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.
Where the incredible Jasmine Fuego gave us some much needed morning healing.
Irma Olguin’s Keynote had me Crying and Laughing
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.
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!*