[00:00:19] Welcome to the apprenticeship.io podcast, where we gather the courageous leaders, the tech industry needs to talk about education, equity, job hunts, hiring in tech and you guessed it apprenticeships, whether you're considering a career switch to tech currently studying or working and leading in tech, we hope to show you stories, ideas, and tactics to inspire you and equip you to make the tech industry, and our future together, a more equitable place for all of us. Let's get to know today's guest.
[00:00:50]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:00:50] Yuridia Larios became an Apprentice Software Engineer at Indeed after attending Techtonica in San Francisco in 2019. Yuridia followed her interest in responsiveness and accessibility while she studied, and is now an accessibility expert at Indeed. Before her career in software development, Yuridia was a Retail Associate at CVS, an After School Instructor at Mission High School, and attended her local community college, the City College of San Francisco. Recently, Yuridia became a first-time mom and full-time Software Engineer at the same time during a global pandemic and one of California's worst wildfire seasons. She's always inspired to do the seemingly impossible and loves becoming what she doesn't see in the world. She loves supporting and encouraging Latinx people in tech. Yuridia loves ballroom dancing, Nintendo games, and reading comedy and motivational books.
[00:01:43]This interview was recorded in October of 2020.
[00:01:46] Welcome to the podcast. I'm so excited to have you.
[00:01:50]Yuridia Larios: [00:01:50] Thank you for inviting me to share my journey into tech. I hope I can inspire others to follow their dreams and not give up.
[00:01:57]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:01:57] That's awesome. I'm really looking forward to this. My first question is always deliberately broad and meant to allow you to wander, and that question is what was the educational upbringing of your childhood? So schools, people, subjects, really anything - just want to learn about your education.
[00:02:21]Yuridia Larios: [00:02:21] I am from a small town in the middle of the desert - Nogales, Mexico, where there is a lot of cactus, but very limited career opportunities. Luckily for me, 17 years ago, when I was 10 years old, I was always a sneaky child. So while my mother was taking high school classes for adults, I will run away from childcare and joined the computer classes next door so I could learn Windows 98, Word and PowerPoint 2000. The professor allowed me to stay in the classroom for some reason. With time, I was the one helping others and teaching them how to navigate through the computers, and that's when my mother decided I had to move to San Francisco to have better opportunities, she said.
[00:03:08]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:03:08] Amazing, so you were in the Bay Area from a young age then?
[00:03:14] Yuridia Larios: [00:03:14] Yes. I was 12.
[00:03:18]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:03:18] And when you arrived in San Francisco, you eventually attended, Mission High School, which I think a lot of people from the Bay Area will be familiar with because it's an incredibly beautiful building right across from Dolores Park in the Mission District. I've seen that beautiful high school in the park often, but I've always wondered what was it like to attend school there? Did you have awareness of the tech industry then when you were attending?
[00:03:49]Yuridia Larios: [00:03:49] I grew up here in the Mission District and I attended Mission High School back in 2007, and Mission High School is one of the most diverse schools in the district. Many of my strongest role models in life are my former professors from there. However, I was never introduced to coding. There was one computer class I really wanted to take: Photoshop. I couldn't take it because it was an elective class only for kids who were in advanced English classes. I was in the ESL program for students learning English as a second language. By my senior year, I had really good grades. I loved math and I knew I wanted to do engineering, but life happens. I didn't qualify for financial aid because of my immigration status. At the same time, I was struggling living in foster care - shelter to shelter, 16 places total. A four year university was not an option for me, but I had to keep going and I enrolled in community college instead.
[00:04:48]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:04:48] Amazing. There's so many people in our community who attended a local community college, including my colleague Lyn. I find it very inspiring that you went to your community college locally. We'll just give a shout out to the city college of SF, your community college. They're fantastic. And you worked as a Retail Associate at CVS while you were at community college. I'm just wondering if you have any advice for folks who might be working a retail job or a service job, and who are curious about tech, but still on their journey?
[00:05:22]Yuridia Larios: [00:05:22] Let me start by saying it is not going to be easy, but if no doors open break a window. What I mean by that is: look for more opportunities. Because I went to Community College of San Francisco, I remember my first class of the day was engineering . I remember clearly walking into the classroom and I thought I was in the wrong classroom because I was the only girl. I remember one of our first engineering guest speakers saying "Don't learn Spanish. No one in the industry speaks Spanish." That was my welcoming to the STEM world, and my reality check that this was gonna be challenging. I was learning basics while everyone else had a strong background in Computer Science. I had an artistic side and a desire to make things look pretty, which wasn't very technical. And on top of that, I was working multiple jobs, cleaning houses, baby feeding, doing retail, and teaching in after school programs.
[00:06:20]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:06:20] It sounds like it was a really busy and challenging do you think that you were creating opportunity everywhere you could? Is that what you mean by breaking window?
[00:06:35]Yuridia Larios: [00:06:35] A big part of how I broke into tech was by looking for opportunities outside of college. My first opportunity was with Dev/Mission and introductory tech program for low income youth, where I learned the essentials of hardware, software, soft skills, and the basics of HTML and CSS. I developed free websites for small local businesses in San Francisco. Later on, I volunteered to be TA of the HTML and CSS coding class, and that's how I kept looking for opportunities and eventually landed into Techtonica.
[00:07:12] Kamrin Klauschie: [00:07:12] I love that. It's so important when you're trying to break into the industry to be open and willing to pursue what comes to you, as you build up and improve over time. It's a huge component of success is starting where you are and building as much as you can with what you have. That's great advice. One other thing I was curious about, more on the employer side, especially in the Bay Area, as someone who has worked as a bus driver myself, has worked in restaurants, doing food running and hosting and things like that, but has also worked in employer partnerships with Bay Area tech companies, I've encountered plenty of people who have a lot of judgment for people's early jobs or doing jobs that really keep your family afloat, keep yourself afloat things like, retail jobs and service jobs. I also see a lot of judgment from employers about community college which I think is super unfair because community colleges are very accessible and a lot of people go to community college. What would you have to say to the employers and hiring managers in the Bay Area who have judgment about that kind of path and maybe don't interview people as often who went to community college or had a retail or service job?
[00:08:44] Yuridia Larios: [00:08:44] I will say they are missing on talent. We all come from different backgrounds and experiences. They shouldn't be judging based on people's abilities to pay and graduate from top elite schools. By doing that, they are limiting themselves to certain people only, which is really bad, actually. For example, the rate of women graduating with computer science degrees is 18% as of 2019. What's the problem with that. Some people will say, to mention a few, earliest face recognition machines were made by all men teams and they calibrated their voices, so when they try to sell to mainly female teams, that technology failed badly. The same thing happened with car airbags, the team developing the airbags was all male. And as they design it, they use height and weight chart for the standard men. The consequence? Women and children were killed when those early airbags were deployed. There are amazing programmers coming from non-traditional backgrounds everywhere, and they also have experiences to bring with them and new perspectives.
[00:09:54]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:09:54] Absolutely. Another story I was reading about recently is how face prediction technology really struggles to recognize people of color, especially black women, and how black women will often be mis-gendered by artificial intelligence software that's trying to predict someone's identity. It's a huge problem. I've been trying to talk to employers for so many years now about widening the net of the kinds of backgrounds they will consider. Stories like yours will really inspire people to reconsider some of the biases that they hold about who is talented and where talent comes from, because talent is universal and opportunity is not as distributed. Very curious to also learn about your time after college when you were working as an after-school teacher. What led you to become an after-school teacher?
[00:10:57]Yuridia Larios: [00:10:57] Giving back to my community. Because I, myself, once didn't know how to speak English, I became an English tutor. I didn't know how to dance, I became a high school Latin ballroom instructor for Mission High School. I was afraid to join cheer because of my accent. Guess what? I became a cheer coach for international students . In the same way, because I don't see people like me very often in the tech industry, I task myself with being what I do not often see to share my journey to other people coming from non-traditional backgrounds, especially women of color and young girls like me.
[00:11:32]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:11:32] I love that. So when you feel like there's not a role model, like you, you feel more called to pursue that field or that goal?
[00:11:45] Yuridia Larios: [00:11:45] Yes.
[00:11:46] Kamrin Klauschie: [00:11:46] That's amazing. It must be hard. Would you have any advice for folks who are trying to become things when they don't see role models who are similar to them?
[00:12:00] Yuridia Larios: [00:12:00] A big part of it is following your own instinct and trusting the process. Sometimes we get anxious about the future. What if I wouldn't make it? What if this happens or that happens? Or what if these people think certain things about myself? Those things don't define me. I am the owner of my own life and I get to decide to not give up and keep going.
[00:12:25]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:12:25] You can create your own identity as you go, and you're never confined to other people's expectations of you. That's a crucial mindset to continue to learn and grow over time. It's really cool. Thank you for that. And so, after you were a school teacher, you eventually learned about Techtonica. How did you originally hear about Techtonica, and can you share a little bit about that experience? Techtonica is a program for women of color, in the Bay Area that will train you to be a software engineer and it's all expenses paid, a really fantastic program. Shout out to Michelle. We love you.
[00:13:53]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:13:53] I think one of the most heroic and most amazing parts of Techtonica is the direct connection with employers, so there's no job hunt and you're able to transition into your apprenticeship right after you graduate. I know for Michelle, it is a lot of work on her end and with her team to make that all happen, and so I just want to highlight the piece which makes it very unique compared to other bootcamp programs. What advice would you share with others who are looking at attending an immersive software engineering program?
[00:14:36]Yuridia Larios: [00:14:36] The main thing, and the reason of why those programs go really fast through the material, is because you should focus on understanding how you learn and how fast you can achieve your mind to pick up a new technology. I learned the MERN stack, which is MongoDB, Express. React and Node.js in my day-to-day job, I deal with them plus different technologies and tasks, and I have to be able to switch between them. Software engineering is about solving problems and making decisions. It is okay to feel lost. It is okay to have things breaking. That is part of the job. Otherwise, there wouldn't be a job. So don't give up when you feel frustrated. Because believe me, you will get frustrated, but you focus on the curriculum, focus on the program, and give it your all.
[00:15:30]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:15:30] Yeah, that resonates with me so much. The speed with which you're exposed to new technology and expected to learn in bootcamp, it's beneficial, because you do have to learn so quickly on the job, like you said, but I've definitely seen for myself and seeing for others, that it causes so much stress and so much emotions that have to be processed in that time. And as you transitioned from Techtonica to Indeed, what were you working on early on and did you feel prepared in those early days?
[00:16:06] Yuridia Larios: [00:16:06] For my final project in Techtonica, I developed, iCrossland a full stack web app that allow users to search and track their favorite stocks and even see what other firms are tracking. One of the things I focused on was accessibility and mobile responsiveness. These things came really handy later on, since I am now an accessibility expert at Indeed. I think they saw my excitement. The first thing was installing my own dev environment and getting used to giant code bases. I was no longer in my tiny web where I knew my code. And now I was in this strange world. I started with small UI tickets. I remember finishing my first ticket within a day, but I didn't know how to do unit testing, so my ticket took way longer than expected. When I submitted my ticket for code review, I learned that since there are many ways to solve a problem, I now had to go for the best way. Having a working solution was just the first step, and on top of that, I had to learn new technologies and internal tools that I had never seen before. Was I technically prefer for that personally? Maybe, no, I feel lost and I still do sometimes, but Techtonica did a really good job on preparing me to overcome those challenges and focus on continuous learning.
[00:17:36]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:17:36] I think that's very real and honest about how it feels to transition from what we call green field apps, where it's a metaphor for the color of the grass or like the color of what you're building. Green being fresh and new, and you're writing your own code and usually the code is less, like you have less to manage, versus brown field apps where you have to read other people's code a lot. There's legacy code, there's bugs. You have to get adjusted to such a different environment. Myself, I haven't experienced that yet and I am so curious what it's like to work on such a big production code base. I just imagine in my head, all of the merge conflicts for days, but I look forward to that in my journey as well. Kudos to you for specializing in accessibility too, I feel like that was an interest of mine and mobile responsiveness also. It's amazing how many different screen sizes and considerations you have to take. It's one of the areas that I admire most is both accessibility and responsiveness. I think it's amazing that you were able to realize that you were very interested in it very early on and dig in and apply yourself, and then that was able to pay off during your time with Indeed as well. As a career coach, when I'm working with folks who are in school, I often try to encourage people to follow their natural interests because a lot of people expect passion to feel stronger than it is in the early days in the early days. It's like curiosity and then over time you develop a passion and more expertise, but in the early days, it's just a quiet curiosity, so I love that you followed that from your early days at Techtonica. Others will be able to learn from that and follow. In your time at Indeed, as well as just being in the tech industry these days, I know you're interacting with a lot of mentors and hiring managers and people that are just working in corporate tech at various positions. What would you want them to know about working with apprentices, or working with folks who come from a background like yours, that you sometimes see that people either they don't know, or they have good intentions, but you wish they did something else?
[00:20:18]Yuridia Larios: [00:20:18] Let me say that first, Techtonica was another world, so after so much struggle and rejection, and even feeling that I didn't belong in tech, Techtonica gave me a safe space to work together with other women. We really supported each other. It was a way of healing for me to see that I was not alone in this career path. However, coming into the tech world, I realized it is going to take a while for the tech world to catch up with that. In my case, not only, I am challenged every day in the technical aspect as a junior developer, but also as a woman working in a male dominated industry, coming from a non-traditional background, as a DACA recipient, as a first time mom, and on top of that, a pandemic and wildfires. And some days are just hard feeling alone in this journey. So it is important for mentors, hiring managers and people at corporate to show empathy and to use their voices and leadership positions to make a difference and help bridge the gap of diversity.
[00:21:23] Kamrin Klauschie: [00:21:24] Is there anything specific that you think can help others feel less alone? Can you give an example or can you think of something that someone has done that made you feel less alone in the industry? I know for me, hearing from others or having others advocate for me in ways that I don't have to step in, has been very helpful. So I think sometimes it's someone having the smarts and the ability to read a situation, and as you said with empathy, and not every time, people see things with empathy. The example I was thinking of is one time I was working with an employer partner who ignored me during the entire meeting. He sat facing away from me. He didn't acknowledge me at all, and he only spoke to two of the men who I brought along to a meeting, and I didn't have to say anything to my colleague. He said to me like, we shouldn't have another meeting. This person shouldn't be a speaker. We need to take action because I noticed that he was ignoring you the entire meeting. And I remember thinking, wow, it's amazing that he paid attention because I think even just the basic act of paying attention to how someone might feel in those types of situation, makes a difference. But that's an example from my life, and I'm curious if you've have had any moments where someone made you feel less alone or any things that you think others could do that would help people from underrepresented backgrounds feel like they belong more.
[00:23:04]Yuridia Larios: [00:23:04] I constantly have something called imposter syndrome and it's really hard for me to ask for help. I think my teammates have grown to understand that. Sometimes they will check on me like, "Oh, where are you able to figure this problem out? That the one that we were working on last time." Little things like that, they make a big deal to me because they reached out for me. That means, for me, that they care. They are there with me in this journey. I really feel what you're saying. I think it's important that other managers, they stand up and they say, no, we're not going to allow this because we don't want this kind of environment. We want to be more inclusive. We want to have more diversity. We want to feel everyone welcome.
[00:23:58]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:23:58] Those small actions, like you said, can make a huge difference for making people feel included. Paying attention to how it must feel to be someone who's being ignored, paying attention to that, or just sending a little note, like you said, coming someone just to check in on them and see how they're doing. I definitely agree with you that having maybe a little squad of folks or your team that, will have your back, if you are coping with something difficult or a team member has done something, maybe that they might've intended to be good, but it hurt your feelings or it was the wrong impact, and having that group of folks or maybe one person even that you can go to talk to about that experience can be so helpful and allow for healing too. I'm curious if you have anything that you would want to say directly to folks from the Latin X community, or other Latina women such as yourself?
[00:24:58] As of right now, I am part of the 5.9%. Latinx working at Indeed, and the only Latinx on my whole team. Outside Indeed, I work with high school youth, and most of them, especially girls, don't know any Latinx people that are in the technology industry or what programming even is, which makes us makes it hard, because you cannot be what you cannot see, meaning that if there is no context for them, there is no starting point either. So I like to think of the very few Latinx people trying to break into tech and leadership roles as the ones breaking the windows, so we can open the front door for everyone else. You never know who is looking up to you.
[00:25:44]I think it's so important to make sure that you try to impact as many people as you can and share your journey far and wide. That's a huge element of what we're trying to do here with the apprenticeship.io, and this podcast in general. I definitely hope that this podcast will reach lots of people who are considering a journey like you, and like the one you've had. I'm curious, as we close up here, to hear where do you see yourself and your career going from here? You recently converted to a full-time software engineering role at Indeed in March, so about six or seven months now that you've been in your full-time job, is that correct?
[00:26:28] Yuridia Larios: [00:26:28] Yes, that's correct.
[00:26:30]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:26:30] I'm just curious to hear the dreams you have now and where you see your career going?
[00:26:37] Yuridia Larios: [00:26:37] This one is a hard one. I broke into tech against all odds, so many people told me I wasn't gonna make it. I feel I have accomplished my dream, but I know this is only the beginning for me. As of right now. I aim for continuous learning and I am embrace to explore the unknown, to stay curious, because one day I want to do two things, for sure, to be a CS college professor and to work as a Software Engineer in virtual reality games. But again, these are the things that. You never see, so I aim to be those things.
[00:27:21]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:27:21] I am not surprised to hear that you want to continue teaching, I think that's amazing. I would love to be taught by you. I think there's plenty of people out here who would probably want to be taught by you. I'm cheering for teaching. I think it's such an important profession. My mom is a teacher, so I've grown up admiring folks and education for my whole life. Let's talk more about virtual reality games. What kind of games do you want to build? How can we make that dream more of a reality? Can you talk a little bit more about it?
[00:27:55]Yuridia Larios: [00:27:55] So the first time I participated in a hackathon was in a virtual reality game, and I remember mentioning to my teammate that it was the first time I wear a headset for virtual reality. Because at the conference, normally the people that are calling you to wear the headset and try their new products, it's like they wouldn't target me, the short girl Latinx person. I had never tried a virtual reality game. I went into it having no knowledge of it.
[00:28:34]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:28:34] I recently heard about an app called Supernatural that is for Oculus and it allows people to work out in a virtual environment, and so I immediately thought of this app that I just heard about because I haven't been working out very much in quarantine, and my friend has been saying that this Oculus app is helping her work out a lot. And I also, I believe a lot that when you speak something out into the universe, then you can have people receive that and give in return. How can we help you create a virtual reality game, or are you just saying you want to build these professionally, maybe in your future jobs?
[00:29:14] Yuridia Larios: [00:29:14] Yeah, professionally, I want to learn the technologies necessary to do so and to be able to get a job in the gaming industry.
[00:29:25]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:29:25] Okay, so Unity is definitely going to be important. I think that's the go-to right now for games.
[00:29:34] This has been amazing, Yuridia. Thank you so much for joining me and chatting about your journey into tech.
[00:29:40]Yuridia Larios: [00:29:40] This was amazing for me too, because I want to share this journey. I want to inspire others and also keep sharing other stories because I want to get inspired through from others.
[00:29:51]Kate Martin: [00:29:51] Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the apprenticeship.io podcast. You can learn more about apprenticeships and find us online at www.apprenticeship.io. Don't forget to follow us on Spotify, and subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
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[00:30:17] Until next time, we're rooting for you.