I’ve been floundering for the last x years.
When I was growing up I kinda knew I was smart. But no one ever said this explicitly. I stole bits and pieces of this information from quick glances at transcripts that said Highly Gifted, at the comments that some teachers made about my “potential”. But no one explicitly said, “Susana, we will help you reach your potential.” Or we will explain what we mean by “potential”.
Instead I heard all of the disappointments that my drop in grades in HS brought, or the silent treatment I got from my counselor following my suicide attempt my junior year. I was left to look for the scraps and pieces of hope that I would be able to amount to something academically – a feeling too similar that I received at home where I hoped to amount to anything more than what I felt I had been born to be for the molesters in my life.
It has been a long and painful road to get to where I am.
I share this because I am trying to give you a glimpse as to why I have had such a hard time building a sense of belonging. And sadly, when you don’t feel like you belong, it’s like having one foot out the door ready to take your leave because you never truly believed that you deserved a place in the room to begin with.
I have struggled so much to belong at Stanford and by extension, in tech (because the two are as intertwined as are fertile soil and water). I thought that I wasn’t smart enough. That I just wasn’t the right profile. That I was too late. That I wasn’t good enough. That it was me, and my skin color and my culture and my upbringing that didn’t afford me the privilege of blending. Of belonging.
But it wasn’t until this summer that I truly felt like I couldn’t fold myself onto the definition of a Stanford CS student that I felt myself bursting wondering what the hell was wrong with me.
I had a stressful summer. But at the end I had an awakening. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t that I wasn’t going to be able to belong, it was that I didn’t belong into the current mold. Because there was no mold for someone like me.
And I had to get comfortable with that paradigm shift.
I attended a Techqueria event at Slack. What is Techqueria? I had the same question and funny enough I didn’t find out by a Latinx member but by a fellow intern who happened to know someone on the board who went to school with her brother. The event had a panel of Latinx in tech, one of which was the amazing Josh Torres, the Latinx Tech Program Manager at the Kapor Center, and more importantly to me, the son to a single mom who went on to carve out a very successful path for herself *Josh I still want to be friends with your bad ass mom*. I reached out to Josh because his mother’s story touched me deeply, and to ask to be connected to Latinx opportunities afforded by the Kapor Center. They funded my registration to Write/Speak/Code and empowered me to attend.
I had never attended a technical conference. I had never attended an affinity conference that truly made me feel like I belonged.
Write/Speak/Code does not mess around. It is a 3 day intensive workshop that offers a curriculum for you to become a better technical writer, presenter, and contributor to open source. It also offers community and fosters a sense of belonging.
Throughout the weekend I connected with other women who had powerful stories, who uplifted me, who inspired me to remember my own story and remind myself why I was here.
Through the code of conduct that I felt was concrete and impactful, tutorials by Angie Jones, lunch with Tiffany Price *also a badass at the Kapor Center* <<clearly they know how to hire top talent>>, meeting amazing friends and sources of inspiration like Genesis and Shailvi, I truly felt like I belonged. Not only did I belong but I had so much to bring to the tech space that they didn’t even know they craved.
Following that magical weekend I was inspired to speak up. To objectively inspect what I had to offer and what my value is as a Latinx in tech, as a Latinx transfer student at Stanford, as a Latinx in AI, as the bad ass indigena mujer that I am, as the all of me unheard perspective had to offer. I have applied to various conferences and opportunities because Write/Speak/Code reminded me that the worse that can happen is that I hear no. Or nothing back at all. And that is okay.
Since then because I have put myself out there I had the honor to moderate an incredible conversation with the amazing Ellen K. Pao, I have had my Natural Language Processing paper in hate speech detection accepted at Latinx In AI workshop co-located at Neurips, and I have had my inspiration and hope for what I can do refueled by womxn that lift me up.
I can’t imagine a better return of investment (ROI) for a conference than that. So my recommendation is to attend Write/Speak/Code every chance you get because you may enter the conference wondering how these amazing women got booked for their first presentation and you may leave very well on the path of being one of them.