Archive | September, 2019

This Latina’s non-traditional path to tech: Part 0

24 Sep

I’m Susana, mom to 3 amazing daughters, Latina in tech with much to say.

I left a lucrative job in legal business development to pursue my undergrad computer science degree full time at Stanford.

Why you ask? Some may say I am a masochist but I say I am a life long learner that wanted to lead by example for my daughters and show them that fulfilling your long term goals is worth the hard work and risk.

The long story goes way back to my HS days and immediately after (which will require a separate post). The shortish overview is that I took a leave of absence from Loyola Marymount after one semester (spoiler: I never went back) to work full time and help my family, I got married soon after (them Catholic conservative parents) and had my girls at 20 and 21.

I quickly found myself living in a leaky basement illegal unit in East LA with a man that was abusive and no way to support myself and my girls.

I’ve worked since I was 14 but working and making enough to pay for childcare in addition to basic necessities was almost impossible. I applied for a city job as a clerk typist at the recommendation from a HS Economics teacher. Eventually I was able to find a way out of that dangerous situation (so many separate future posts).

Let’s fast forward to me living in downtown LA where as a side hustle I started writing human interest pieces for a local publication (for free because I strategically used it to build my brand and portfolio). Through the parents social media group I founded (creating a diverse and powerful network and augmenting my side hustle), I met an incredible supportive friend AM who believed in me and introduced me to her network. She’s done this twice for me. Both times it has been pivotal to my being here.

In 2015 I was a business development specialist at one of the top global firms where I was the Technology Transactions and Life Sciences Business Development Lead. It’s a mouthful. It’s also still one of my proudest achievements. My peers were graduates of ivy league universities and most had advanced degrees. Here I was with my High School diploma from Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights (Go Roughriders!) and I had the respect of the firm’s leadership. But it took a lot of moves and sacrifices to get there and my neck was sore from my head tapping the ceiling I’d reached.

I could have stayed there. It was a high pressure and stress environment where my professional learning was exponential. But I knew that I wanted my degree. I wanted my degree because the unfinished nature of it was ensnared in deeply painful memories, as a first-generation / low income woman of color I valued having a degree, and I understood the importance of signaling and portability.

I was enthralled with all of the pitches from startups that crossed my desk and I kept seeing a recurring and dominant profile of founders: White male grad from Stanford, major: Computer Science.

I can’t nor care to change my ethnicity, skin color, or gender but I could get a degree and it seemed like I was going to have to get it from Stanford. Major? Computer Science.

I’ll leave you with this initial seed that sparked my interest so you can get a sense of my path to tech (i.e. I have to get my three year old to sleep).

Where I’ve Been + 1st day Senior year @Stanford

23 Sep

First, I’ve been super inconsistent with posting. I’d been taking several intensive creative writing classes at school and all of my efforts was poured into those courses. But happy to get back to writing. You will see a shift on what I write about, I will still share my experiences but I will also start writing about my technical experience and journey.

This has been a heck of a year with many setbacks but also opportunities for growth and introspection and I feel ready to share.

Biggest update: I’m a senior at Stanford, as in I am only 3 sweet quarters away from having my computer science AI track diploma.

As many of you know, it has been a long road here folks. All of my courses are grad level this quarter – I love me some study groups w/ students who aren’t stuck on the high school hamster wheel of competing and lack of collaboration. I’m excited for Andrew Ng’s CS 229 Machine Learning course (this morning’s lecture – talk about natural high) and (Hi! Moses Charikar! Loved CS 221 Artificial Intelligence in the Spring), CS 230 Deep Learning course (also w/ Andrew Ng), CS 224W Machine Learning with Graphs because I mean come on talk about cool, and CS 238 Decision under Uncertainty (still trying to figure out what is not covered in this course). I have another class but one of these has to go bc go-hard type A 20 somethings may like taking 19 units but this mom of three already has a heavy load. You try raising a 3yo, 13 yo, and 14yo with those units and then get back to me. 😉

But to back up and give you some insight as to why I am so excited…

I’ve been working hard to face and work through my past traumas (and boy are there many) to meaningfully improve (not just patch which I’m great at) my mental health.

I could write a book about how difficult it is to get help as a first generation / low income Latina. There are so many hurdles to just being able to admit that you need help, that you need to slow down and really change how you cope with hurt and past memories. I’ve always been pro-mental health resources for others but for myself? It took extreme events to crack me wide open and even then I resisted. So I am proud of all of the hard work I’ve done and continue to do to make sure I am in tune with myself and with what makes me feel safe, healthy, and happy.

Earlier this summer

I was in a bad car accident on the 280 N

on the way to my internship where I collided with the cement barrier at 70+ mph when a car swerved onto my lane (the fastest lane). That collision ricocheted my 2006 Honda Accord across all lanes of the freeway (with minimal driving visibility as all airbags deployed) until the car kept going up the hillside and I thought to pull the emergency break on the way down before I reversed back onto morning traffic. I managed to climb out of my totaled car as it was smoking only to start violently shaking after a couple of steps. I looked around to make sure I didn’t hit anyone else and scanned for the other car. It never stopped, just kept going. And it’s crazy to admit but that really got to me. It hurt my feelings deeply that someone wouldn’t even stop to check if I was okay after they caused the accident. Two very kind and generous samaritans pulled over and helped me dial 911. I wish I remember their names because they did just what I needed. To take control and get help and to hold me so I wouldn’t have a full panic attack.

It took me a while to get over that accident. When I collided with the barrier I was terrified my car would flip over to the other side (and onto oncoming drivers on the 280 S) where there is a significant descent. I thought to grip and control my steering wheel but as I careened across all of the lanes in rush hour traffic I kept thinking of my girls and who would mother them if I died. I’ve experienced a few near death events in my life including being held at gunpoint a couple times but

I had never felt this kind of raw fear of dying before.

Having so much to live for makes a fucking difference, I’ll tell you that.

It was a life altering experience for me. It got me thinking about who I am and whether I am living by my principles. It made for a very vulnerable and emotionally difficult summer.

I remade the decision of not drinking.

I’ve done this before, going through dry spells to prove that I am nowhere near in danger of becoming an alcoholic like my parents. If you were raised by alcoholics, you know what I mean. The fear that you’ll end up just like them is real and can elicit feelings of shame, self-loathing, among other lovely negative self-attacks. But this time was different.

I didn’t want to keep using a drink here or there, ‘I just need a drink to unwind’, ‘I need a drink to brave this networking event’, etc. I was getting a bit too comfortable with the sentence ‘I need’ always ending with ‘drink’. So I decided to go cold turkey. First to just get a sense of being able to go without alcohol (without setting a goal bc you can’t fail if you have no goals), then to see how I coped with everything sober, then to remember that I am fundamentally someone who holds many negative associations with alcohol, and then because I feel so much more present with my family and to be honest because I like myself so much more sober. It’s hard when you get a memory flashback and you drink to drown it bc it’s too much to try to even acknowledge the memory, but then you get sad and you think of other effed up memories and you drink more so you can just sleep and forget. It’s not a good cycle and one I wanted to break. It’s been two weeks of not drinking and I am really digging the strength I have shown when these memories or my PTSD is triggered.

I feel like brave Susana again and I like that.

So here I am back on sunny campus and I feel light. I’m smiling as I bike through the engineering quad to get to class. I don’t get anxious at what a sweaty mess I am after the 4 mi bike ride.

I feel at home when I sit down on the front row with my friends and really take in that I am here, in front of Andrew Ng about to have my brain tickled with knowledge.

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