Let’s start from the beginning. Tell me all about your early years and where you come from.
I’m from Monterrey, Mexico. About three hours away from the border of Texas, and I basically grew up on the internet. That’s mostly where I come from. The internet has been part of my life and education since about age eleven.
I knew that I wanted to be a designer when I was thirteen, but I didn’t know how to make that happen. However, I was subconsciously an early adopter of services like DeviantArt, MySpace, Flickr, then later Tumblr, Reddit…I think these were the major turning points in my life, because during all my teen years I was inspired by the work of others, and it made it clear to me that I wanted to be part of this online awesome community. So I started drawing.
I tried two career paths before graphic design. Industrial Design and Visual Arts. I didn’t like either, so I decided to give graphic design a try. I fell in love as soon as I worked in Adobe Illustrator for the first time.
While I was in college I was also working on my illustration and stationery brand, sharing my work online, and taking on freelance projects. That really helped me find my career path. I was not only looking, I was sharing my own work and making money from it.
In 2013 I attended my first SxSW and that helped me understand tech much better and made me realize that I wanted to work in this industry and learn as much as I could from it. I started saving money to move to San Francisco. I thought I’d give it a try for a few months, and so I moved in September 2013. I was still blogging and sharing my work a lot, basically “self-publishing”, and I was really lucky to be featured on Badass Lady Creatives. They’re an amazing blog for upcoming female creatives, and that’s how the team at Sidecar found me. They called me for an interview, and that became my first job in SF.
I love it. What were your preconceptions or expectations about Silicon Valley and what was it like getting here? Was it what you expected? What was different than you expected?
I didn’t have as many expectations as I had fears. It wasn’t until I got here that it hit me that “this is San Francisco!” where, like, the internet lives. It was really challenging at first, from doing an interview in English, to negotiating salary etc.. I was also really scared of being rejected, as a freelancer you get to choose your clients most of the time. It was also my first “real world job” as a designer, and the fact that I didn’t go to a Stanford-like college and didn’t have connections definitely made the whole process of getting a job really challenging. But in the end, I realized that everyone comes from a very different background. Maybe it’s just my personal experience but I see more diversity than when I first moved here, both in the city and at events that I attend.
As a designer I don’t think I have less attractive salary offers than my male peers, but all the women I’ve known do work extra hard in order to gain credibility. It’s hard to stand up for ourselves, maybe more so than getting paid equally.
I can totally relate in my experience when I was in tech. What else have you noticed either in your own experience or around you being both a female and an immigrant working in tech?
As an immigrant, I used to feel this pressure that my English had to be as perfect as any American. Especially coming from Monterrey and the kind of society that they are, everyone’s expected to speak perfect English. It’s really intimidating to think of that as the expectation, but when I moved here I realized that people come here from all over the world and everyone speaks their own version of English.
I think it’s really valuable for companies to be as diverse as possible on their teams because we all understand different cultures and come from different backgrounds. I know a lot of places that appreciate that enormously. I also think that California is a really warm and friendly place to work. No one has ever made me feel like I’m less for being Mexican. If anything, people really like that, they’re really curious about knowing different places to travel to, different cultures, and I think some startups here have really embraced that about the local culture.
Yeah, I love that. Tell me more about getting a cancer diagnosis while getting a job offer from Uber and how that’s changed your life, and how that impacts your priorities now?
Well, it was terrifying, and I definitely had to rearrange my life. It made me realize that as a young society we tend to overlook our own health. I had a rare form of breast cancer when I was 19, so I didn’t link the back pain that I was having to cancer at all. I’d comment on it for months, and everyone seemed to think it was normal: my fiance’s back hurt, my friends’ back hurt, my therapist’s back hurt…it seemed like everyone was experiencing something similar, but it wasn’t until I went to get an MRI done that we realized it was the same cancer but in a different area. Thankfully it didn’t spread anywhere else and it’s only on my hipbone area.
This chaos happened exactly when my life and career were just changing. I was traveling to Mexico and dealing with a bunch of different doctors, while also negotiating and signing this job offer that I ultimately had to reject when I got the diagnosis. I was really excited about what was coming for me, my career, and my partner. We were both getting new exciting jobs, had plans to move out of our studio apartment, and we just had to pause those plans for a while. It was so surreal, and blurry, and heartbreaking.
However, I’m a little glad that I had the opportunity to pause everything because I hadn’t stopped working basically since I got my first job in 2008. The closest to a vacation had been when I first moved here in 2013… to get a job, haha. My priority right now is myself, my family, and then my career, which was hard to accept because I love my career more than anything, but sometimes you just need to stop and appreciate everything else. That’s how I’m looking at it now because I really needed a break.
What have been your biggest struggles?
When I was younger, my biggest struggle was to recognize myself as a designer and be able to talk to people about my work or their work. I’ve always been a little too socially anxious. When I moved here, I had to do the same in a different language, which was extra hard because I felt like I’d lose some credibility if I didn’t speak perfectly, which is not true in most cases.
Lately, it’s been to accept that I’m not going to be as productive as I was a year ago, which is stressful because my head is never not working. However it’s enabled me to go back to old habits that I lost when I moved here, like reading, sketching, or as simple as watching TV shows.
Have you had mentors or people you’ve looked up to for inspiration along the way?
Always. I try to go as far as possible for inspiration: distance, time, or discipline. Bruno Munari is my favorite for design insights. Vignelli has a mind blowing design legacy. I don’t think I’ve ever had mentors, but I feel like everyone that inspires me has mentored me in a way.
What are your biggest motivators?
Constantly learning and growing.
How do your friends and family feel about the work you’ve done?
I don’t think most of my friends, let alone family, fully understand what I do at work. They know that I’m an illustrator and I try to make it simple for them, so most of them think I just draw for a living, which would be awesome, but I don’t. It wasn’t until Uber and GM started happening that they were like “look at you with your real job!”
What do you think about the state of tech in 2016?
Like any industry, tech is hard to understand, and as tech workers we’re constantly figuring things out. Tech is so unpredictable, you could spend weeks doing research on a project that at the end will be shut down, or you could spend just a week solving one problem and it will have a huge impact. It’s hard because everyone wants to be in their own world, but we also need human interaction, but that means you’re slightly less productive. I think we’re still trying to get to that balance.
Projects like Google Brain are so mind-blowing and so positive, it really gives me hope and makes me excited for future generations. I always wonder things like “what is Google Brain, or VR, going to look like in 20 years?”, “How are we going to utilize these resources in 100 years from now?” or “How’s the health industry going to be impacted by this?”. People are working on amazing things, and I can go on with at least 10 other super interesting tech projects. I guess my point here is that tech doesn’t always mean apps and business and sucking people’s lives into feedback loops for money. When my friends are interested I always tell them about projects they’re less likely to hear about on traditional media. I think everyone should be informed about this stuff because tech is changing people’s lives in positive ways more than negative.
What do you love the most about working in tech?
I love that I get to create a universal form of communication that works on every platform, and for most people in the world. I love creating systems that will lead to a functional visual experience that people enjoy. As a designer, the biggest concern 50 years ago was how to make your visual system work in different mediums. Now it’s how to make it work in different screens, cultures, languages, and mediums. I think it’s awesome that we’re moving so fast that we’re constantly learning as we go.
What would you like to see change?
The perception most people have about “techies”. We are definitely not millionaire magicians with big egos who believe we’re all changing the world. Things are constantly changing. As tech workers we’re just using technology as a resource to make small improvements to our work and our lives. It’s very much a culture of change, where nothing is sacred and someone is always going to come along and try to improve what already exists. Most of my friends and coworkers live in small spaces, work on small projects, and have a relatively small budget. The real magic of tech is that we’re a culture of constant self-improvement.
How do you think your background and life experiences impact the way you approach your work?
Growing up online has given me the opportunity to learn from a friendly, and disciplined design culture that I got very much into, even before I got to work in tech, so work feels like an extension of the online world I already knew.
So what are you working on right now, either for work or for yourself?
Sidecar was acquired this year and I’m currently a product designer at General Motors. I think it’s exciting that GM is expanding the way that they are, and I’m happy to be part of their technology team. I’m also doing a collaboration with a Mexican fashion brand. It’s the first time I’ve done anything in fashion, so it’s really exciting!
Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years? Do you think you’ll stay in tech?
I don’t know where I’ll be, but tech is part of our lives. This industry is also constantly changing and never ending, and so are our lives, so I’d love to stay in tech but I’d like to explore other fields like education or health, and how they can be improved with technology.
For my last question—I know you have lots share because you have written posts on this—but what advice would you give folks to similar backgrounds to you who are hoping to get into tech?
Don’t be afraid to showcase your work. Be part of the online community, I think that’s really important, or at least it has been for me. I was at Barnes and Noble last weekend and we were reading this programming book from 2015 and my fiance’s like “this is already outdated”. I love magazines, I love analog mediums, but they’re never going to move as fast as the ones online.
Lastly, take advantage of all the IRL events that happen in a lot of cities for free…because sometimes we just don’t have a thousand dollars to spend on that cool Design Week, and that’s why events like CreativeMornings, Behance Portfolio Reviews, all the different “meetups” that are happening are so important. They truly are an amazing way to network and meet peers without having to spend so much money and time.