Another Path If ‘Where ‘ is Not Certain, ‘How’ is Not Easy
There were two options for me, as I saw things, college, or a dead-end job. I didn’t know of another path. My parents had left all they knew in Mexico and the Dominican Republic to give me a life of opportunity and security. I want to honor my parent’s sacrifice and to make my family proud. So when I was accepted at Marquette University, it was a big deal. There was a lot of pressure on me to attend college and do well. As the youngest in my family, I felt my family’s expectations, hopes, and dreams on my shoulders. Since I was good at science and math, I planned to study biomedical engineering.
But college was a lonely experience, and after one quarter, I felt something was not working. I was already dealing with depression and had lost motivation with school around my sophomore year in High School. Young and with low self-esteem, I was ill-equipped for college and became further depressed. I had chosen a career that I didn’t understand, making that decision when I was only 18. I had no one to talk to about the college experience or prepare me for a world away from my family. At Marquette, the lecture-based teaching was passive and seemed unrelated to career aspirations. When I dropped out of college, my whole family was incredibly disappointed and didn’t understand why I left. I tried to hide my fear and my struggles. Mom said,’ You’re always on your computer; why don’t you see if you can do something with that.’ My mom and stepdad were the ones to find out about i.c.stars. They had seen an announcement about i.c.stars training and possible careers in technology. After a lot of procrastinating, I finally decided to apply.
Try A New Path
From the minute I walked in the door at i.c.stars, I could feel the energy. The evaluation process was intense, engaging, and challenging. It was not a quiz on existing knowledge but an assessment of aptitude and attitude. I am naturally curious and systematic in my approach. Problem-solving is part of my nature. I threw myself into the process. Even when I blew one of the challenges, I was not defeated but energized. I was told to trust the process and try again. The process or approach was applied learning and problem-solving or ‘work the problem”. This was active learning, rather than lecture-style learning, and was an approach that made sense to me. I was thrilled to be accepted to i.c.stars.
Though the work at i.c.stars was fast-paced and intense, personal support, such as counseling and career guidance, are also part of the program. Very soon, my cohort became a family. We encouraged, learned from each other, and began forming a professional network, which is vital for a successful career journey. The instructors were like coaches, supporting each student’s well-being and progress. In the first week, with development especially, I felt that I was on a path to a bright future and a career that would grow.
The instructors would say, “Trust the process,” and “you will get out of this what you put into it” Now I understand. Technology constantly changes, so learning one program language will not be enough for a successful career. At i.c.stars, you learn how to learn, seek answers, solve problems, and find solutions, working in concert with others.
Finding My Place
Depression Is Like A Fire
Having depression is still a part of me. It’s like a fire, burning occasionally with embers that never entirely go out. Mental health is a taboo topic not only within Hispanic families but in many workplaces. Growing up in such an environment, I felt weak whenever I was upset. I avoided letting others know so they wouldn’t walk on glass shards around me. I wanted to prove myself. It was best for me to deal with it on my own. But I am glad I was open about this with management, and they understood when I needed time out. Today, I’m a Senior Software Engineer for Accenture. Within my team, I feel supported and respected. I want others to know that depression is not the end; it’s common and can be managed. A fulfilling life and career are big steps in the right direction.
How Do You Want To Be Remembered?
During an I.c.stars discussion session, High Tea, the host is asked a legacy question: “How Do you want to be remembered?” I want to be remembered as someone who gave more than they took. Today, I am part of the leadership team for the alums in i.c.stars |* Milwaukee, the residency program. I also mentor high school girls for Girls Who Code. Many are at the same point in their lives that I once knew, finding themselves at a crossroads, wondering which way to go. I tell them that it takes time and experience to answer that question. Sometimes, you need to take a leap of faith. It’s probably true that many of us find ourselves in jobs that we did not anticipate and may not enjoy. I’m glad I recognized, at an early age, that my first career idea wasn’t right for me. I’m 23 now and at a stage where I truly know who I am and what I can become. Getting to this point wasn’t easy. I’ve battled depression and been discouraged. But I’ve also learned to take a deep breath, give back when I can, and appreciate everyone around me. I mentor others through the i.c.stars residency program for grads and am honored to serve on the Board of Directors. In this role, I can give feedback on issues, influence the program direction, and inspire other alums. Thank you to the instructors at i.c.stars, my family, and the developers who work with me today!