Mainframers are no strangers to hard work, dedication, and persistence, nor are they unfamiliar with how to work as part of a larger team. Hispanics in technology embody many of these traits and are pushing for stronger organizations and teams in an industry where they are in the minority. Forbes revealed that in 2019, the high-tech sector is comprised of just 8% of Hispanics, even though they accounted for 18% of the U.S. population. Catherine Treviño, Z hardware technical brand specialist at IBM, and Veronica Gilliard, deputy director of platform services at the California Department of Technology's Office of Technology Services, share their experiences in the technology sector, the value of their heritage in the work they do, and the advice they have for incoming Hispanics.
Discovering Their Passion for IT
According to Treviño, her love of computers started at a young age. Her father was an IT worker who traveled to different offices in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas to repair computers. "I kind of grew up with monitors and keyboards everywhere," she says. Her fascination with technology evolved into a love of not only hardware, but also computer engineering and coding. "I feel like technology was everywhere for me in high school, and I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to be a part of that innovation and the future," she explains.
When in high school, Treviño thought she'd head to college as a computer engineering student, and "code all day in my pajamas for the rest of my life," she says. But upon arriving at the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley, she became interested in computer architecture and microprocessor development and became a student instructor for digital systems, which incorporated a lot of transistor level logic. What she loved about computer engineering was how the hardware worked and its intersection with computer science, learning not only the fundamentals and the circuits, but also how to speak to the computer in its own language.
In contrast, Gilliard didn't know what she wanted to do for her future career. "If you asked me in high school ‘what would your future be,’ I would not have said, ‘working in technology,’" she says.
In college, she didn't major in computer science, but instead concentrated on her general education classes. "I did take a programming and an introduction to computers course in college. When I landed a job with the state of California, I made the decision not to complete my degree," she recalls. "I've been fortunate to work my way up through the ranks with the help of my mentors, my work ethic, and my ability to solve problems." Now, she's working toward one of her personal goals: completing a degree in management information systems.
In her work with the state, Gilliard has worked with different systems. "But with the mainframe, one of the things I find intriguing is that there are so many different components to the platform that you can explore (CPU/Storage, security, network connections, operating system, and software)," she points out. "I see the platform as a catalyst for organizations to run highly secure, containerized, and open-sourced workloads at high performance levels and within a highly secure infrastructure."
Treviño points to her dad as a major influence in her career decisions, noting that he persuaded her to take a look at IBM as a possible place to start her career. "When he was younger, IBM was all the rage," Treviño says. "It has such a huge legacy, being around for a century or more." She adds, "My dad always joked, 'it would be so cool if one of my kids worked at IBM.'" When Treviño was nine, her father took her to New York to see IBM, and when she applied, she says her applications were rejected more than 30 times. She started her career with another chip design company before an IBM recruiter reached out about joining an IBM team as an intern. "It was a very roundabout way to get my foot in the door at IBM," she recalls. "I'm happy that I stayed persistent. Persistence is definitely key."
Hispanic Culture Is an Asset for Career Growth
Hard work is something Treviño and Gilliard are both familiar with, as this trait is a key part of their Hispanic culture. Treviño clarifies, "I'm third generation Mexican. My grandparents came from Mexico for the American dream. They made their way by putting their head down, doing the best they could, and working hard."
Gilliard also credits her Hispanic culture and upbringing. "The Hispanic culture has had a tremendous impact on my upbringing," she says. "We believe in a strong work ethic, to keep your head down and do your job, and to help others along the way. I was raised with all of these traits, which helped me grow and become the person I am today."
Treviño explains, "I think that's what helped me stay strong in this field because there were a lot of times where it was hard or I felt like the work wasn't for me. Like, can I actually do this?" Self-doubt can lead to imposter syndrome. "I think we shouldn't be blaming the flower for the conditions of the garden, right? You should understand that you are not an impostor. You are supposed to be there. But if you feel like you are not fitting in, look outside in your environment and see what can change, because I know something similar definitely happened to me in my role," she says.
According to Gilliard, her work ethic showed her mentors that she was a capable employee. "They were willing to give me an opportunity in technology," she says. "I started out as a key data operator before moving to a computer operator position — this was my first exposure to the mainframe — and then as a help desk analyst. Eventually, I became a mainframe systems programmer, moving up to where I managed the mainframe branch. Now, I'm managing a division that includes Windows, UNIX, and mainframe technologies."
Treviño credits her culture with helping her push through tough moments. "Just having pride in yourself and doing the hard work can help, and everything else will follow," she says. "I also learned that you have to advocate for yourself, making sure that people know who you are, know your name, and understand what you're doing." Treviño also points out that advocating for yourself is particularly important when it comes to raises and promotions.
"Women have to get out of their comfort zone to advocate for themselves," she says. "It's something they can gain confidence in doing when they have a community around them. For instance, the more people I surround myself with that have done hard things, the more I find I can replicate that success and follow their trail." Treviño says she loves to see more women lifting themselves and others up. "I'm a huge advocate for women's empowerment because having that sisterhood makes the hard stuff seem a bit easier."
Gilliard agrees. "By working hard, sharing information, and empowering others, I've been successful, and I've mentored others along the way," she adds. "I'm only as successful as my team members." As a leader, Gilliard says, "It's important to show my team members that I'm willing to work side-by-side with them, and that I will be with them every step of the way. Whether it's at 2 a.m. or during the normal work day, if they need me, they know I will respond. Leading by example is important in mentoring others."
Build More Than a Network: Surround Yourself With Community
Treviño says that IBM has been very supportive and has its own “Hispanics at IBM” group that supports its members. "We talk a lot about promotion and self-advocacy. I've also learned that you can't do it alone, that it takes a village. So, having mentors and sponsors is important," she says.
Treviño also belongs to the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), which taught her that there are multiple paths leading to the same goal. "Having these support groups and these communities can help other Hispanics in tech feel at home because you don't feel afraid and the atmosphere is inviting and welcoming." Whether at SHPE or IBM, Treviño says, "You can just ask anyone for 15 minutes of their time to learn about their journey or ask for advice."
Gilliard also is very active in her local Hispanic community. She's a board member of the Sacramento chapter of the nonprofit Latinas in Tech organization. "With only about 2% of technology workers from the Hispanic community, the organization's mission is to meet with the local community and discuss what opportunities exist in the technology sector," she explains. "We help them explore how to get into the field, we host job and technology fairs, and we provide resume review and other resources to those who are interested in exploring a technology career."
As a member of the STEM Equity & Success Initiative (SESI) program at Sacramento City College, Gilliard has developed relationships with the computer science departments within the local college community (Sacramento State University, American River College, and Sacramento City College). "Through these relationships, I've been able to help mentor the community on the many benefits of working within technology," she says.
These groups aren't just about career advice. According to Treviño, the groups she works with also host different events about new technologies from vendors and invite small and medium-sized enterprises to talk about new advancements in technology. IBM also hosted a Latinos of Impact webinar series that brought women in tech to the forefront of the conversation. Treviño believes that educating fellow Hispanics can give them a leg up in promotions and help them explore new career paths. Additionally, a number of groups hold events that celebrate Hispanic culture, food, and music, as well as Hispanic book clubs, where members can kick back and have a good time. "These are bonding moments with peers that can transcend the workplace," she says.
Be Brave, Take Risks, and Grab Hold of Opportunity
Treviño's mentors and communities have pushed her to see herself as a leader, particularly as an advocate for diversity and inclusion going forward. She advises, "Say 'yes' to opportunity because it can lead to a domino effect of invaluable experiences. And be brave. Believe in your abilities. Never be afraid to ask for help."
Gilliard agrees that seizing opportunities as they come along is sound advice, but she also says you need to "develop your network, find your mentors." Further, she says that more people should talk about their own failures. "Talking about failure and risk is one thing that hasn't been touched on. I see both as important aspects of any job. Without risk and failure, how can you grow? The lesson from these experiences is finding what you should have done differently to change the outcome," says Gilliard.
Technology will always evolve, and those who work in the sector need to do the same, according to Gilliard. Hard work, persistence, and community are the hallmarks of any multi-layered and inclusive team, and Hispanics are just one untapped demographic for the mainframe sector. When entrepreneurial and hard-working Hispanic individuals enter the technology sector, greater enterprise success can only result.