Meet Katya Echazarreta . The 26-year-old electrical engineer will make history when she becomes the first Mexican-born woman to travel to space .
Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Echazarreta, who moved to the United States at the age of seven, has been selected from a pool of 7,000 applicants by nonprofit organization Space Humanity to participate in “Blue Origin,” the space mission funded by billionaire Jeff Bezos.
“I am going to space!” Echazarreta recently posted on Instagram. “Ahh!!! I can’t believe I can finally write those words! So eternally thankful for [Space Humanity] for selecting me from over 7,000 applicants for this mission. I’ll be flying with [Blue Origin] on NS-21 and will get to experience the Overview Effect. As a Space for Humanity Ambassador, I plan on coming back ready to continue changing the world!”
Space Humanity responded: “We are so excited for you! And we know you’re going to be an amazing voice and advocate. Congratulations, Katya! Well deserved!”
Echazarreta is currently pursuing her master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. When she’s not studying, she is the co-host of the YouTube series Netflix IRL and shares her scientific knowledge as “Electric Kat” on the educational series Mission Unstoppable on CBS.
Joining Katya Echazarreta on Blue Origin is Evan Dick, NS-19 investor and astronaut; Hamish Harding, private jet pilot and president of Action Aviation; Jaison Robinson, co-founder of Dream Variation Ventures; Victor Vescovo, retired U.S. Navy Major and the co-founder of Insight Equity; and Victor Correa Hespanha, civil engineer, who will be the second Brazilian to go to space.
On September 10, 2022, CMD-IT and fiscal sponsor, ACM wrapped up the 2022 CMD-IT/ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference in Washington D.C. This was their first in-person conference since 2019 in San Diego, California.
The 2022 conference theme, “A Time to Celebrate! Resilience, Adaptability and Innovation in Computing,” was brought to life as over 1,700 students, supporters, presenters and volunteers came together at the Marriott Marquis and Washington Convention Center to participate in sessions, reconnect with others in the community and celebrate diversity in computing!
The CMD-IT/ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference is the premier venue to acknowledge, promote and celebrate diversity in computing. The goal of the Tapia Conference is to bring together undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, researchers and professionals in computing from all backgrounds and ethnicities in order to:
● Celebrate the diversity that exists in computing.
● Connect with others with common backgrounds, ethnicities, disabilities and gender to create communities that extend beyond the conference.
● Engage with computing leaders in academia and industry.
● Be inspired by great presentations and conversations with leaders with common backgrounds.
The Tapia conference brings together CMD-IT’s target communities: African Americans/Blacks, Native Americans/Indigenous People, Hispanics/Latinx and People with Disabilities.
The Tapia 2022 conference offered a variety of intellectually stimulating talks from leaders in computing, along with enrichment opportunities like professional development workshops, a career fair with over 100 supporters and significant opportunities for networking. The conference concluded with its usual, fun-filled dance party.
Mark your calendars for Tapia 2023 on September 13-16 at the Gaylord Texas Resort in Dallas, Texas. Join the CMD-IT mailing list to stay connected with the Tapia Community or visit tapiaconference.org for Tapia conference updates!
To create products that serve increasingly diverse customers and solve a wider range of social problems, technology companies need women engineers. However, only 25 percent of math and computer science jobs in the United States are filled by women, and one-third of women in the U.S. and China quit these jobs mid-career due to factors like social isolation, a lack of access to creative technical roles and difficulty advancing to leadership positions.
At Bloomberg, we’ve established a company culture that supports gender equality in a multitude of ways – from company-wide Diversity & Inclusion business plans to a newly expanded family leave policy. But we know that’s not enough. In recent years, we’ve adopted a system-wide approach to increasing the number of women in technical roles, taking steps to remove barriers to advancement both inside our organization and beyond Bloomberg, supporting female talent from middle school through mid-career.
While the number of women in technical jobs at Bloomberg is growing, we’re committed to making progress faster and completing all the steps needed to solve the equation. Here are some of the ways we’re tackling this important deficit – and making quantifiable change.
Bloomberg supports organizations that help increase women’s participation in STEM and financial technology, exposing students to various career options through Bloomberg Startup and encouraging our female engineers to engage with the next generation of talent.
Collaboration, creativity, and a love of problem-solving drew Chelsea Ohh to the field of engineering. Now she works at Bloomberg as a software engineer team lead, helping to provide critical information to financial decision makers across the globe.
Women engineers can sharpen their technical skills through open courses, on-site training sessions, and business hackathons held throughout the year. Bloomberg is committed to inspiring our female employees, eliminating barriers like impostor syndrome, and encouraging them to pursue opportunities in engineering.
Community & allies
To strengthen its network of female engineers, global BWIT (Bloomberg Women in Technology) chapters organize more than 150 events, mentoring sessions, and meet-ups a year. The community also engages male allies and advocates, sharing strategies to help them support their female colleagues.
Bloomberg Engineering’s culture champions innovation. This is made possible by the different perspectives of our 6,000+ software engineers around the globe, who come from diverse backgrounds and geographies and who possess a variety of technology specialties.
Meet four of Bloomberg’s software engineers – all of whom are active members of the Bloomberg Black in Tech Community across our New York, San Francisco and London engineering teams – and see how they’ve been empowered to impact our business globally.
Our conversations with them cover their paths to and work at Bloomberg, how they’ve grown professionally, their impact in technology, the importance of an inclusive workplace, and their efforts to attract more diversity to tech. Interviews were edited for length and clarity.
TITLE: Software Engineer BLOOMBERG OFFICE: New York
How did you get to Bloomberg? What do you work on now? I lived abroad for 5 years, during which time I taught English in South Korea for 3½ years. I then served in the U.S. Navy for 4 years, after which I felt the urge to embrace my technical talents. This career change turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made.
While finishing my MBA, I decided to apply to the Grace Hopper Program at Fullstack Academy, one of the country’s top-ranked coding bootcamps. This decision was the beginning of my path to Bloomberg, which I was drawn to for its philanthropic programs, the eclectic and dynamic nature of the Bloomberg Terminal, and the opportunity to be immersed in a culture of strong, talented software engineers.
I’m currently in the training program for new engineers. Prior to starting my training, I had the privilege of pre-training on the Commodities team, where I worked on building a map UI in React and Node.js and integrating it with a remote procedure call framework. I really enjoyed the learning process in discovering how to merge open source technologies with proprietary technologies.
Did you have any mentors or influential managers to guide your career along the way? One of my mentors is Erik Anderson, the software engineer who helped created MAPS<GO> and many of Bloomberg’s chart functions. Erik has helped me a great deal in building my confidence to tackle things outside my comfort zone. He really has helped me see that I was capable of more than I thought and encouraged me along the way, which really made me more driven to put in the long hours of practice and study that it takes to get to Bloomberg.
What do you love most about working in tech? I really enjoy the way it has evolved over the years and how it continues to change so rapidly. Working in technology forces me to continue learning and embrace my status as a ‘forever’ student. The moment we get too comfortable in this industry is the moment we are in danger of falling behind. There are so many advances and new technologies that, even after just one year, the older versions are quickly out-of-date. What I love most is that it is an industry that never gets too comfortable; it is about constantly improving the product and making applications faster and more efficient. The associated mental challenges and continuous learning excite me the most!
What are some of the unique challenges that people of color face getting into tech / within the tech industry? Entering a male-dominated industry doesn’t come without trepidation. Knowing that people come equipped with certain biases that they themselves may not even be aware of plays a role; it is just the way we have all been socially-programmed by the media, our parents, and our communities. The tech industry is challenging by itself and people of color may have to face a few additional challenges, dealing with variations of micro-inequities, and the burden of not contributing to certain stereotypes. However, what I enjoy the most are the raised awareness and open discussions seeking to address these imbalances. It really shows how we, as a human species, are evolving our consciousness around these issues.
In your opinion, why are diversity and inclusion important? How do you personally promote diversity and inclusion with your teams and/or in the community? Diversity and inclusion are crucial to the strength of any great organization. In order for technology to serve a wider range of users, understanding their needs and wants is very important. With the advent of globalization, this type of understanding can only be reached by increasing diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
I also enjoy sharing my experiences traveling and living abroad with my co-workers. It highlights the importance of travel as a way to break down barriers in understanding different cultures, which I believe is a pivotal step towards this objective. I am also a member of many different communities here at Bloomberg, so as not to limit the definition of myself to one particular ethnicity or background, but to expand my sense of self in order to represent the many different cultural experiences I’ve had and those I’ve adopted along the way.
TITLE: Senior Software Engineer BLOOMBERG OFFICE: New York
How did you get to Bloomberg? I was an industry hire out of a Bloomberg recruiting event in Seattle, where I met the engineers who would eventually be my managers. They were great and provided an amazing vision of the technical challenges and company culture at Bloomberg.
What do you work on now? I am presently working on designing and building out the underlying platform that supports Bloomberg’s Asset Investment Management (AIM) compliance workflows.
Did you have any mentors to guide your career along the way? Most definitely! I was fortunate to have an awesome mentor when I first started at Bloomberg. He was one of those engineers whose code nuances and expressiveness are like revelations. I learned a lot about my team and Bloomberg’s culture just by contributing to his code. I was also fortunate to have supportive managers who accommodated my desire to be challenged. They were able to provide interesting, tangible and business-critical projects to broaden my scope and contributions.
What do you love most about working in tech? It has been said that engineers are the gatekeepers for civilization. Being in tech is like a calling. The work one does has a direct impact on the well-being of others. It gets more interesting when your work pushes the boundaries of what is considered possible. When this happens, there is no greater feeling than creating something new. Then you realize that, in some small way, you’ve (hopefully) helped make the world just a bit better than before.
Are there any particular technologies that interest you? Machine learning, especially around the areas of natural language processing and understanding. The best technologies are those that feel so completely natural and intuitive that you may forget that you are interacting with a machine. Ironically, it is extremely difficult to create such a system. Applications of ML have the powerful potential to change the way we all interact with technology, if not the very nature of the machines we use.
What are some of the unique challenges that people of color face getting into tech / within the tech industry? There are very few of us in the tech industry. This truism begs us to ask why, as demographics don’t support this reality, as 10% of all college graduates and computer science majors are people of color. It’s sometimes hard not to feel excluded when there are very few people who look like you in the places that you are or want to be. There is often a significant effort required to go from ‘person of color,’ to ‘person,’ to ‘extremely capable person’ in the minds of others that people of other backgrounds do not face.
In your opinion, why are diversity and inclusion important? Antifragility is a term coined by bestselling author Nassim Nicholas Taleb that describes systems that thrive in the face of volatility, shock or adversity. It represents the next step beyond robustness and resilience. I believe that, by their very nature, antifragile systems are diverse. Events that could take down a monoculture are often integrated and used for the greater good by an antifragile system. Diversity and inclusion promote antifragility by fostering teams that are tolerant, supportive, engaging and dynamic.
How do you personally promote diversity and inclusion with your teams and/or in the community? I am one of the co-founders of the Bloomberg Black In Tech (BBIT) Community, which is composed of individuals in technology roles across Bloomberg – in engineering, product management, data science, etc. BBIT’s singular goal is to make Bloomberg the best place for minorities in tech across the industry. We host regular events to foster professional and personal development and create a fun, safe space. We work very hard to engage, support and empower the community at large through mentoring, recruiting, and outreach events on college campuses and at tech conferences with significant minority representation.
TITLE: BQuant Specialist, Desktop Build Group BLOOMBERG OFFICE: San Francisco
How did you get to Bloomberg? What do you work on now? I spent the first five years of my career at leading French banks where, among other things, I designed and implemented technology to automate processes on trading floors. Bloomberg found me on LinkedIn and recruited me to our London office in 2013. I’ve now worked in our San Francisco office for five years.
I’m currently a BQuant Specialist in our Desktop Build Group. In this role, I educate our clients’ quantitative financial researchers, analysts, and data scientists to leverage BQuant, our interactive data analysis and quantitative research platform and new Bloomberg Query Language (BQL). To do this, I first have to understand our clients’ workflows and determine how and where our quant research solutions can help them derive value. Often, we can help clients reduce the amount of time and manual labor spent reviewing financial statements. We can incorporate probability and statistics that help clients make faster and more accurate decisions on their financial strategies. Many times, I create the specifications, design a custom application for a team of about 20-50 users, test the app, and implement it at the client site. Finally, I help train users to program in Python in order to leverage BQuant.
Did you have any mentors or influential managers to guide your career along the way? It has been challenging finding a Black professional mentor. David Mitchell, a team leader for our market specialists, has been a huge inspiration for me. We both started our careers in finance and moved to tech, so I feel like we have much in common. I appreciate how he reaches out periodically to check in on me. I admire his leadership of Bloomberg’s Black Professional Community and am really impressed by his career trajectory and the network he has built. It’s really important to see a person of color in a senior position because it makes that rank seem attainable for the rest of us.
Sandra Lee, who works in Bloomberg’s Product Oversight Office, has also been an influential mentor since we first met in 2016. She’s been with Bloomberg for more than 20 years, and she has helped me understand Bloomberg’s culture and navigate internal networks. I often use her as a sounding board to help me articulate my vision and get a second opinion. On a personal level, she shows me the value of work-life balance.
What do you love most about working in tech? I love being in a position where I’m learning something. Technology is perpetually evolving, and you always need to be on your toes to remain competitive. I will often think about a complex engineering challenge that I am trying to solve, and will have a candid conversation with a colleague or I will read an article, and then a solution will emerge. I then implement it and it is so satisfying when it works. I also like that tech has tangible results.
Are there any particular technologies that interest you? I am really excited about artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). I love the idea that technology can show us patterns that humans cannot otherwise see because we cannot scrape through large volumes of data as quickly. From there, we can extract specific insights that influence our decision-making.
My interest in AI and ML led me to complete a graduate-level certificate program at the University of San Francisco. While I’m not using these skills in my current role, I’m excited that Bloomberg is doing cutting-edge work in natural language processing and other areas related to ML and AI. I’ve also joined Bloomberg’s Machine Learning Guild so I can stay connected to this technology; otherwise, it is hard to stay on top of it when you don’t apply it on a daily basis.
What are some of the unique challenges that people of color face getting into tech / within the tech industry? One word: R-E-P-R-E-S-E-N-T-A-T-I-O-N! We need to see peers and leaders who are people of color. When I don’t see people of color in leadership positions, I feel like it’s less possible to attain success. When I see Black leaders, I get a lot of motivation and affirmation that it could be me one day.
In my experience, people of color aren’t taken as seriously by their peers unless there are other people of color in leadership positions. I personally feel like I need to be better than anyone else in whatever I’m doing. I don’t want to give any opening for the quality of my work to be questioned. For that reason, I often spend extra time double-checking my work in order to make everything is perfect. No one asks me to do this, but I feel I must. This adds a dimension of extra stress because that workflow is not scalable or sustainable and can lead to burnout.
In your opinion, why are diversity and inclusion important? How do you personally promote diversity and inclusion with your teams and/or in the community? Life is so much more fulfilling when you can interact with people from different backgrounds and ways of life. At work, a diverse team can help prevent tunnel vision when solving challenges or meeting client needs. Everyone comes with baggage and biases that sometimes makes communication uncomfortable, but this ultimately leads to rich learning experiences.
I’m always trying to recruit and advocate for more underrepresented minority candidates, because we are only likely to stay at Bloomberg if we continue seeing more diversity on our teams.
Jonathan “JC” Charlery
TITLE: Senior Software Engineer BLOOMBERG OFFICE: London
How did you get to Bloomberg? I was on my way to interview with a different company during the career fair at Howard University, when I ran into Kerry Joseph, an engineer who was recruiting for Bloomberg. We got to chatting about the company and he invited me to an info session later that night. What struck me was how down-to-earth and genuine he was. He wasn’t trying to sell me anything; he just talked about his own experiences at the company and how the job allowed him to grow.
In talking about his own background, we discovered we were from neighbouring islands in the Caribbean so we shared a cultural background. Having that conversation, and seeing and hearing someone like me at Bloomberg who had such a positive experience is what really sold me on the company.
What do you work on now? I’m on the Local Development team in London, which is part of our Developer Experience (DevX) group. Our team creates and supports the tools and workflows that allow engineers to develop and test their applications locally on their laptops using whatever tools they prefer, instead of relying on a limited shared environment.
Did you have any mentors or influential managers to guide your career along the way? Zac Rider, who leads our Real-time Distribution Platform engineering team, and Becky Plummer, a software engineering team leader in DevX (and my current manager) are two of the most influential managers I’ve had during my tenure at Bloomberg. They’ve provided me with many opportunities for growth and helped me build up my confidence in my own abilities. They were instrumental in putting my career on its current trajectory.
Femi Popoola, a technical team lead in London, has also been an amazing mentor to me. We’ve spoken about many different topics related to personal and technical growth, like knowing which opportunities are right for you and how to manage them, to understanding when you’re ready to take on a new challenge (hint: you’re never going to be “ready,” but don’t let that stop you).
What do you love most about working in tech? I love the rate at which everything changes in the tech industry, and the ease of being able to get involved.
The tech industry evolves so quickly that you’ll miss it if you blink. In the last 20 years or so, we’ve gone from having one dedicated phone line per family and maybe having a computer for the household to us all having a computer in our pockets and everyone having a phone. All the information this puts at our fingertips has made it much easier for anyone to become involved and even to transfer into tech-related fields from any profession.
Are there any particular technologies that interest you? Docker and container technologies are particularly interesting to me. The ability to simulate an entire environment and have repeatable declarative processes have really changed the way we think about development, testing, and stability of our systems.
What are some of the unique challenges that people of color face getting into tech / within the tech industry? Without seeing other people who look like them or can stand as a role model for them, people of colour tend to get discouraged from entering the tech industry. It is hard to continue being self-motivated or to believe you can achieve something if all the stereotypical icons don’t represent you in any way. It’s why Kerry stood out to me so much. He was West Indian and able to succeed in the tech industry. This isn’t spoken about often, but it creates a real psychological barrier for many people. Being able to connect with someone who shares your heritage or cultural background, and being able to see yourself in that person, are some of the greatest motivating factors.
In your opinion, why are diversity and inclusion important? Diversity and inclusion are very important as they provide different perspectives. Having someone who can see something in a different manner and who brings their own background and experiences can help elicit a new style of thinking and new direction when it is needed the most. When all options have seemingly been exhausted, something which may seem intrinsically basic to someone can actually be just what is needed to get things moving again.
How do you personally promote diversity and inclusion with your teams and/or in the community? I’ve spoken at events aimed at promoting and highlighting diversity and inclusion, as well as been a representative, speaker and mentor at both internal and external events aimed at empowering underprivileged youth to encourage them to pursue careers in STEM and grow their networks. This includes serving as a mentor to both university students and secondary school students.
I have been an advocate for and given advice about different ways to recruit effectively at select Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) across the U.S. I’ve also attended university career fairs where I directly engage with students, serving not only as a company point of contact for them, but also sharing my experiences with them. I talk to new hires about my career progression and serve as a mentor to help them navigate the company’s culture.
Former WNBA player Niesha Butler has opened the first Afro-Latina-owned STEM camp, S.T.E.A.M. Champs, in New York City to reduce accessibility barriers to tech educational resources for Brooklyn youth.
“If a kid could actually say that they can be LeBron James, and roll it off their tongue as easy as that, then they can literally say ‘yeah, I can also put a man on the moon,’ or ‘I can also create the next app,'” Butler told ABC News.
Butler, a New York City native, says “there’s talent in Brooklyn.” She established S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) Champs in the middle of Brooklyn to encourage inner-city youth to channel their ambition into educational opportunities. Butler also hires interns, may of whom have tried coding for the first time with the program, she says.
“People sell basketball dreams every other second in our community. I thought it was really important to, let’s sell these tech dreams,” Butler said.
Prior to opening her doors in Brooklyn, Butler partnered with organizations like Girl Scouts, BronxWorks and a local AAU basketball team to host STEM-focused workshops reaching over 300 New York City students. Monday was the first day of camp in the newly opened facility.
“There’s not a lot of people of color in tech,” Butler said. “These jobs are open for everybody and they’re empty…so obviously we need to do a better job at educating our kids and in recruiting them.”
Other tech education camps and workshops across the nation have worked to close the gap and make tech careers interesting and accessible to students of underserved communities.
Black Girls CODE is one of those resources providing workshops and public speaking opportunities for Black girls. Program alumni Kimora Oliver and Azure Butler say that the program’s first chapter in California’s Bay Area created an environment that allowed local Black female students to envision themselves in the tech industry.
“Unfortunately, STEM is a white and male dominated field,” Oliver told ABC News. “I feel like [Black Girls CODE] is giving a diverse group of Black girls the exposure that they need to decide for themselves whether they want to continue with STEM in the future.”
For almost 40 years, another program called Academically Interest Minds (AIM) at Kettering University has tailored its pre-college curriculum to expose youth of color to STEM coursework and campus life.
“49% of African American students who attend Kettering University now, are AIM graduates,” Ricky D. Brown, the university’s director of multicultural student initiatives and the AIM program, told ABC News.
For many, STEM educational resources introduce an element of choice in considering STEM and exploring pathways of academic interests.
A study released in July by the National Bureau of Economic Research says that early intervention programs like S.T.E.A.M Champs, AIM and Black Girls CODE are effective in helping students achieve academic success in higher education and STEM majors.
“Some of these kids don’t have a computer at home to study,” Butler said. “When I go to some of these centers, they don’t have good Wi-Fi…they have outdated computers.”
According to the study, underrepresentation in STEM is due to a lack of preparation and access to educational resources.
“Given that STEM preparation and college access are shaped prior to college entrance, STEM focused enrichment programs for high school students are promising vehicles to reduce disparities in STEM degree attainment,” the study’s authors wrote.
Click here to read the full article on ABC News Radio.
A rocket built by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin carried its fifth group of passengers to the edge of space, including the first-ever Mexican-born woman to make such a journey.
The 60-foot-tall suborbital rocket took off from Blue Origin’s facilities in West Texas at 9:26am ET, vaulting a group of six people to more than 62 miles above the Earth’s surface — which is widely deemed to make the boundary of outer space — and giving them a few minutes of weightlessness before parachuting to landing.
Most of the passengers paid an undisclosed sum for their seats. But Katya Echazarreta, an engineer and science communicator from Guadalajara, Mexico, was selected by a nonprofit called Space for Humanity to join this mission from a pool of thousands of applicants. The organization’s goal is to send “exceptional leaders” to space and allow them to experience the overview effect, a phenomenon frequently reported by astronauts who say that viewing the Earth from space give them a profound shift in perspective.
Echazarreta told CNN Business that she experienced that overview effect “in my own way.”
“Looking down and seeing how everyone is down there, all of our past, all of our mistakes, all of our obstacles, everything — everything is there,” she said. “And the only thing I could think of when I came back down was that I need people to see this. I need Latinas to see this. And I think that it just completely reinforced my mission to continue getting primarily women and people of color up to space and doing whatever it is they want to do.”
Echazarreta is the first Mexican-born woman to travel to space and the second Mexican after Rodolfo Neri Vela, a scientist who joined one of NASA’s Space Shuttle missions in 1985.
She moved to the United States with her family at the age of seven, and she recalls being overwhelmed in a new place where she didn’t speak the language, and a teacher warned her she might have to be held back.
“It just really fueled me and I think ever since then, ever since the third grade, I kind of just went off and have not stopped,” Echazarreta recalled in an Instagram interview.
When she was 17 and 18, Echazarreta said she was also the main breadwinner for her family on a McDonald’s salary.
“I had sometimes up to four [jobs] at the same time, just to try to get through college because it was really important for me,” she said.
These days, Echazarreta is working on her master’s degree in engineering at Johns Hopkins University. She previously worked at NASA’s famed Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. She also boasts a following of more than 330,000 users on TikTok, hosts a science-focused YouTube series and is a presenter on the weekend CBS show “Mission Unstoppable.”
Space for Humanity — which was founded in 2017 by Dylan Taylor, a space investor who recently joined a Blue Origin flight himself — chose her for her impressive contributions. “We were looking for some like people who were leaders in their communities, who have a sphere of influence; people who are doing really great work in the world already, and people who are passionate about whatever that is,” Rachel Lyons, the nonprofit’s executive director, told CNN Business.
At age 9, Nalleli Cobo was experiencing asthma, body spasms, heart palpitations and nosebleeds so severe she needed to sleep in a chair to prevent herself from choking on her own blood.
Across the street from her family’s apartment in University Park in South Central Los Angeles was an oil extraction site owned by Allenco Energy that was spewing fumes into the air and the community around her.
After speaking with neighbors facing similar symptoms, she and her family began to mobilize with their community, suspecting that was making them sick. They created the People Not Pozos (People Not Oil Wells) campaign. At 9 years old, Cobo was designated the campaign’s spokesperson, marking the start of her activism and organizing career.
In March 2020, Cobo, the co-founder of the South Central Youth Leadership Coalition, helped lead the group to permanently shut down the Allenco Energy oil drilling site that she and others in the community said caused serious health issues for them. She also helped convince the Los Angeles City Council and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to unanimously vote to ban new oil exploration and phase out existing sites in Los Angeles.
After pressure from the community and scrutiny from elected officials, Allenco Energy agreed to suspend operations in 2013. The site was permanently shut down in 2020, and the company was charged in connection with state and local environmental health and safety regulations. There are ongoing issues around cleaning and plugging up the oil wells.
Cobo co-founded the South Central Youth Leadership Coalition in 2015 to bolster efforts against oil sites and work toward phasing them out across the city.
That year, the youth group sued the city of Los Angeles, alleging violations of the California Environmental Quality Act and environmental racism. The suit was settled after the city implemented new drilling application requirements.
Cobo, now 21, was recognized Wednesday for the environmental justice work that has spanned more than half her life. She received the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, which is awarded annually to individuals from six regions: Europe, Asia, Africa, Islands and Island Nations, North America, and South and Central America.
“I did not want to answer the phone because it was an unknown number,” Cobo, who was getting bubble tea when she received the call about the prize, told NBC News in a Zoom interview Wednesday. “I didn’t even know I was nominated. I started crying.”
During the 1920s, Los Angeles was one of the world’s largest urban oil-exporting regions. More than 20,000 active, idle, or abandoned oil wells still reside in the county, and about one-third of residents live less than a mile from an active oil site.
Studies have shown that living near oil and gas wells increases exposure to air pollution, with nearby communities facing environmental and health risks including preterm birth, asthma and heart disease.
When Maribel Campos was 11, she was living in her parents’ trailer home in Sonoma, Calif. She recalled wanting her own iPod, but her parents, who were working multiple jobs to make ends meet, couldn’t afford one.
Campos, now 24, not only owns an iPod, but she also works at Apple TV Plus — a full-circle moment for her, she said.
“Never in a million years would I think that I would be working” on an Apple product or service, Campos, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, said.
Across all races and ethnicities, women remain underrepresented in computing-related jobs in the tech field, holding just 26 percent of the positions. For Hispanic women, this disparity is even worse, as they make up just 2 percent.
Now, Campos, along with other Latinas, are taking to TikTok to help others in their community navigate the tech world — by sharing their experiences, dispelling misconceptions and offering advice.
“I grew up in poverty, I had zero connections. I didn’t study anything relevant to what I’m doing now,” Campos, who has a degree in communications and media studies from Sonoma State University, said in one of her videos. “I’m still working in tech and you can do it too.”
‘There’s nobody else that looks like me here’
Michelle Villagran, 24, a systems implementation consultant for Westlands Management Solutions based in San Francisco, said she often felt discouraged in entry-level positions and internships because she was usually the only Latina.
“I would tell myself, like ‘Dang, I can’t have this job. There’s nobody else that looks like me here,'” said Villagran, who works remotely from Portland, Oregon. “There weren’t other Latinas in these teams, I was always the only one.”
Since many of the Latinas in tech are pursuing different career paths than those of their family and friends, it’s also hard for them to get career advice.
“I’m navigating everything by myself. I can’t reach out to my parents for advice or anything. So it definitely can feel very, very isolating,” Campos said. “There’s no one to hold your hand or tell you what to do next in your career, what next steps are for you, how to do your job. So finding someone that relates to your background and that is willing to help you is super key to being successful there.”
She said she found support through human resource groups, such as Amigos at Apple and outside groups such as Latinas in Tech.
Some also say they experience what is called impostor syndrome, which women are 22 percent more likely to experience in tech workplaces.
“It’s also the age,” said Gina Moreno, 26, a program manager for Microsoft. “You’re young, whereas a lot of people have 20-plus years of experience.”
For Moreno, learning to undo traditional Mexican values and perceptions of being a reserved and humble woman were pivotal in transitioning from college to a full-time professional job, she said.
“I had to learn that being humble is a great value in the Mexican community, but being humble doesn’t mean being modest in your career,” Moreno said. “I also learned that being direct is the way to advance, whereas in Mexican culture, being direct is rude.”
About 66 percent of women in tech say there’s no clear path for career advancement at their companies.
“At the end of the day, we’re all breaking glass ceilings, we’re all carving our own path,” Moreno said.
Striving to be an example
Popular TikTok videos about tech often describe six-figure salaries and other benefits that come with coding positions.
But Villagran, Campos and Moreno show a different side of the industry in their videos, by highlighting the variety of positions in the industry, some of which don’t require coding skills, yet still pay attractive salaries.
Tech is one of the fastest-growing industries of the 21st century, creating millions of work opportunities around the world. But still, with all its exponential growth, diversity is still an issue.
According to a recent Stack Overflow survey, 92.1 percent of interviewed tech developers identify as heterosexual, and only 1 percent are transgender folk.
It is safe to say that members of the LGBTQ+ community are not sufficiently represented in the tech industry as of 2021, but the hope is that this will change in the future. Many people and institutions are committed to achieving the goal of more representation. If you’re a queer person and are interested in obtaining an education in tech, here are some scholarships and financial opportunities worth a look at.
1. Grandcircus Bootcamps
If you’re interested in coding, Grandcircus offers an immersive 14 or 18-week coding bootcamp in two language tracks. Their graduates have gone on to work for big companies like Ford, Amway, and Meridian.
They offer their potential students many financial help possibilities because they believe in the diversification of the tech community. They grant scholarships to members of underrepresented populations including, among others, LGBTQ+ folks.
Their scholarships consist of automatic tuition discounts for students who qualify, and you can apply online. If you have a very special situation, they are also open to discussing other possibilities with you.
2. The Edie Windsor Coding Scholarship
Edie Winsor is one of the greatest role models for the LGBTQ+ community. She was not only a tech manager at giant IBM but also a very important gay-activist whose Supreme Court case led to the federal recognition of same-sex married couples in the US.
In the spirit of Edie Windsor’s fight, the fund that bears her name finances a coding scholarship to allow LGBTQ+ women and non-binary folk the opportunity to delve into the world of tech. They consider that learning how to code gives underrepresented groups the tools needed for greater economic opportunities, and it’s a more accessible alternative than a four-year degree.
3. V School – You Belong in Tech
V School offers full-ride scholarships for people in underrepresented communities and those in financial hardship. They offer both web development and coding courses that include a paid internship with a creative agency, and their students have gone on to work for major tech players like Apple.
V School is 100 percent online and works under a responsive learning model that works around student skills and not around a time-based curriculum. They also place a high value on one-on-one coaching.
4. Burlington Code Academy
This scholarship is set to help diversify tech, helping students with difficult situations the possibility to get an education. They offer scholarships to BIPOC, Womxn, and LGBTQ+ folks, who they believe are underrepresented because of lack of access and representation in the workplace.
Their Diversity Initiative funds the Impact Scholarships, which offers discounted tuition to underrepresented groups. The conditions of this scholarship can vary, so they encourage you to contact them directly to analyze your particular situation.
5. Codesmith Scholarships
Codesmith offers a full-stack coding bootcamp with a rigorous program. You are taught by professional developers, and they guarantee that you will learn the skills needed to immerse yourself in the tech industry right away. They offer both in-person and live remote programs.
The institution is committed to making tech an area of equal opportunities for everybody, no matter their background, so that they can provide their points of view in solving the problems of the future. They offer a full range of scholarships for minorities and underrepresented groups; these are distributed among their accepted students, and they are granted based on application scores and interviews.
The world is changing, and the LGBTQ+ community is taking more and more the place it deserves. To continue to create a better, more inclusive world in the future, it’s important that diverse life experiences are represented in all environments. The work market is particularly important, as it’s there that a lot of the change in the world comes from. Tech has proven to be the future, so it’s vital that this new, diverse generation is involved in it. With the engagement and support of its collaborators, the LGBTQ+ will soon have a strong contribution to the industry.
CORVALLIS, Ore. – Ellen Ochoa, the first Latina to journey to space and the former director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, will deliver the keynote lecture next month at Engineering Virtual Expo 2021, an event organized by the Oregon State University College of Engineering that showcases undergraduate student design projects.
Ochoa, who joined NASA in 1988 as an engineer at Ames Research Center and was selected as an astronaut in 1990, will speak at 12:10 p.m. on Friday, June 4, prior to the presentation of the expo’s People’s Choice and Industry Choice awards.
Ochoa became the first Latina in space while serving in 1993 on a nine-day mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery. She has flown in space four times and has logged almost 1,000 hours in orbit.
Those interested in attending Engineering Virtual Expo 2021 and watching Ochoa’s presentation can register online. The event, free and open to the public, kicks off at 8:30 a.m. with student project displays and virtual College of Engineering tours geared toward high school students. Those who attend the expo can visit with students about projects in a range of areas including artificial intelligence, clean water, health, natural disaster preparedness, robotics, sustainable energy and virtual reality.
Click here to read the full article on Oregon State University.
We Lead: At the Intersection of Identity, Equity and Unity Leadership Summit is about recognizing the leaders in our communities that continue to take action to build equity in increasingly complex workplaces, together.