Corporate America increasingly recognizes the value of diversity in the workplace, says Eileen Chambers, executive director of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). The number of Hispanics in engineering and IT fields is steadily increasing, but not fast enough to meet the growing demand.
"SHPE's mission is to be the source for quality Hispanic engineers and technical talent," says Chambers. "Our programs focus on increasing the number of Hispanics entering technical professions and on developing Hispanic talent already in the workforce."
In professional development, she notes, the society's premier tools are its National Technical and Career Conference and National Institute for Leadership Advancement. Various SHPE regions and individual groups also hold conferences, seminars and meetings designed to enhance professional development.
"The cultural and interpersonal differences between Hispanics and other cultures are what we bring to the table," says Chambers.
"The whole point of diversity is understanding that everyone is different. Different perspectives add to the pool of knowledge, which strengthens the team."
Sure, extra effort is required to build that diverse pool of employees, "But I definitely see diversity as a positive strategy for corporate America," Chambers concludes.
When we interviewed ten Hispanic techies for this article, we asked them what sort of experiences they'd had in connection with their ethnicity. Almost all reported positive experiences. In fact, several of the people we spoke to said they were specifically recruited because they were Hispanic, or for their bilingual skills.
Hector Alvarez of Keynote: "Knowing multiple languages is useful"
Hector Alvarez is a senior software engineer at Keynote Systems (San Mateo, CA), part of the engineering staff supporting a customer experience management system. Keynote aims to improve e-business worldwide through innovative solutions in customer experience and service level management, and Web monitoring and measurement. Some 235 people work at the company.
It's Alvarez' job to integrate customer experience technologies acquired by Keynote into the technologies already in use, and create a single platform for customers.
Alvarez spent his first sixteen years in El Salvador. Then his family moved to Los Angeles, CA where he finished high school and graduated from the University of California-Los Angeles.
He and his brother and sister grew up speaking Spanish at home. But he learned English, got his BS in CS and engineering from UCLA in 1995 and went to work at Intel Corp (San Jose, CA).
He was part of an Intel IT team developing standards and best business practices for application development, and also a member of the engineering team that distributed documents and specifications to the company's customers.
In 2000 Alvarez went to work for Netraker Corp (Mountain View, CA) as a software engineer. He stayed on when Netraker became part of Keynote Systems.
"Knowing multiple languages is very useful here," he says. "We look for multi-lingual employees, especially for overseas positions. Some of my colleagues speak five languages."
The San Francisco Bay area, where Keynote is located, is very diverse, so employees are used to cultural and language differences, Alvarez explains.
Walt Disney's Murilo Coutinho: "All of us struggle to learn"
A native of Brazil, Dr Murilo Coutinho is the son of a Brazilian Supreme Court judge and a language teacher. He earned degrees in EE with a specialty in control systems in Brazil, and came to the U.S. in 1992 to work on a MSCS at the University of Southern California-Los Angeles and a PhD in EE control systems.
"When I came here, I realized that most of the positions for my kind of research were for the aerospace industry," Coutinho recalls. "I couldn't apply for most of those jobs because I'm not a citizen, so I went for computer science so I could work in a different field."
Coutinho has worked at the USC/Information Sciences Institute, Strategic Data Corp, Cinesite Visual Effects, and Sony Pictures Imageworks, all in Southern California.
At Cinesite, Coutinho first got into theatrical animation. At Imageworks he moved up to 3D lead engineer, supporting movie production with a team of six software engineers.
Last year he began as senior software engineer at Walt Disney's features animation group, part of Walt Disney Studios (Burbank, CA). Disney has about 100,000 employees worldwide.
Coutinho's group writes simulation software for animation that supports movie production. He developed a simulator which adds realism to flowing folds of cloth. It's being used on two shows now in production.
He first got interested in animation through his college research lab and its study of robotics. In 2001 he published Dynamic Simulations of Multibody Systems, a book which focuses on dynamic software elements used in simulation and animation work. "The more movies look realistic, the more people are needed who know about dynamics and animation," he says.
Coutinho enjoys his work, and hopes to continue in simulation/animation, where he says there are a lot of challenging problems waiting to be solved.
"In the beginning, it was very hard for me to make friends," he recalls. The problem was not so much that he's Hispanic, as that he's from a different country, he believes. "But I've worked with people from all over the world and things are much better now. All of us struggle to learn," says Coutinho.
Ricardo Elvir of UBS: no stereotyping indications
At UBS Investment Bank (New York, NY), Ricardo Elvir has the official title of global program manager, fixed income distribution IT. His work involves developing and implementing platforms and tools for the investment bankers to use. He's also helped manage the development of internal and external distribution websites for sales and trading folks on the fixed income trading desk.
Elvir was born in the U.S. and lived on Long Island in a suburb of New York City. His parents had emigrated from Honduras in 1961, and Elvir and his sisters grew up speaking English.
He earned a 1988 BS in programming and systems from Grumman Data Systems Institute on Long Island and an AS in business from Nassau Community College. His 1996 BS in management is from Adelphi University (Garden City, NY).
Before he joined UBS in 2000, Elvir was project manager of emerging markets technology at Bankers Trust/Deutsche Bank (New York, NY). Before that he was a programmer/analyst in municipal bond research at Moodys Investors Service.
"When I work with people on the Latin American trading desk, I can communicate with them better because I speak Spanish," he says.
"UBS is a very fair environment. It's very diverse, with people who are Indian, European and Asian."
Mayo Clinic's Edward Lopez: "People assume I speak Spanish"
After a career in the military, Edward Lopez now works as a software engineer in hospital systems at Mayo Clinic Information Services (Rochester, MN). He, his brothers and sister, and also their parents were born in Southern California. His parents spoke only English at home, although his grandparents spoke a mixture of both English and Spanish, "depending on their emotions at the time," Lopez recalls with amusement.
Lopez began college at the University of Portland (Portland, OR). Then he transferred to California State University-Sacramento on an Air Force ROTC scholarship. When he completed his BSCS in 2001 he served as a communications officer for four years, working as a programmer and software engineer.
"It was a very rare opportunity for me," says Lopez. "It's unusual to see an active duty Air Force officer developing software."
As a systems engineer at HQ Air Force personnel center (San Antonio, TX), he developed mission-critical applications and worked on development and graphic design for Web apps. He went on to theater communications engineer at the Air Force central command at an air base in Qatar, where he administered and engineered Air Force communication infrastructure throughout the Middle East.
He led a team of ten engineers creating complex communications circuits, and helped integrate Army and Air Force soldier tracking systems intended to reduce friendly fire incidents.
He returned to the Air Force research lab (Rome, NY) to work on services-oriented infrastructure and direct a team creating a tool for platform health and status monitoring.
When his Air Force duty ended last year Lopez joined the Mayo staff, where he manages, maintains and troubleshoots software. He's proud to work with issue-critical software used to save lives, he says. His team supplements the software that dispatches 911 emergency calls for all southern Minnesota.
Lopez doesn't consider himself bilingual anymore. "People here in Minnesota may assume I speak Spanish, but I really have to struggle to understand it now," he admits.
Lopez is working on an MS in technical communication with an emphasis on human/computer interaction (HCI) from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, NY). He expects the degree to be useful at Mayo, since the clinic has an HCI team.
Another area of interest is Mayo's "See Plan Act Refine Communicate" (SPARC) innovation lab. SPARC, Lopez notes, focuses on new ways and procedures to make a doctor visit more effective. "It's about changing the traditional hospital environment," he explains.
Marc Perez of Jenzabar: "We work together as a team"
Jenzabar means "class of the best and brightest" in the native Mandarin Chinese of founder Ling Chai. The company, which creates enterprise solutions and provides e-learning software and services for higher education, was founded in 1998. Its HQ is in Cambridge, MA; it has five regional offices across the U.S. and some 250 associates.
Marc Perez has worked as a senior network administrator at Jenzabar since 2004. One of his projects was a deployment of Active Directory and a server consolidation effort to reduce server count and administrative burden. That included consolidating product development servers, multiple domain consolidations and deploying virtual servers for re-hosting.
Perez is a native New Yorker, born in Manhattan, raised in the Bronx. His father was born in Puerto Rico and came to the U.S. as a child, while his mother was born here. As an early teen Perez moved to rural Maine with his parents where his mother, who has a BS in psychology and an MA in special education, taught at the University of Maine.
Perez studied CS at the University of Southern Maine, and Novell Network systems management and admin at Southern Maine Technical College. He studied management via Franklin Covey courses, and learned Microsoft networking essentials and admin at ValCom technical services company (now part of CBE Technologies) in South Portland, ME. He also had courses offered by Lucent Technologies, and Microsoft-certified training.
Along the way Perez engaged in contract work for Vicor, Inc, a power engineering company. As security admin there he surveyed LAN/WAN infrastructure, identified network vulnerabilities and weaknesses within the OS/desktop environment and developed a methodology for securing desktops.
Another contract put Perez in charge of deploying 1,000 laptops to remote Active Directory locations. He configured LAN/WAN proxy settings to enable use of remote software for inventory, and resolved issues with roaming profiles, Citrix connectivity, Exchange and Lotus Notes.
Perez joined MBNA America Bank (Portland, ME) in 1995 as info security manager and LAN admin for a call center. In 1999 he went to work at Dictronics (Needham, MA), designing and installing voicemail and voice recognition systems nationwide, facilitating customer training and managing Windows LAN.
In 2001 he started at Boston Church of Christ (North Shore, MA). He administered team support of a Windows network, implemented audiovisual for special events, worked in security and much more.
Although Perez enjoyed all the consulting work he's done so far, Jenzabar is his favorite. "I like my job here more than any other I've had," he says. "We work together as a team."
He hasn't experienced any specific problems as a Latin American, but both he and an African American colleague have realized that a polished image is preferred in New England. They are careful to portray themselves on the job as serious white-collar workers, although Perez notes with a smile that dress is casual at Jenzabar.
Denny Pichardo of IBM Global Services: "a push for diversity"
Denny Pichardo was born in the Dominican Republic and emigrated to the U.S. with his family as a teenager. They settled in New York, NY where Pichardo graduated from City College with a BSCS in May 2002.
Immediately after college, Pichardo moved into IBM's elite Extreme Blue internship program. He was involved in the architecture and development of an application designed to help consultants with performance analysis. When the internship was done IBM hired him to stay on and complete the project.
He stayed far beyond that, working on software development and familiarizing himself with performance engineering and testing practices. This led to consulting engagements focused on Java and Web performance in the Netherlands, Singapore, Canada and Australia.
Pichardo is now a senior IT specialist with IBM, working out of his home office in New York City. In addition to his consulting duties, he helps IBM's HR people recruit for the Extreme Blue program. He's hoping to get into technical research related to AI at IBM. He's also a member of the IBM/SHPE SWAT team, managing a project to rebuild SHPE's IT infrastructure and develop an online portal using latest IBM technologies.
"There's a push for diversity here," Pichardo says. He likes what he's doing for SHPE although, he says with a smile, "I haven't yet had the opportunity to use my bilingual skills at work."
José Porro of Marriott: "open and sensitive to other cultures"
José Porro was born in Washington, DC to parents who emigrated from Cuba in 1961. He and his brother and sisters grew up in Bethesda, MD, speaking Spanish at home and learning English in grade school. Porro's father is a retired head architect for the U.S. Treasury and the White House, and his mother is an accountant for the Inter-American Development Bank (Washington, DC).
Porro is currently director of information resources for sales decision support at Marriott (Washington, DC), the global hotel company with more than 2,700 lodging properties in sixty-six countries, and 133,000 associates worldwide. Porro reached his position through a network of increasingly responsible jobs.
He began as a programmer/consultant for RDP, an IBM subcontractor. The job included support for military hardware and QA on software projects. In 1983 Porro went to work for Giant Foods at its HQ in Landover, MD as lead developer on a pharmacy system. In 1997 he moved to Dart Group, the parent company of Dart Drug, Crown Books and Track Auto stores (Landover, MD) where he managed a team that designed new apps for back-office financial and inventory systems.
In 1989 Porro moved to SatoTravel (Arlington, VA) as project manager responsible for the back-office development team and tech sales presentations. His team built custom interfaces for major computer reservation systems and other complex apps.
Porro went to work for Cable & Wireless, the UK-based telecom company, in 1997 as senior manager in McLean, VA. He put together a production support team for the company's call-center order processing system, and led a computer-telephony integration project which won the C&W; president's award of excellence.
In 1998 Porro reached Marriott, where his job includes leading the development and maintenance of applications. His team is currently focused on creating and managing a sales data warehouse which extracts information from internal and external sources.
Porro also contributes to Marriott's enterprise architecture efforts, and has led technical evaluation teams studying and recommending specific technologies.
"Having strong Cuban roots and growing up here has made me both open to and sensitive to other cultures," says Porro. "If you look at the makeup of my team you'll see that it's culturally diverse. The diversity challenge has integrated us."
Toyota's Rene Reyes: bilingual skills were a major motivation
Rene Reyes is a specialist at IT/Manufacturing Support and System Development (MSSD, Georgetown, KY), a Toyota division. His group is in charge of developing mission-critical IT systems and deploying them to all Toyota plants in North America.
These are the systems directly related to manufacturing. They may be used for tracking parts or vehicles, developing and upgrading systems or adding new software.
Reyes' parents came to the U.S. from Mexico in the late 1960s. He was born in Dallas, TX, where he and his four brothers and two sisters spoke Spanish at home.
Reyes' father was an industrial manufacturing mechanic, which got Reyes interested in technology. In 1996, even before he got to college, he was working for Motorola Mobile Devices (Fort Worth, TX) as an admin for the Unix platform and providing tech support for computer software and hardware. He went on to work for J4 Systems Consulting (Roseville, CA) as a programmer.
In 2000 he finally got to San Francisco State University (San Francisco, CA) and graduated in 2003 with a BSEE with emphasis on digital design. In college he had internships and part-time work for Boeing and other companies, but when he graduated he went to Toyota.
"My bilingual skills were one of the reasons they hired me," says Reyes. "My team has to travel to all the plants when software is deployed. I went to Mexico frequently when that plant opened and new software was deployed there."
Every year the economy is becoming more globalized, Reyes notes. He concludes that a technical background along with bilingual skills will make you an asset to many companies, including his own.
"There are quite a few cultural differences in moving from San Francisco to Kentucky," Reyes has noticed. But he didn't get a taste of real cultural differences until he was exposed to the Mexican professional work culture.
"I was born here and educated here," he says. "Even though I had been traveling to Mexico since childhood, I didn't realize how big a cultural difference there was in the workplace."
Reyes notes wryly that his real cultural difficulty is between his IT skills and his EE degree. He would like to segue to engineering and design, and hopes to transfer to a department that will let him work toward that goal.
Tybrin's Mario Rios: real advantages to being Hispanic
Mario Rios settled in the suburbs of Chicago, IL with his parents and three brothers in 1977. He spoke Spanish at home and learned English in school.
Today Rios is a lead software test automation engineer at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, working with the U.S. Air Force forty-sixth test squadron. His employer is Tybrin (Fort Walton Beach, FL), a worldwide contractor to the Air Force.
Rios got a BSEE with an emphasis on computer engineering in 2002 from Oklahoma State University. He had college internships at AT&T; Bell Labs, Lucent Technologies and Visionael, where he tested software and then transitioned into software test automation.
He began working for Tybrin after graduation. His work involves planning, writing and executing automation scripts, setting up and configuring automation tools, configuring various operating systems and software, addressing automation requirements and more.
"There is no need to speak Spanish in my position, but I have been offered other jobs that would require me to speak Spanish," he says. "Speaking Spanish can be a huge asset, especially if you have to deal with Latin American companies or work for a business in the U.S. that caters to the Latin American community."
Rios believes that cultures will always have different idiosyncrasies. Nothing to be disturbed about, he says, "considering that the U.S. is a melting pot of people and cultures."
Ari Soto of Accenture: stepping up to be a role model
Ari Soto, a native of Mexico, now works as a business analyst for Accenture, a global management consulting, tech services and outsourcing company with more than 123,000 people in 48 countries. Soto works from his home office in Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg, FL.
Soto and his family came to Los Angeles, CA in 1989, where he spoke Spanish at home. He graduated from California State University-Northridge in 2003, with a BS in manufacturing systems engineering.
He interned with GE in college and started there when he graduated. He went on to Accenture, where he worked as a consultant on IT strategy and software implementation in areas like telecom, healthcare and banking. "We help our clients access and manage data and use it to grow their businesses," says Soto.
His projects at Accenture last about six months. He was able to use his Spanish in his first project there, providing the Spanish translation for a telecom company implementing a voice recording system.
A disadvantage of being a Hispanic in software is the relative scarcity of people like yourself, Soto believes. "But younger Hispanic professionals like me can step up and be role models," he says. He also recruits for Accenture through SHPE.
He would like to stay with Accenture for his future career path but get into radio frequency identification (RFID), a military technology that's just going commercial. "Accenture is involved in it, so that would work out very well," Soto explains happily.