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Tell us about your Tech Journey:
I am Alegría Baquero. I started my tech journey in my home country, Ecuador, first as a multimedia developer and later as co-founder of a small web development company. Seven years later, I came to the United States to pursue my Master’s in Informatics at UC Irvine.
Going back to school in a foreign country, within an exciting but nevertheless demanding program, was a big challenge. I often wondered if I had what it took to succeed. Not only did I graduate, but I continued on to pursue a Software Engineering PhD. I was all too familiar with the infamous impostor syndrome during those years. It was a huge milestone when I earned my Doctorate degree, with an especially challenging last year given the birth of my son Oliver. Perseverance, grit (or call it stubbornness), and the love and support of my family helped me cross the finish line.
After graduating, and with no recent industry experience, I began the job search with hesitation and uncertainty. Zocdoc, a company in the health-tech space, gave me the shot I needed to pursue the profession that I so aspired to. I started as an intern and made my way to a full-time Engineer. It was hard not to feel out of place with so many smart and experienced individuals, but the welcoming and mentoring culture enabled me to learn and grow as an engineer. With years of software development experience accrued, and with the support of my manager at the time, I became the Engineering Manager for the Search Experience team at Zocdoc.
In 2014, I attended Grace Hopper Celebration and became involved in Latinas in Computing, an affinity group of AnitaB.org. I was inspired by the community they had created, and in 2021, was invited to be part of the leadership team and work towards creating a stronger network of Latinas across America. I appreciate the opportunity to work with amazing, mission-driven individuals and look forward to continuing to contribute to this community. I am very grateful and proud of my journey as a Latina in tech, having accomplished many goals and dreams along the way, and looking forward to what is still to come.
How has working in tech changed the way you view the world?
Working in tech has changed the way I view the world in two related ways.
First, it has made me realize the infinite possibilities for the application of technology in every domain, and the significant impact that we, as technologists, can make on how we live and how we work.
However, being part of this field has also made me realize the strides we still need to make to truly represent a multifaceted society with different backgrounds, needs, and challenges.
Software cannot properly serve our users without instilling diverse and inclusive worldviews in our systems by way of equally diverse engineering teams. These are teams that are not only diverse in their workforce but also within their leadership. Although in recent years tech companies have made progress through DEI initiatives, organizations have yet to realize the vision of a more diverse workplace.
Tell us about a project or initiative you’re particularly proud of:
I have long been motivated to work in health tech, to make an impact in an area that is so fundamental to human life. This career choice gives me pride and is a continuous source of motivation.
As an immigrant, it was challenging to find health care in a new country. When I found out about Zocdoc, a health-tech company that makes finding medical care very accessible, getting the basic care I needed became much less daunting. Over the years, my family and I have benefited multiple times from finding the right doctor in the Zocdoc marketplace. Therefore, being part of the Search Experience team and working towards improving the experience of patients finding the care they need makes me incredibly proud.
I am also particularly proud of the COVID-19 vaccine scheduler that we developed for the City of Chicago in early 2021, which was a pro bono service offered by Zocdoc. In a time of fear and hope, being able to provide vaccine appointments to thousands of people was an indescribable feeling.
What does a tech sector that has ‘succeeded’ in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging look like?
Achieving Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging in the workplace, for me, involves equally likely gender and ethnic representation at every level or role within an organization, not least within its leadership. We will succeed when individuals stop feeling they are the only one in the room who looks like them, and where diverse opinions and cultural backgrounds are better informing how technology and products are built.
Our own biases and worldviews inevitably permeate the products we build, and thus a more diverse workforce will be able to create applications that cater to more diverse needs. This is increasingly important with the rapid advancements in AI and Machine Learning, where the training data is potentially negatively biased towards a more homogenous or over-represented ethnicity, gender, or socio-economic status. Without diverse representation of software users and software creators, we risk developing software that behaves unfairly or is inadequate to serve a multifaceted society.
What does National Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?
Being a Hispanic woman has always given me pride. To me, it is synonymous with strength, perseverance, tenacity, candor, and passion. Being a Hispanic and Latina woman allows me to bring my perspective to the table, normalize the presence of someone who looks like me in a leadership position, and inspire others to persevere and defeat impostor syndrome to demonstrate that we deserve to be part of this beautiful profession.
Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity to share my background, the traditions of my home country, and the food we enjoy and which is nostalgic to childhood. It is also a great celebration of where we came from and what we have achieved as a community, something I am proud of year-round. For me, Hispanic Heritage Month is also another opportunity to share my culture with my son and have him be proud of being Latino and Hispanic, and try, to the best of my ability, to share with him a heritage that is so rich in art, music, traditions, culture, and history.
What advice do you have for aspiring technologists, especially those from Hispanic backgrounds?
My advice to aspiring technologists is to persevere when the path is challenging because this profession is both versatile and rewarding. Leverage your networks to find support, advice, and mentorship, help in the job search, or simply to have a friend to share your challenges with.
Sometimes the push we need is found in a friendly and encouraging voice on the other side of the phone. There are many Hispanics in the tech world who are working towards promoting and helping each other in the tech industry. Organizations such as Latinas in Computing, Latinas in Tech, Techqueria, AnitaB.org of course, and many others can provide you with a strong network of professionals and with job opportunities.
After you have started working as part of an organization, become an active member of an ERG that speaks to your identity. I served as a co-lead of Women in Tech at Zocdoc, and together we have made a difference by helping increase the representation of women within our technology team and collaborating with recruiting to ensure we have an inclusive interview process at Zocdoc.
Finally, when you get to your dream job, don’t forget to extend your hand to other aspiring technologists, providing them with a layer of support for them to follow in your footsteps and truly feel part of our industry. Together, we are stronger and more resilient.
About Alegría: Alegría Baquero is an Engineering Manager at Zocdoc, a health-tech company focusing on providing a better healthcare experience for patients. She is also the former lead of the Women in Tech ERG group at Zocdoc and a co-chair to Latinas in Computing, working towards increasing diversity and inclusion in technology.
She is originally from Ecuador. She moved to the United States in 2007 to pursue her M.S. and then earned her Ph.D. in Information and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, in December 2014.
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