many ways, being a non-traditional transfer student (and a mom to three girls), I was even more of an outsider, even more of a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.

Walking across that stage and getting that degree would mean it was all worth it. So when Stanford confirmed all of our fears and officially canceled our commencement ceremony, it didn’t just hurt us, it didn’t just dash our dream –  it dashed the dreams of our parents, our siblings, and for some of us that of our children.

I know that I will still get my diploma and that I will be okay. But it still feels like we have been robbed of a moment – our moment, to give our parents the greatest source of pride seeing their first generation American, brown, children thriving in a four year institution and being celebrated along with white American children as equals.

Because just as this was all worth it to us in order to get that degree, for our parents: the sacrifice of immigrating to this country with nothing but the sweat and labor of their hands; the fear of living in this country and contributing to its economy while undocumented; the desaprecios from their employers; the humiliation of having to continually rely on their children to explain it in Spanish; the unceasing ache in their bent necks as they walked through life with eyes downcast – it was all going to be worth it the moment they heard their child’s name called out and saw them walk across that stage, diploma in hand. Heads held high, broad smiles with aching cheeks, tears brimming, and dressed in their Sunday best – our parents would feel the pulse of their rich cultural history and ancestry emerge. They would sheath their too-long practiced peasant shyness and would look up and exclaim to all that could hear, “That is my Susy! That is my daughter.”

And when with heavy hearts we called our parents to tell them the news, they quickly without missing a beat, responded, “Mija, we are so proud of you. The graduation doesn’t matter. What matters is, que tú luchaste mija, tú lo hiciste!” And we smiled through the phone swallowing the lump in our throat knowing how much it very much did matter.

So when we say that missing out on a graduation ceremony is bigger than us, this is what we mean: We lost the opportunity to elevate our parents the way they have carried us on their shoulders our whole lives.

And while in the big picture this remains just another consequence of a terrifying global pandemic, to those of us who grew up in a small, restricted, and confined existence, this was our biggest picture.

 

Let’s Talk Tech Interview Anxiety

31 Jan

Your resume is beautiful, readable, and within the limit. You have polished that resume until it shines so bright it blinds you with your dazzling achievements.

Rosie Perez strutting into a room

You’ve been to countless career fairs where you’ve continually broken through your introverted + imposter syndrome tendencies to talk to the engineers + recruiters and convince them that they need your resume.

gif: pick me

And then it happens. You get a call / email inviting you to add your calendar availability to schedule your first interview. And you want to book the furthest away possibility because – you’ll totally have more time to study. But really you just want to avoid it.

gif: man hiding in car

It’s like you forgot that this is what you wanted.

So What Happened? And How Can You get through it?

First off it’s perfectly normal to be nervous. If it didn’t mean anything, then you wouldn’t care. My therapist put it beautifully when they said, “A balance of preparation and a little nervousness is healthy. You don’t want to not be nervous at all because then you won’t prepare. But you also don’t want to worry too much because then it’s too overwhelming to prepare.” [paraphrased by me]

When I first heard this I was like Wait What? I hadn’t considered that ‘worry’ could be a good thing. That ‘worry’ was an emotion that when moderate could motivate good behavior.

Or that ‘worry’ while being a strong emotion is an emotion that runs its course if given time.

IMG_2996

But when we avoid it, that ‘worry’ grows because we never face it long enough for it to run that course. So we learn to only avoid. And our fear of the unknown grows. And we get locked in a series of crashing and overwhelming emotions – so overwhelming that we can’t even think about it.

IMG_2997

We close our own door. We don’t try. Because if we don’t try, we can’t get rejected right? Wrong, we are being rejected by default. We are in essence, rejecting ourselves. And this is a vicious cycle that invites harsh, unhealthy, and unhelpful self-critique. Doesn’t that sound exhausting???

So What Can We do?

I’ll give you a recent example. Because of many reasons I get incredibly anxious as an interview nears. I try to cancel, postpone, convince myself that I don’t want this or need this, that this is a terrible idea because why would I work for x company?! I come up with incredibly convincing stories that all say the same thing: Don’t try, it’s not worth it.

But what I’m really telling myself is: I’m not worth it.

And I recognize that voice. That’s an old voice. A voice that has harmed me for years and whose power grows when I listen to it, when I affirm it.

But let’s take a step back. Put yourself in the shoes of the listener and the speaker is your daughter, sister, best friend, someone you love. They share their struggles with imposter syndrome, with that voice that says that they won’t succeed. What do you say to them?

You are worthy. You will succeed.

Then you problem solve with them.

  • What is the worse that can happen?
  • How likely is that to happen?
  • What are you afraid of?
  • What do you struggle with?
  • Is that an immutable situation or can you do something about it?
  • What can you do?

Here’s a walk through of my answers to the above:

  • That I will go blank, prove that I am stupid and that I know nothing.
  • Not very likely, I will at the very least be able to solve some of the problems and be able to answer most questions.
  • To confirm I will fail.
  • I feel ‘cold’ every time I interview.
  • No, it’s not immutable. Yes, there is something I can do about it. *Side note: This will be your answer 99% of the time.* 
  • I can set aside a few minutes each day to attempt interview questions. I can carve out an hour on the weekend and create a roadmap of what I want to master.

Reframe the Situation

And most importantly, I can bet on myself and move forward with the interview. That sounds easy but it’s the hardest part right? Some tactics I find helpful is to reframe the situation.

For example, I can:

  • this interview is for practice, doesn’t matter if I get the offer or not, knowing the questions they ask in this type of interview is what matters (this doesn’t mean don’t prep – this means accept many interviews so that you can get that real time practice in)
  • this is a data point. I can assess what went well, what I struggled with / stumbled on and this will inform my study roadmap
  • this is for my community. I will document the process and blog about it to remove the stigma around performance anxiety. This is one of my favorites. 😉

Can you think of other ways to reframe this?

In Summary

La pura verdad, this sh!t is hard.

I have to walk myself through this every time. The thing is that once the interview is over I’m always like – huh okay. That wasn’t AS BAD as my imagination made it out to be.

So now we both have a road map – because you bet I’m going to come back to this time and time again. I hope that this helps you make the space to ask and answer these questions and to believe in yourself enough to put in that prep work and go for it.

Because chingados, we’re worth it!

Jennifer Lopez looking confident in a gown

Finding Community @Tech Intersections

28 Jan

Finding spaces where you feel welcome and understood can be hard for many of us. We come from a diverse set of experiences and at times that can make it really hard to relate to others which can lead to the feeling of being an outsider.

I spent the first two years at Stanford feeling like an alien, anxious of taking up space, and feeling emotionally raw each time someone asked me if I was a TA or grad student or what my story was.

It’s almost impossible to succinctly express who you are – all of you

I’m an undergrad senior at Stanford studying computer science in the AI track. I’m also a mom to three girls ages 3, 14, and 15. I grew up a couple blocks away from MacArthur Park and in Boyle Heights. One of my siblings is trapped in gang life. I’m first-gen and my parents still live in poverty. I tried to go to college when I graduated from high school but my three jobs only just covered my expected parent contribution without any money in my pocket and much less the ability to keep helping my family financially as I had been doing since I started legally working at 15.  I dropped out. I got married at 18. It was an abusive marriage. I was a single mom who spent her 20s doing anything to survive and give my girls a better future. I jumped into another abusive relationship. My girls and I lived in 5+ places in the span of two years, including my car before it got impounded. So you can say that while I have the privilege of walking around Stanford’s beautiful campus, I am also very tethered to my past circumstances and the present circumstances of my immediate family.

Finding Spaces Where I can lose the tension in my jaw, in between my shoulders…

Finding spaces where I don’t feel like I am an inconvenience or held at arms length is hard. Finding spaces where I can relax and feel welcome is almost impossible.

So when I find them – it’s like fireworks in my heart and an emotional salve that heals me deeply. Enter Tech Intersections.

Yesterday I got to spend my Saturday at Mills College in Oakland. The day opened in their gorgeous auditorium.

Image of Mills College's auditorium.

Where the incredible Jasmine Fuego gave us some much needed morning healing.

Irma Olguin’s Keynote had me Crying and Laughing

irma

I want all the Talks!

There were excellent talks on getting a job as a remote engineer (taking notes for when I have the privilege of hiring remote engineers), on scaling and growth, on the importance of customer service works in tech, and so many more. I wish I had Hermione’s time-turner so I could attend all three tracks at the same time.

 I had the opportunity to speak

As I was driving to Oakland on Saturday morning I started to get a sinking feeling in my stomach. What if no one showed up? Who was I kidding – who wanted to hear me speak?! I told that voice to shut up and I told myself – even if I only have one person show up, that person and I will become the best of friends and I hope that they learn some of my strategies.

I shared my nontraditional path to tech and my journey on belonging.

image of slide deck cover

 

For anyone interested, you can find my slides here: Susana_TechIntersections_PDT.

I will upload a video of my presentation (not at the conference as I sadly failed to record that). I have a recording from when I was practicing but my babe is snoring in the background. 🤣

Sharing Allowed me to reflect on everything I have accomplished

In my talk I shared my story, the importance of normalizing failure, contextualizing failure, and building a sense of community to succeed. In preparing my talk I was able to document my wins as well as reflect on how my ‘failures’ used to overwhelm me. I am able to hold those ‘failures’ and take the learning that resulted but leave behind any shame or embarrassment that was associated with it.

Failure is common – we all fail constantly – we just don’t talk about it

It also allowed me to see how my topic was relevant to many. The room was full and there was an equal split amongst my Black and Latinx hermanas. I saw nodding and the emotional reaction to the circumstances that I know are prevalent amongst both of our communities.

Biggest Takeaway: Welcoming Communities are Healing

But the biggest takeaway for me was how healing it was to be in this community. To be surrounded by Black and Latinx womxn in tech who represented a diverse set of professional / education backgrounds and who came together to celebrate and uplift each other was powerful and an experience I will hold in my heart for those tough times – until that experience is livened at next year’s Tech Intersections. I hope to see you there! *I wish I took more pictures!*

 

The Importance of Normalizing “Failure” and Looking Back – The Path to Stanford

17 Jan

Okay, get comfortable because I can tell this is going to be a long post.

Three years ago…

I was a first year at Stanford. I transferred in after attending many community colleges (a class here, a class there, or many failed attempts of trying to go back to school).

The years leading up to Stanford:

As an 18 yo HS grad -> attended Loyola Marymount University but for many reasons I had to drop out first semester.

To give you a sense of how many times I attempted to go back to school (and to see the shift in my circumstances from downward to upward), I attended:

LA all day – more like all the hell over LA…

  • Santa Monica College (at night):

I lived in Boyle Heights, worked full time for the City of LA as a clerk in downtown Los Angeles, and commuted via bus (think long ass commute) or getting a ride from my sometimes willing boyfriend at the time.

  • East Los Angeles Community College:

I was 20 + pregnant, nuff said.

  • Pasadena City College:

I was living in downtown LA, my girls were 3, and this was a few months after my separation with their bio donor. I was a wreck. Didn’t go well.

The Upturn – I made a ‘reasonable’ GOAL with Purpose
  • Los Angeles Community College

This was my first successful attempt at going back to school.  My girls were 6 & was 7. I was living in Chinatown (my first time living in an apt on my own (well with my babies) but no one else to depend on for the rent. I worked full time as a business development coordinator at a law firm in downtown LA. And I had my own car! I was still paycheck to paycheck BUT hey we weren’t homeless and we weren’t living with an abusive person so Life Was Good.

I leaned on my sister, mom, and many friends to help me with picking up my girls from their after school program one day a week so I could go to class 6 – 10pm. Don’t get it twisted, this was super stressful week to week. Peeps would commit to do it and then fail to show up.

The GOAL: I made an agreement with myself, you ever do that? Talk to yourself and be like “Okay Susana, we are not going to worry about that, let’s remember our goal. Remember the Goal: Take a class that you enjoy and see if you can complete it successfully.” It’s super helpful and centering.

I loved the comparative politics class. I purposefully chose a poliSci class bc I love me some history + politics. And I finished it with an A. When I saw my exam, paper, and final score I was so floored. I howled with happiness in my car. Hey! Celebrate + Congratulate yourself! 🎉

Left my Beautiful LA for the Bay Area 😢 😔 😞 😭  

  • Cañada College (Redwood City in the peninsula) Attempt 1!

I had recently moved to the bay area on a big fucking gamble and trust in myself that I was going to make it happen. I still impress myself for having the balls and self-belief to have done that move. I was hired by a top 3 global law firm as a TEMP coordinator to cover the coordinators in the Silicon Valley office during maternity. Yeah girl, as a temp. 

When one of the head honchos – I swear everyone and their mother interviewed me here – asked me, “Are you comfortable accepting a temporary position?” I answered, “I am confident that my work will speak for itself and either you will offer me a permanent position or I will have no problem securing offers from other firms.” BOOM lady. Heck yeah I was sh!tt!ng bricks with that job being temp and having 0 benefits – single mom ‘member! – but I took a gamble on myself.

That’s the thing right, when you’re fighting so hard to succeed, all you can think about is – just let me concentrate on getting this done and I will worry about that when I have to. It will work out. What other choice do you have?

They hired me on the spot and I enrolled my girls at an excellent school nearby. Everything good so far. I was still on a high from that A from LACC so I enrolled at the local community college in Redwood City into their College for Working Adults (CWA)program.

Side note: I didn’t know community colleges could be this beautiful!

Their CWA program is for working adults, all classes are offered in the evenings and weekends and you are guaranteed a spot – no waiting bc a class was full. The offer several Associate Degrees – no technical ones but I will get to that in a minute.

I started enrolled in classes, started working and then the first day of classes as I was getting ready to leave a partner in the firm caught me on my way out and asked for a pitch for a new biotech client opportunity. 😧

I couldn’t reach anyone in the BD team – I was an hourly temp, not salary – and he was insistent in a way I couldn’t say no (blocked the door as he started telling me what he needed) so I called the school and let them know I wouldn’t be able to attend. Since the first attendance was mandatory, I missed that semester.

Staying on Path: Look, there will always be circumstances that try to stop you from reaching your goal. Work (that you’re trying to leave) will get in the way. Parenting. Taking care of ailing family. A bill you didn’t plan for nor have the funds for. [insert the many ways shit 💩  can hit the fan]

But the 🔑 key is that you can’t let a stumble get you down. I took stock of my circumstances and realized I was putting a lot on my plate. I altered my immediate goal to: Be a BadAss Mother Effer at work -> get hired permanently = benefits for kids and me. So I took the energy that would have gone into the missed semester and threw so much fierceness their way that I had several partners lobbying the dept to hire me ASAP. So I got hired as a permanent coordinator and ended up taking over two positions (that shit always happens to me).

The next Semester(s)

Once I had established my reputation at work, I enrolled again and started going to class Thursday evenings form 5 – 10 PM, Saturdays 9 – 3 PM, and online. I kept this up until I managed to get all the requirements to transfer to a Cal State or UC. My dream in the sky would be to go to Berkeley. My dream, dream was to go to Stanford. I didn’t share that dream with people because sometimes people – friends, colleagues, family – can be downright negative. 👎 They think they’re doing you a favor by giving you a ‘reality check’ without any knowledge to the willpower and determination you have inside.

Shining At Work + School + Parenting + Volunteering + New Relationship

I didn’t let up on going full force at work. I stayed late all the time only to go home and work again once my girls went to bed. I regularly pulled 60-70 hour workweeks. I didn’t say no to any ‘opportunity’ (i.e. more responsibility for the same pay) and made my case to get promoted.

In less than a year and a half I went from Temp -> Coordinator -> Business Development Lead for the Technology Transactions Group and the Life Sciences Industry Group. It’s a mouthful. I worked with partners in SV, SF, NY, DC, LA, London, Dubai, and Singapore. It was exhausting but also effin exhilarating. I felt like I had a career – not just a job – and now I was salary. And it was a damn good salary period, an incredible salary for someone with only a HS degree.

Staying on Track When You Smell Other Pretty Roses

I could have become complacent with the money and the career I had carved out. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But weighing on me was my desire to get my degree.

I didn’t want to continually keep proving myself to new people when they asked where I went to school. My colleagues all graduated from top schools – many from Ivy Leagues and/or had MBAs, law degrees and/or came from affluent families. They had their network, their whiteness, and their social currency to open doors wherever they went. I grew up by McArthur Park and Boyle Heights, went to under-resourced, overcrowded, and failing inner city public schools. My parents are immigrants and didn’t go beyond elementary school. They speak broken English and broken Spanish. The only inheritance they will leave me is the generational trauma and the back tax I have been paying my whole life to help them and the lump sum back tax that I will have to pay when they pass away.

I wanted to get a degree because I was too acquainted with the oppression of poverty and I was sick of people coming up with ways to say No. 

So while I kicked ass at work, I only gave it 80% (because let’s be real Our 80% is other people’s 100%). I made relationships with my counselor, the program director, my professors. I made sure everyone knew knew me so that they would want to vouch for me.

So when it came to applying time…

I almost didn’t turn in my Stanford Application 😦 

I know, right. I worked on the main essay and getting my letters of recommendation (do it way ahead of time). I thought I was giving one of the recommenders ample time but she threw a fit and complained about how I wasn’t giving her enough time. 😑 You don’t know what people have going on so try to do this months before the deadline. I write out what I wanted them to focus on to make it easier for them.

My other recommender was the senior partner at the firm I worked at. I am very proud that I earned his respect and that he respected me so much as to write a letter of recommendation (he was hoping I would go to Cal over Stanford but still wrote it!) even though it could mean me leaving.

Day of Deadline 11:30 PM

I’m not going to tell you some of the stuff that I left for the last minute bc Don’t Procrastinate! But I was filled with so much self-doubt that I started to convince myself that it was an excellent idea NOT to Apply. It cost $90 and who can toss $90? Wouldn’t it be better NOT to apply and thus not confirm that they didn’t want me?

Straight up, the only reason I hit submit was that I didn’t want to face those who wrote my letters and my fiancee at the time when I had to fess up that I didn’t apply.

So at 11:(too close to midnight I submitted) – seriously don’t do that. 

I found out I got into UC Berkeley the day after I gave birth. I was in the maternity ward hitting refresh while breastfeeding my newborn. You can read about that here. Fast forward to when I had my daughter (she was 2 weeks old) and I found out I fucking got in with an acceptance rate < 2%. You can read about that moment here.

And then she lived happily ever after 😂 🤣 😆 

No girl, with every up there’s a down. And oh have there been so many downs. But this post is long enough and I want to leave you with:

Screen Shot 2020-01-17 at 3.53.04 PM

and …. (I’ve now responded to 100+ messages)

Screen Shot 2020-01-17 at 3.53.45 PM

While I can no longer have detailed 1:1 talks, please read this excellent post with advice on the transfer process. If you have QUESTIONS, please comment on that post and I promise to do my best to answer them.

Follow Me on Twitter @susanabenavidez and subscribe to my blog! I post really long posts but I promise that they are top shelf quality 😉

Moral of the story:

Never Close Your Own Door – Apply!!

Transferring to Stanford Q&A – A student’s perspective

12 Jan

Hi! If you’re here because of this tweet, welcome!

Screen Shot 2020-01-17 at 3.53.04 PM

Feel free to read more about me in the About page but a brief intro:

I’m a senior at Stanford University majoring in CS in the AI track. I’m also a transfer student (transferred from a Cañada Community College). I’m Latinx, first-gen, and nontraditional (over 25) and a mom to three girls.

To start off PLEASE APPLY. I’ll let you in on a little secret: Every single one of us thought we wouldn’t get in because our year the acceptance rate was <2%. Pero aqui estoy!

To share information as much as possible I will list Q&A from DM’s resulting from the tweet above. While I wish everyone well, I am concentrating my efforts in increasing the number of Latinx, Black, Native American, first-gen / low income community college transfers. I respectfully ask that you not DM me on the process for grad school or frosh app (no idea). Follow me @susanabenavidez and DM me your questions.

Let’s begin! I will share the questions I’ve received and answers I provide. Please note that my answers do not in any way represent Stanford nor are legal advice nor are to be taken as official instructions of any kind. Names are removed and questions are edited for clarity.

Q. How do I event start the application process?

A. Here’s a checklist from Stanford detailing exactly what you need to submit for your application.

Q. Can I afford it?

A. I can’t answer this question for you but I can share that Stanford has been incredibly generous with me and many of the transfer students that I know. I got into UC Berkeley – you can read about that here and the financial package I got meant I had to pay several thousands of dollars even though I qualified for financial aid with a low family contribution. When I got into Stanford – you can read about that moment here I didn’t respond. It wasn’t until the transfer director contacted me to see what was going on. I told her I was waiting on financial aid because I couldn’t commit without knowing what I would owe. She checked and I got my FA letter almost immediately.

I almost screamed when I saw the generous $$$ scholarship they awarded me. It was like they made it so I couldn’t say no. My youngest was 4 months old when I started and they even provided me with a daycare stipend. It obviously doesn’t cover all of my expenses as I have a big family but it covers enough to give me peace of mind.

See here for official information from Stanford about cost / aid estimates.

Q. Do they accept transfer students out of California?

A. Yes! My transfer class had students from all over the US and an international student from Singapore.

Q. Hi Susana – I’m considering CS at Stanford!. I’m already a self-taught developer but I want to go back to school. My biggest obstacle is that I’m undocumented and low income. I’m not sure where I can find resource for my specific case. Any tips, would be much appreciated. 🙂

A. I emailed financial aid and will report back what they say (didn’t give any identifying information)

“Hi Susana, Stanford treats undocumented students as US domestic students in the undergraduate admission process, assessing their applications under the same need-blind admission policy it uses for citizens of the United States. Stanford will use institutional funds to meet the full demonstrated financial need of undocumented students who are admitted. Please share our Undocumented Student webpage with your friend and let him know that he is welcome to call our office if he has any concerns.

Our number is 650-723-3058.

Financial Aid Officer Montag Hall, 355 Galvez Street Stanford, CA 94305-6106 | T 650.723.3058”

Here is the link to the Undocumented Student webpage: financialaid.stanford.edu/undergrad/how/

Q. I received several questions that asked for general advice. I mean many of us are first-gen students and didn’t receive the guidance on how to apply to schools or that Stanford even takes transfers.

“I’m a second year (first born and gen) student at —- college and I wasn’t planning on transferring anywhere until 2021 as a —— student. I honestly never considered Stanford until I came across your tweet! I need all the orientation I could get so I was wondering if you had some pointers that I could work on for during this next year! Thank you sm.”

A. What I did:

JOURNAL Your Accomplishments:

I kept notes of everything I was involved in and did outside of academic school work:
  • Approach professors to take their honors course – some offer a contract you sign and you just have to do extra work and a research paper – apply to symposiums at Berkeley and Stanford to present your research – your counselor should have this info
  • I was a single mom so I added everything I do as a parent on top of working full time and going to school
  • I volunteered at startup orgs showing that my interest in entrepreneurship was tangible
  • I started a social media group for parents that grew into a building a new school effort, served as advertising for the Chamber of Commerce to attract families, and resulted in networking that got me my first business development job
  • I worked up the ladder in business development and highlighted my leadership position at a prestigious firm
  • I had community organizing experience, freelance writing, and showed how much I grew and survived while thriving. It’s hard to remember everything if you don’t take notes in a journal.

Your accomplishments don’t have to look like mine. The transfer class for my year was incredibly diverse and ran the gamut of life experiences. That’s the point. Stanford wants to attract a diverse community of students.

Q. How did you structure your personal statement?

A. My personal statement told a story that went something like this:

  • who I was + where I started
  • the trauma / struggles that defined my early ‘failure’
  • how I took that failure and let it motivate my next moves
  • my commitment to higher education + equality of education (my focus is edtech / CS + Social Good)
  • highlighted the turn from where I was to what I did to accomplish -> highlighted the biggest and most impressive accomplishments
  • how I would leverage my time at Stanford to reach my goals (for me, a startup in edtech / social good space)

That’s sort of the short story of how I approached my personal statement. I would share it except that my essay was deeply personable, emotionally raw, and describes trauma / abuse that I don’t want to share here quite yet.

But the higher level approach I took was – what do I have that others don’t? Why am I impressive? I took the little that life gave me as a start and turned it into mother effin magic.

Let me illustrate my point via a couple of pictures:

candAvB

ladders

Highlight the Upward Trend of your Life that demonstrates sustained growth.

How do you respond to ‘failure’? I’ve had many challenges in my life. ‘Failure’ is hard, really hard. Most people give up, settle, crumble under failure. Others take that failure, learn from it, pivot and take off to their potential. Be the latter. 

failure

In other words, I wasn’t the ‘perfect’ candidate given the early ‘failures’ in my life. But I definitely demonstrated resilience and the ability to not run away from my problems or the shame that comes with them. I owned what happened to me as well as the decisions I made. I spoke about the motivations in my life for a better life and Not Giving Up (for me my little girls). And I showed what a badass I am by letting them see the growth from where I started and what I accomplished with the little I had.

Q. Did you do any research as a community college student?

Q. What is campus life like?

A. I feel like you have to ask someone else on what it’s like as a 20 yo but from my very unique experience:

The first year was tough. It can feel incredibly isolating when you are a nontraditional student and don’t feel like you belong. I joined and took on leadership positions at Women in CS and Society of Latinx Engineers. This helped somewhat. I also took several creative writing courses and that was a great way to meet friends as the classes are tiny (~8 students v. the hundreds in my CS classes).

Eventually I worked through the belief and voice that told me I didn’t belong and worked on carving out spaces for me on campus.

Last year and this year have been incredible socially. I feel like I have friends wherever I go and I very much feel like Stanford is home.

I have done so much while on campus, the opportunities are incredible:

  • Did the Levinthal Tutorial, a 1:1 class with a Stegner Fellow and read one of my short stories to a large audience. I’ve never shared outside of small workshopping.
  • Was a Seeds of Change cohort leader where I went through Stanford’s Women’s Executive Leadership program and taught similar concepts to high school girls interested in STEM
  • Member of CS + Social Good where I took the incredible CS51/52 two quarter course where we ideated, prototyped, and then built a product as a solution posed by an edTech partner
  • Summer CS + Social Good Fellow where I interned at a tiny but powerful edTech startup. I grew so much as an engineer – I had to – I was the 2nd engineer on staff!
  • WiCS and SOLE: Met so many companies that I recruited to come speak to our members, including some very cool CEOs that I really admire
  • Moderated an event with Ellen Pao A Conversation with Ellen K. Pao, tech investor and advocate, the former CEO of reddit, and a cofounder of the award-winning diversity and inclusion nonprofit Project Include
  • Took the novel writing class and have a draft (very rough) of my first novel!
  • Presented my research at the Latinx in AI workshop at NeurIPS last month in Vancouver
  • Forged incredible relationships with CS professors that I deeply admire
  • Met my co-founder!
  • Interned at Y Combinator and Thunkable, a YC Company
  • El Centro for Friday Cafecito (Mexican sweet bread + hot chocolate / sometimes atole or champurrado YUM!)

I know I’m forgetting a lot. But you get the point, if you leverage the resources there is so much to do!

 

Silicon Valle MX

The Mexican tech scene

Lucesitas.com

Inmigracion: Intercambio de experiencias, consejos y preguntas sobre la CITA en CIUDAD JUAREZ

On the Fast Lane with the Flying Monkeys

Taking Life by the Horns and Making it Mine: Bad Ass Student, Professional, and Mother to 3

Bucket List Publications

Indulge- Travel, Adventure, & New Experiences

ChicanaBlogs

Smile! You’ve entered the poet's Blog

Flat-Footed

Surviving Los Angeles one step at a time

WordPress.com

WordPress.com is the best place for your personal blog or business site.