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This Women’s History Month, AnitaB.org is highlighting trailblazers, barrier-busters, and path-pavers who are carrying on Grace Hopper’s legacy of making technology more accessible. For the benefit, wellbeing, and development of the world’s population, the creators, testers, evaluators, and implementors of technology must represent users of said technology. While we’re far from where we want to be (women make up only 27.6% of the tech workforce, and nine in ten women and non-binary technologists experience discrimination), we’re further now than we were, thanks to women like Ruth Llanos-Vos.
Throughout Ruth’s over 20 years in tech, she has been a dedicated member of the women in technology community, spearheading various interest groups and movements with the goal of empowering women and historically excluded groups. We sat down with her to ask about her experience in tech, what advice she has for the future generation, and how she keeps her skills sharp.
What Motivates You to Be a Community Leader for Women and Non-binary Technologists?
Ruth: I strongly believe in the need to create equal opportunities. As a woman of color, I experience directly the challenges we face to be heard, to be promoted, or even to be present at the table (and the reality that at that table we may be the only woman, let alone woman of color).
As a community leader, I empower people to continue to push the needle, so that one day, women and other minority groups can experience equality in this country, in the workforce – everywhere. As a community leader, I create space for us to collectively cherish our different perspectives and celebrate our unique talents. My desire is for future generations to not have to experience the same inequality and to earn opportunities based on merit rather than by privilege or association.
As a Latin Woman in Tech, What Advice Would You Give Your Younger Self?
Ruth: There are five important pieces of advice I would give my younger self:
The first piece of advice is a classic, and so important: don’t be afraid to speak up and share your ideas openly. As women, and women of color, we are often the odd one out. It can be intimidating to raise your hand if the little voice in your head tells you your contribution may not be as respected as others. While that notion may be unfounded or fundamentally untrue, it is an extra hurdle to overcome. Speaking up and sharing our ideas is one of the most direct ways to make our voices heard and share our views and knowledge with our peers at the table.
The second piece of advice is related to the above – a nice reminder that my younger self could have benefited from: Having an accent does not define a person, or the quality of their ideas. While it might sound obvious, this flies in the face of the bias that has been baked into the foundation of the United States. Having an accent doesn’t make you less smart, less capable, or less deserving. Having an accent does mean you are likely able to communicate in more than just one language, and that is a good thing. This skill can open global opportunities for you!
Third: Invest in building strong relationships. A diverse, intentional network provides the opportunity to share your motivations, goals and interests, but also ask for honest feedback and learn from each other.
Fourth: It is ok to fail sometimes. While we can’t always control the situation, we can control how we react to it – and ‘failures’ are often key moments where you can open yourself to new learnings and adopt a growth mindset, benefiting you from that moment forward. Women often put too much pressure on themselves, and these unreal expectations can have an impact on mental health.
Finally, my fifth piece of advice: don’t settle until you find the work that makes you happy. It requires hard work, dedication, and intention (not to mention, sometimes it takes a lot of time) to find the thing you truly love doing – but it’s so worth it. If you’re not sure where to start, finding people to talk to (advice #3! 👆) can provide you with unique information, perspectives, and opportunities!
How Do You Stay Current with Your Skillset?
Ruth: Having an inquisitive mind and the drive to be curious about how you can improve the thing you are working on can lead to exciting new ideas, as well as provide an organic way to learn while on the job. I’m a reader, so I enjoy keeping myself up to date by reading technology blogs to keep a pulse on trends and to gain insights that help prioritize next steps – but podcasts and videos are also great ways to consume information from industry leaders and role models.
I also love attending conferences and the training sessions they offer. Our community has no shortage of superstars who are generous with their knowledge, and in this connected world, we don’t have to wait for a specific time to attend a new class or conference. Similarly, joining a local community often leads to collaboration, education, and resource sharing that can propel your career forward. It also offers excellent opportunities to share our views with youth who are considering pursuing a career in STEM. In short, local communities are where you meet a mentor or become one.
Finally, be sure to understand what opportunities for career development training and certification your company offers! It should be expected that your job is consistently helping you develop new skills. If you feel stuck doing the same thing with minimal learning, it might be time to start looking for a change.
How has Being an AnitaB.org Member Helped You Pave the Way Forward for Women and Non-binary Technologists?
Ruth: More than any other professional network, being an AnitaB.org Member has allowed me to access an incredible network of women technologists who over the years have become role models, mentors, and some of my closest friends. In addition, it has provided me with meaningful opportunities to connect with new people and volunteer in the role of mentoring others. It gives me great joy to have been a small positive part in people’s journey on their career paths. Our community of women and non-binary technologists, especially from minority backgrounds, is still a relatively small one. By centering humanity and human relationships, I am confident that this work will result in even more people passionate about tech and about growing our community. We may not always see the change, but we are surely a part of it.
About Ruth Llanos-Vos
Ruth started her career as an aerospace and mechanical engineer after earning both her master’s and bachelor’s degree in engineering. Ruth has worked in technology for over twenty years, working within supply chain, program, and product management. Ruth has led teams to produce, collaborate, and deliver outstanding software and hardware products for both B2B and B2C, and has worked for companies like Apple, UKG, Nuance Communications (Microsoft), Motorola, and BAE Systems. Ruth is currently the Co-Leader for the AnitaB.org Florida Chapter, Board Member of Latinas in Computing, Women Techmakers Ambassador, and a regular speaker at events like Grace Hopper Celebration, Women in Product conference, and local events on STEM and D&I.
Read more posts from the thread Alegría Baquero’s Tech Journey and Vision for a More Inclusive Future