By DeVry University
Blanca Leon-Carter has enjoyed tinkering with technology since childhood, but had you told her as a young girl that one day she would be a Salesforce Consultant for Slalom and a Salesforce MVP she might not have believed you. “I would dream about a job like this, but would struggle to fully conceptualize it,” says Leon-Carter, a graduate of DeVry University and it’s Keller Graduate School of Management. “That’s why it matters so much to see others who look like you in your field, so you can learn about opportunities you may have not had the chance to see in the community or culture you grew up in.”
For this reason, Leon-Carter strives to support Latinas in tech who want to pursue technical careers but may not know where to start. Read on for her tips and tech career advice to help you launch (or further develop) your future in technology.
Launching Your Tech Career
Leon-Carter started working in technology because she fell in love with computers as a teen, but never expected to pursue a career in the field. Growing up, she didn’t actually own a computer until some family friends gave her family one as a gift, which immediately captured her interest.
“I am of Latina descent—we’re Mexican,” Leon-Carter says. “I am fourth generation—born and raised in Chicago—but no one in my family was into tech. I was the only one.”
She’s been dedicated to developing her education and skills in technology since high school—first as a teen at DeVry Advantage Academy, then later as a graduate of DeVry’s Bachelor’s in Computer Information Systems and Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) degree programs. She earned both her undergraduate and graduate degrees while raising a child on her own and working full-time.
Today, she feels incredibly proud of her success but understands that progress can’t stop with herself. “I really do feel that everyone can be an ally to somebody,” Leon-Carter says. “You can help people work out some of the issues you may have had to face early on. There aren’t enough allies in the world, so I’d like to be one.”
Whether you’ve loved technology since you were a kid or recently decided to explore the field, here are six pieces of tech career advice Leon-Carter used to achieve her own personal goals:
1. Connect with Other Latinas in Tech
Developing new relationships with people who share your cultural perspective and experiences can be a gateway to new opportunities, according to Leon-Carter. She knows this from experience: While taking a Salesforce course with Rad Women, an organization dedicated to increasing the number of women in technical roles by offering volunteer courses around the world, Leon-Carter met a coach of Brazilian descent who helped her learn about new career paths she could pursue using her skills.
“She was the first Latina in tech I worked with in my lifetime—specifically Latina,” Leon-Carter emphasizes. “I had worked with women in tech, especially professors at DeVry, but I think it’s hard to conceptualize what types of roles you can fit if you don’t see other people who look like you and come from similar backgrounds in those roles. It can be difficult when you don’t know people who share similar passions and challenges that you’ve had—and I found that in her.”
Just a week into the course, Leon-Carter quit her job at the non-profit organization where she had worked for nearly two decades—a momentous decision that ultimately led Leon-Carter to follow her passion for Salesforce, which helped her earn the Slalom role she has today. Leon-Carter felt encouraged to make such a brave decision and explore new opportunities in Salesforce because of the support she discovered among her coach and colleagues in Rad Women. “I knew I needed more women like that around me,” she says.
Connecting with other Latinas in tech may broaden your perspective—and potential for success—in a similar way. To start building your network, reach out to organizations such as Latinos in Information Sciences and Technology Association (TECHLATINO) or The Association of Hispanic MBAs and Business Professionals (PROSPANICA). You can also bookmark this list of organizations and strategies for diverse professionals.
2. Build your Board of Directors
Similar to broadening your perspective among other Latinas in tech, it’s also important to build your own personal “board of directors” who can offer advice and feedback during different stages of your career. “This is not be confused with a buddy list,” says Leon-Carter. She explains, “You seriously need a team of people who are like your board of directors. Some may end up being your friends, but you should ultimately look for people who can give you constructive criticism and help you navigate career challenges and scenarios that you need advice on.”
She recommends seeking out professionals who may have more experience or knowledge than you in a particular area that you’d like to grow in. “Your board members can live in any part of the world, but they need to be people you are comfortable with and who respect you enough to look out for your best interests,” she adds. “That’s an important combination because when you have the right kind of support and the drive to take on challenges, your board can help build your confidence and open doors to new opportunities.”
3. Find Your Voice—And Don’t Be Afraid to Use It
Whether at a new job or internship—depending on the culture of the workplace—you may have to confront challenging assumptions about your race or gender at some point in your career. This can require speaking up for yourself and “having difficult conversations,” Leon-Carter explains.
What does a “difficult conversation” sound like? It can vary based on circumstances and workplace, but Leon-Carter says it often requires challenging someone’s bias related to your work or role in a company.
For instance, if you’re a woman working in IT support, and a co-worker who needs assistance asks to speak to the “tech guy” in the office, Leon-Carter says a difficult conversation may require you to “politely remind your co-worker that ‘I—the tech woman—am the person you’re looking for.’ This may sound silly, but it’s an important step in being proud of who you are and breaking stereotypes and stigma,” she says. “And there’s still a way to do it professionally.”
Other times the conversation may require more nuanced communication such as asking your manager why you were overlooked for a promotion. In that scenario, Leon-Carter encourages Latinas in tech to ask, “OK—I understand you don’t feel I was qualified enough for the promotion right now, but what specific skillset or types of work examples are you looking for to consider me qualified in the future?”
“It is so important to ask these kinds of questions because sometimes, there is no real answer,” Leon-Carter says. “Sometimes you just did not get a promotion because you weren’t the race, gender or type of person they wanted to have the job, which can be a major red flag, so you have to find a professional way to ask challenging questions. This will help you gain the information you need to determine what kind of scenario you’re in.”
From there, use this information to make informed decisions. If needed, discuss the decision with your trusted “board of directors” and professional network to make a choice that best supports your goals, even if it means finding a new opportunity or company where you feel more valued, Leon-Carter advises.
4. Be a Life Learner and Embrace Emerging Technology
One of the most exciting aspects of technology is that it’s always changing. This means “you need to become a lifelong learner,” Leon-Carter says. Resist the urge to “have all the answers” and instead get curious. Whether you’re in a job, class or internship, ask questions related to emerging technologies and challenges in your field.
“Tech is always evolving so you need to give yourself some mental space to find the areas that you’re interested in and when you find that area, you’re going to rock it,” Leon Carter says.
5. Gain Hands-On Experience
Similar to adapting a learner’s mindset, also aim to gain hands-on experience in your field. From testing IoT devices to debugging code for new software, many companies will want to know that you understand how to solve problems, Leon-Carter explains. “To be able to write the code, debug your code and get it to work well can be a make-or-break factor in qualifying for certain jobs,” she says.
That kind of hands-on training was one of the key benefits Leon-Carter experienced as a student at DeVry where she attended labs and tested new strategies during class projects. “I think learning that aspect of tech was a great benefit to DeVry,” she says. “I have friends that went to other universities that didn’t have the hands-on lab aspect to their courses and they’d graduate with a degree but still found themselves unqualified for many jobs.”
To improve your chances for success, particularly if you come from a background without much exposure to tech fields, take time to develop patience for solving and testing problems, Leon-Carter recommends.
“You’re going to hit roadblocks—guaranteed,” she says of debugging and testing tech solutions. “But it will get better and it will teach you something.”
6. Develop a Specialty
If you already work in tech but desire to grow in your career, one fresh approach that can foster growth is developing a specialty. This can be helpful for Latina professionals who wish to gain expertise to potentially leverage at a new company or within consulting. That’s precisely how Leon-Carter developed the skills needed for her Salesforce role at Slalom after leaving the non-profit where she worked for nearly 20 years.
“When I resigned, I knew I had to get specialized,” she says. Although working on a broad range of projects at the non-profit made Leon-Carter incredibly adaptive, she realized she could attract better career opportunities by strengthening her skills in one specialty.
“I really liked Salesforce when I implemented it at the non-profit,” she says. “So I decided that if I’m going to get specialized, Salesforce encompasses all facets of technology that I enjoy.”
Even if you’re still in school or planning to pursue your degree, Leon-Carter recommends developing a specialty if you already know the field of technology you desire to work in. “And if you’re not sure what area of technology you want to work in, then pursue a more general tech degree, get a taste of the field, then see which waters you like the most.”