Yesenia, a student at Johns Hopkins, currently interning at Nuro, had been looking for groups to guide her with professional development when she came across ColorStack on LinkedIn. She was fascinated with what she saw and ended up joining in May 2020. “It’s really great because, before then, I had a LinkedIn that was completely blank and I didn’t really network or feel confident about my professional presence or brand; but ColorStack changed that by providing me with networking and professional development opportunities that felt safe.”
Because of this, Yesenia credits ColorStack with giving her the knowledge she needed to succeed professionally. “I didn’t know there were people talking about these types of things, helping each other get jobs or internships or network with software engineers or recruiters.” She continues, “I didn’t know about these opportunities or spaces, about the environment where you can ask students how to negotiate with recruiters or discuss interview prep resources for certain companies. ColorStack was a really cool, new experience because there were so many students of color talking about niche tech topics and a number of young people who had interned at Google or some big company, so that’s awesome. It’s been a great experience to finally be in a space with other Black and Indigenous tech students where we aren’t “othered,” and can simply convivir.” Learning from the experience of her peers meant a lot to her, but it’s that last point that sticks out to Yesenia because of the underrepresentation Black, Indigenous, and Latinx students and professionals are forced to persevere in. . “It was really cool to join ColorStack and see a bunch of people all at once who were similar to me in that regard. This organization is a great example of a counterspace, and helped me both realize and articulate my passion for DEI in tech and in a larger sense, corporate social justice.”
Yesenia had begun her academic journey studying cellular and molecular biology. But things began to change for her after participating in a connectomics (the study of neural connections) internship the summer before her sophomore year. “I was exposed to machine learning, specifically computer vision through that internship.” She was hooked, changing her major to Computer Engineering the following semester. “I switched my major sophomore fall, took the intro classes, and struggled a lot.” Though she had a difficult time, Yesenia stuck with it, and at the end of her junior year, in quarantine, found support in the resources provided by ColorStack and the ColorStack Family. Last recruitment cycle, she took the first internship offer she received by November, this time around, with the support of ColorStack, she secured offers with DoorDash, Amazon, Nuro, Oracle, GoDaddy, and others, signing with the first three companies for back-to-back internships on a gap year after leaving IBM. “If it weren’t for the professional confidence in myself that I’d gained as a result of ColorStack’s networking and exclusive job opportunities, I wouldn’t have taken the gap year. It wasn’t until I saw fellow young, BIPOC techies that I realized I could do that stuff too.”
When asked about what she found most helpful, Yesenia replies, “I think it was the constant posting of opportunities by members, events with corporate sponsors, and Black+Latinx+Indigenous excellence that facilitated my career growth. . It encouraged me to apply to things, seeking other Black and Latinx undergrads doing amazing things.” She asserts that ColorStack introduced her to this environment where she saw new opportunities and felt confident enough to apply to them, for instance, applying to be a speaker at an IEEE conference. “I wouldn’t have sought out those types of opportunities or if it hadn’t been for ColorStack. I did a lot of things that I wouldn’t have applied to or known about if it weren’t for ColorStack. It’s more like a vibe and seeing other people do great things, it’s not like I wanna brag about it or I wanna flex. It’s more like ‘Oh they did it, I can do it. Oh, there’s no harm in applying.’” The confidence to cast a wide net meant that Yesenia was able to participate in Bloomberg Empowers, Jane Street IN FOCUS, and Facebook ABCS, to name a few.
She adds that it’s important to recognize that everyone struggles, which can be difficult because all we tend to see are people’s successes. “I just want to add that behind all of the cool, prestigious acceptances, there are dozens of rejections. It’s inevitable that you compare yourself to others, so just know that person got rejected to a bunch of things. If you compare yourself to me, just know that I got rejected by a bunch of companies and you probably don’t know about that.”
It hasn’t been easy for Yesenia, but she turns to several different concepts whenever she finds herself struggling, each focusing on resilience and the importance of persevering. Two mottos specifically come to mind, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” and “While I sit here in pity and sorrow for myself, a great wind carries me.” Yesenia admits, “I try to think in those types of terms because I do get stressed out, and it’s not that I want to quit. I want to be apathetic and just be lazy, but I have to work hard.” Additionally, as she navigates the world, she turns to another idea that she gleaned from Cecilia Muñoz, former Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council under President Obama. Yesenia explains, “Muñoz had mentioned how in those legislative meetings or those roundtable meetings how she was the only Hispanic person in general, talking about immigration for example. She said there were two ways of looking at it: I’m the only one like me here so there’s no one here to back me up or I’m the only one like me here so what I have to say is twice as important.” For Yesenia, these three concepts give her the strength she needs to keep moving forward and finding success.