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Profile: Samantha Quiñones

How to succeed in tech: Samantha Quiñones gives her tips

Gabriela Motroc
diversity
© Shutterstock /Lamina2014

Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? Last year, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Samantha Quiñones.

A research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

Women in Tech — The Survey

We would like to get to the bottom of why gender diversity remains a challenge for the tech scene. Therefore, we invite you all to fill out our diversity survey. Share your experiences with us!

Your input will help us identify the diversity-related issues that prevent us from achieving gender equality in technology workplaces.

Without further ado, we would like to introduce Samantha Quiñones.

Samantha Quiñones

Over the course of her career, Samantha Quiñones has built software and led teams for some of the largest names in technology. Samantha is an internationally renowned speaker and sits on the PHP-FIG Core Committee.

She has been recognized by the Huffington Post as one of the top Latin Americans in Media and is a 2015 recipient of the DCFT Powerful Female Programmers Award. 

What got you interested in technology?

My grandmother was really into Star Trek and Star Wars – really anything with spaceships. I remember watching science fiction shows and movies with her when I was very young, especially Star Trek. I wanted to grow up and build the computer from the Enterprise, and when I got my first computer in the late 1980s, I taught myself how to program in BASIC.

As a teenager, I got into MUD and MUSH programming – again, around science fiction themed games – and eventually started doing it for a living.

Overcoming obstacles

I grew up poor and didn’t have great educational prospects. I didn’t finish high school and worked in retail, waited tables, and even cleaned offices. Getting to the point where I could be taken seriously was hard, especially because for a long time I really struggled to take myself seriously. Even after I got my foot in the door, much of my early career was dogged by depression and substance abuse and it wasn’t until my early 30s that I really started to make progress on myself.

My family has always been supportive even though I’m the only person in my family in tech. I’ve had lots of role models, though. My first manager in IT, Jill, looked past my non-traditional background and taught me to always take people as they are and look for the best in them.

I’ve definitely dealt with my fair share of office and corporate politics and I would be naïve to think that being a large, queer woman in tech hasn’t created roadblocks for me in the past.

A day in Samantha’s life

I manage a team of engineers at Etsy. I spend a great deal of time in meetings: I sit down with each of my reports to check in on a regular basis; I participate in technical and strategy meetings; and meet with my partners in product, business operations, and legal. I spend some time in technical discussions with my team, working out solutions to different problems and once in a while, I even write a little bit of code.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with some incredible people in my career, and seeing them grow into themselves and go on to do incredible things in their own right is amazing. I’ve built some cool stuff, but nothing compares to that.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

That’s a very complex question, I think there are a lot of factors. Tech is obviously for everyone, but at some point, we get in the way of girls who love science and engineering becoming women who do science and engineering. I think representation and visibility still play a big role. There was a time when a female doctor was almost unheard of, but now when you picture a doctor that person you’re imagining is as likely to be a woman as a man. While our collective image of a software engineer is a mid-20s white guy in a hoodie, software engineers will continue to fit that mold.

As a hiring manager, I see subtle and unconscious bias creep in all the time, even at a company that actually works very hard to combat it. When you see how these biases play out at the intersection of gender and sexuality and ethnicity, you start to understand why it’s so hard to move the numbers in the right direction. It takes commitment, vigilance, self-awareness, and humility even for people who are very well-meaning, to fight back against these biases.

Women in STEM

Technology runs the world. Half of the world’s population are women. Having half the world excluded from STEM, to any degree, makes us all weaker.

On a personal note, as a queer Latina who grew up poor, tech was my way out of poverty. There are millions of women like me who could be contributing more to the economy and building a better life for themselves and their families, and that is a worthy goal on its own.

It will take another generation, at least, to see results from the current debate surrounding diversity and that’s sadly too optimistic. This is the same fight for equality that women have been fighting for more than a century now.

Challenges

I mentioned the kinds of biases that can make it harder for women to get a job. Once on the job, day-to-day work life can be fraught with micro-aggressions, sexual objectification, and subtle dismissal. I remember starting a new job as a senior engineer and as I was being introduced to people at the company, having to correct many of them who assumed that I was a designer and not an engineer.

Tips & tricks

Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know. Learn how to learn, learn how to believe in yourself, and keep reaching. The best engineers are the ones who dig into problems that they don’t already know the answers to. Every organization is different, keep going until you find the one that feels right to you, and never be afraid of making friends. They’ll get you through anything.

 

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Author
Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc is editor of JAXenter.com and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.