#MakingFilipinxAmericanHistory: 16 Filipinx Americans in Tech
Compiled and edited by Clarissa Bukhan & Lea Coligado
October marks Filipinx American History Month, a time to reflect on the history and contributions of Filipinxs in the US. Looking back, the history of the Philippines is a story of resilience. This year marks the 120th anniversary of the Philippine’s declaration of independence from Spain. That independence was short-lived, as the era of Spanish colonization quickly gave way to a new era of American control, which lasted until 1946, when the Philippines was finally granted independence and the Republic of the Philippines was born.
Today, Filipinx Americans represent the second largest Asian American group in the United States. The contributions of Filipinx Americans to the United States are vast and varied — from Fe del Mundo, the first female student to attend Harvard Medical University, to Cristeta Comerford, the first female Executive Chef for the White House, to the many Filipinx Americans who serve as caretakers, nurses, teachers, and more, keeping day-to-day American society moving forward. Over the course of the month of October, we are honored to share the personal stories of 16 Filipinx Americans who demonstrate the tenacity and resilience of their Filipino heritage.
In alphabetical order:
1. Arille Jeriza Stutler (she/her)
Solutions Consultant, Google
Arille is a solutions consultant at Google, focusing on Google Play business operations. She has 7+ years of operations experience at the company, and has previously worked in both Cloud (enterprise) and consumer-facing teams. She was born and raised in San Jose, and studied Bioengineering at Santa Clara University. She had an undergraduate marketing internship at eSilicon Corporation, which unintentionally was the catalyst for shifting her career interests to the world of business. Since high school, Arille has been a strong advocate for programs encouraging women and minorities to explore STEM fields, and she’s actively involved in volunteering through one of Google’s employee resource groups, the Filipino Googler Network. Outside of work, you can catch her cooking new recipes, spending time with family and husband Brent, and playing with her Shih Tzu, Yana.
“‘Why are you here? There’s a cheerleading camp next door.’
It’s been twelve years since my classmate made this comment to me, after I’d shared with him I was struggling to understand a coding concept. As one of the handful of girls at the high school robotics camp, this casual remark made by one of my “friends” took me by surprise. It shook my confidence. Was it a mistake thinking I could actually do this? Will I ever measure to compete? Maybe he felt I’d brush off his remark as a joke. Little did he (and I) know, after slowly picking myself back up with the encouraging words of my parents, that crude remark helped shift my ambitions into overdrive. Frankly, I’m quite stubborn, and I wanted nothing else than to prove him and any other naysayers wrong. When the school year started again, my best friend and I pioneered an all-girl robotics team at our school to show that #girlsrock, not really knowing the challenges that lay ahead. For the next few years, we actively sought mentoring parents, teachers and local company sponsors (including Google!) to donate their time and expertise. It took a village, but our team learned how to build and wire together robots that were over 5 ft tall and 120+ lbs for the FIRST Robotics Competition!”
2. Charlene Granadosin (she/her)
Sr. Test Engineer, Medidata Solutions
Charlene currently works for Medidata Solutions as a Sr. Test Engineer. She has 8 years of experience in software testing, having previously worked as a QA Manager at Capital One and Lead QA at LogicEase Solutions. She recently spoke at the Appium Conference in London.
“My mother and my grandmother are two beautiful, strong, and independent women who raised children on their own while achieving the goals they set out for themselves. We Filipinos have a lot of pride in our culture and I have a lot of pride in Filipino Women. I saw my mother work a full 40 hour week, have piano lessons afterwards, and then cook dinner when she got home. I learned hard work and perseverance through my mother, and now that I have a daughter of my own, I am hoping to pass that strength and work ethic on to her.”
3. Chiara Amisola (she/her)
Founder, Developers’ Society & Student at Yale University
Chiara is a freshman at Yale University from Manila, Philippines. Chiara is an activist, developer, and President and Founder of Developers’ Society, a global nonprofit nurturing student-led innovation and advancing computer science education in the developing world, which has impacted over 55,000 students across 10+ countries. Her startup, Batid, develops sociopolitical software to combat a volatile government administration and climate in the Philippines and has been awarded and recognized internationally. She was recently awarded the Student of Vision Abie Award on the Grace Hopper Celebration keynote stage.
“I founded Developers’ Society in 2016, originally a high school club to make videogames that soon pivoted into a massive organization across Luzon rooted in students helping out other students: beyond any economic, cultural, or gender barriers. We created resources and poured pocket money into events, resources, and gatherings to spread computer science and equalize an industry that we believe every member of the youth deserves to be a part of.
Two years later, we find ourselves global, recognized by groups all around the Philippines, and most notably: on the Grace Hopper Celebration keynote stage. We’re doing a lot of work to fulfill a huge gap in technology in a developing world like the Philippines, and it’s simply fueled by our desire to leave no one behind. Education and accessibility in the country I call home, and other nations that don’t normally come to mind when we think about tech, is crucially important. This edge of representation is something that I always seek to further.”
4. Clarise Z. Doval Santos (she/her)
Former Program Manager for the Analytics Center of Excellence, Kaiser Permanente
Clarise worked as a program manager for the Analytics Center of Excellence at Kaiser Permamente until an aneurysm ruptured in her brain at the end of 2010. Prior to this role, she served in leadership roles at various professional services organizations. She also worked as an oft-awarded support person for Oracle Philippines, the go-to person at Online Advanced Systems (HP) to tune the servers to win TPC database benchmarks, a robotics programmer at Industrial Control Systems/Singapore for Motorola, part of the team writing the first CASE tool for the early Apple Macintosh, AnaTool at PAC Group, and, at Software Brewers as part of the team creating a 4G language generator, 4GSA. Clarise was born and raised in the Philippines, migrated to Silicon Valley in 1996, and became a US citizen in 2006.
In 2010, I was visiting with family in San Diego when an aneurysm ruptured in my brain. According to the doctors, I died and was resuscitated three times during the first of 18 extreme medical interventions. I was in a coma for 40 days and in February, upon awakening, my first words were “Merry Christmas”, as I wasn’t aware of how much time had passed. After four months of rehabilitation, I returned to the SF Bay Area for more physical, speech and occupational therapy. Though I am now permanently disabled, I work every day on my physical and cognitive rehabilitation. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”. My determination to not be defeated gets me through, despite the ongoing pain and frustration.
5. Diana Kris Navarro (she/her)
Software Engineer, Tumblr
Diana is currently a software engineer at Tumblr. She was in the founding class of Girls Who Code in 2012, a hackNY fellow in 2017, and was recently featured in GWC’s Sisterh>>d campaign for Day of the Girl. She has previously interned at Adobe, Qualcomm and Gilt Groupe. Last May, she became the first person in her family to graduate from college. She was born and raised in Jersey City, NJ to an immigrant single mother. She attended grade school in Westchester New York to stay with her mother who is a live-in housekeeper. She is now 22 years old and lives in New York City.
“In the 2nd grade, I was forced to move from Jersey City to the house of a wealthy family in Westchester, New York, where my mom worked as their live-in housekeeper. My life turned upside down. I was suddenly living in this huge house that my mom worked in, and we’d take the train back to Jersey City every weekend. I did this until I was 18 years old. I went from an elementary school in Jersey City where most of the students were Filipino, Black, or Latinx, to Siwanoy Elementary School, where I could count the number of non-white students on one hand. Needless to say, I didn’t fit in. I was bullied and excluded. Parents knew me as “the girl whose mom’s a housekeeper.” I actually wasn’t even allowed to go to that public school, but my mom’s boss pulled strings. What got me through it all was my mom. Every day she’d remind me that this was temporary, and that one of the ways I could get out of our situation was doing well in school. And that’s exactly what I did. I took several AP classes, got straight A’s, and landed high school internships. I clawed my way out. I’m so grateful for my mom. She taught me how to deal with people. She taught me empathy. She taught me how to work.”
6. Em Margaret Marin (she/her)
Student at Georgia Tech
Em is a senior at Georgia Tech studying Computer Science with concentrations in Artificial Intelligence and Human-Computer Interaction. She was a part of Google’s Computer Science Summer Institute in 2015, worked as an Android Developer at a student-led startup, and interned as both a Product Manager and Software Engineer at Microsoft over the course of three summers. On campus, Em helped found Girls Who Code at Georgia Tech and works with HackGT, organizing the largest hackathon in the southeast and hosting STEAM exposure events for underserved high schoolers in the Atlanta area.
“When I first started college, I knew very little about my background. I remember sitting down with a friend who also grew up being one of the few Filipinxs in their community. We bonded over the fact that we couldn’t speak Tagalog, that we felt alienated from our culture, that our parents were inconceivably strong for immigrating here, and that we had an insatiable desire to learn more about who we were. It wasn’t until I met first-generation Filipinx-Americans in college that I began to really explore my history.
The Filipinx-American experience is a confusing one. We battle with understanding our place in the American tapestry of heritages, and even our own culture, which is already a melting pot of cultural influences from our Indigenous tribes to Spanish colonists to various other migrants from Southeast Asia. We lack representation in spaces like tech and Hollywood and we never learn about our history in school, despite heavy and intricate Filipinx involvement in American history — from being the first Asian immigrants to the States through Morro Bay to the Philippines being an American colony to our signifcant contributions to the American labor movement of the 1960’s. Despite our erasure, we bind together as a community, finding comfort in our history and identity.”
7. Geronimo Carlo Ramos III (he/him)
Founder, Rooted Table
Geronimo is a designer and social entrepreneur with a passion for building products, programs, and experiences that create more equitable communities. He is founder of Rooted Table (YC SS18) which creates economic opportunity for immigrants and disadvantaged communities through the sharing of home cooked meal experiences. Originally from Los Angeles, he has lived and worked on projects in Kenya, Panama, Spain, and Washington, D.C.
“At the beginning of 2017, I began the job hunt. I set out to apply to X companies and practice Y whiteboard design challenges per week. I was excited because my portfolio was impressing hiring managers and landing me interviews at both early-stage startups and large tech companies. I thought I was killing it, landing all these interviews. And then month 3 rolled by, and all I had collected was a pile of rejections and no offers. I was losing steam. Even more frightening, I was running out of money to pay for rent. I had been out of a full-time job for nearly a year. After sharing my fears with a loving group of friends, they reminded me that it wasn’t because I’m not a good designer or that I lack the skills; it just wasn’t a good fit. Month 6 rolled by, and it was my final stretch. After applying to 215+ companies, having 70+ interviews, 10+ design challenges, 7+ onsite white board design challenges, and 3+ companies exploiting my design skills, I FINALLY LANDED A FULL-TIME JOB THAT FIT. I joined a rocket ship marketplace startup that aligned with the marketplace startup I wanted to build.”
8. Janna Jalla Umetin (she/her)
Technical Recruiter, Google
Janna currently works as a Technical Recruiter, focused on bringing Software Engineering talent to Google. She is a first generation Filipino American, born in and raised in a small town in the Visayas region of the Philippines and now residing in Seattle, WA. She graduated from the University of Washington with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and a Diversity Minor. She spends her free time enjoying the unique cuisine around Seattle and practices Tahitian and Hula dance. You may find her personal blog at https://heyguesswhatbyjannajalla.wordpress.com/.
“I had no idea how I was going to go to college — no one in my family had done it before. All I knew was that I had to get there somehow, and have a job waiting for me at the finish line. I remember being a junior in high school and seeing all my friends start going on college tours, submitting applications, knowing how to do it all. I didn’t even know what the FAFSA was. So, I asked for help — a lot of it. My parents trusted me to be able to get myself where I needed to be, and they supported me emotionally. But everything else was through the sheer will of knowing a college education would open doors for me.”
9. Jessica Valenzuela (she/her)
Jessica is an entrepreneur and the founder of the angel-backed startup GoGoGuest. She was born and raised in the Philippines and is a first generation naturalized American citizen. She has lived in Chicago, New York City and San Francisco. Prior to pursuing a career in entrepreneurship, Jessica held leadership roles in product marketing and digital marketing at Kaplan Inc., Young & Rubicam, Tribal DDB and Ogilvy. She also led and delivered projects at Square and Logitech. Jessica is a natural adventurer who loves discovering and exploring cities and nature. She brings Mister Beckham, her jack russell along with her whenever possible.
“Let’s be honest, women entrepreneurs focused on building and growing a technology product is a land mine of challenges regardless of your heritage. Fundraising at any stage is more difficult for women but the real difficulty comes when it is time to raise your first institutional round — from venture capital. Venture capital and their LPs are mostly from of the 1% richest households in America that own 40% of the country’s wealth. There is a natural tendency among these circles to invest in people who are like them, specifically from their university alma mater or company alumni. In venture capital world, it is called the “flywheel effect.” There is clearly a smaller pool of opportunity for Filipino-American women in the technology space. This means, a smaller flywheel effect, if any. I hope to be an active participant in changing this ratio.”
10. Kassandra Kristoff (she/her)
Communications Manager, Google
Kassandra is a Communications Manager at Google. Prior to transitioning into tech, she was an Engineering Officer in the United States Navy for 6 years. As her father was also in the Navy and her mother is from the Philippines, she grew up all over the world. After serving in the Navy, she became a stay at home mom of two, while completing her MBA. Shortly after, she finally had the opportunity to pursue her passion for communications after moving to the Bay Area.
“My mother is the strongest person I know. She believed nothing could hold me back and pushed me to pursue whatever I wanted. So I served in the Navy on a ship with mostly men, then stepped into an unknown career path in tech with two little kids in tow — all while pursuing a Masters. Having my mother’s strength really carried me through all the risks. Now I’m really proud I’ve leveraged my strength as a Filipina; when I put my mind to something, I do all I can to do it. Being here at Google, I look around me and realize how many “good risks” I’ve taken.”
11. Kristian Kabuay (he/him)
Artist & Entrepreneur
Kristian is an artist/entrepreneur specializing in an endangered writing system from the Philippines. As a leading authority for the propagation and instruction of a prePhilippine script, he launched his own edutainment business specializing in custom art, books, events, and apparel. Kristian has spoken around the world at museums, schools, and businesses. He is currently working on his 5th book, a documentary, and an education startup.
“I’m proud of the platform that I’ve created around this endangered writing system of the Philippines. What started out as a curiosity, a hobby, and then a side gig, eventually turned into something bigger than myself. Because of it, I’ve been able to travel, meet awesome people, learn, help others, and prove that our culture can also be economically beneficial. One challenge I had in this journey was getting over my dislike for speaking in front of people. Growing up, I was quiet and would instead let others take the lead in everything. To achieve my goal of propagating the script, I had to talk to the public at festivals and schools. I had to learn through trial and error what messages resonated with people and just get over myself. Overcoming this barrier ultimately led to me speaking at a TEDx event earlier this year.”
12. Larissa Purnell (she/her)
Product Analyst, Rally Health
Larissa is a Product Analyst for Rally Health, a digital health company. She received her B.S. in Business Administration with concentrations in Health Policy & Management and Digital Studies from the University of Southern California. She discovered her passion for the future design of the healthcare experience during a college internship at Kaiser Permanente and has worked in health technology ever since. Her experiences in this area include working at an international startup, a design firm, and partaking in the Technology Development program at Optum (part of UnitedHealth Group). Her passion for helping people live healthier lives also seeps into how she uses her free time: DJing for a high intensity cardio hip-hop class called 305 Fitness, serving as an Emerging Leadership Ambassador for Boston Healthcare for Homeless, and advising a Spanish startup, Medvisit, focused on bringing patient care to ex-pat communities globally.
“Throughout middle school and high school, my father experienced tremendous pain, both physically and mentally, and had felt that he wasn’t being heard by his care team, who simply attributed his condition to his obesity. During my sophomore year, my family switched healthcare providers to Kaiser Permanente and his physician immediately recognized that he had been misdiagnosed and, in fact, had a genetic disorder that had contributed to his obesity and required immediate attention, including multiple surgeries and genetic testing for his immediate family.
Throughout this experience, particularly when he was facing the threatening surgical procedures, I felt helpless. Then, I began to realize that I could take action on trying to make an impact on the system that had prolonged his illness. I signed up for the USC Marathon Team as a way to commit myself to supporting my Dad through intensive training, since I couldn’t be right beside him during his surgeries and recovery. I took on a second minor in Health Policy and Management to learn about the healthcare system and the ways in which I could have an impact. I applied for an internship at Kaiser Permanente, as their care model was what helped save my dad and put our family’s trust back into the system. By the start of my junior year, I had discovered a field that I was passionate to grow a career in, completed my first marathon, and most importantly inspired my dad to start training in his recovery to run his own half-marathon (which he’ll be completing this December!).”
13. Lea Coligado (she/her)
Founder, Women of Silicon Valley & Software Engineer, Google Maps
“My Lolo passed away this year, and I realized we’d never get to go to the place he’s from, Cebu, and share it together. I realized how integral sacrifice is to the Filipino experience. My Lolo and Lola sacrificed life in the Philippines, a future sharing the same childhood places as their children and grandchildren, for job opportunities in the United States. Then my dad sacrificed years of long, often 12-hour, work days to put me and my brother through college. So my success — my Stanford Computer Science degree and my Google software engineering job — are just the sum of all the sacrifices made before me, aggregated from generation to generation.
And yet, I think so often about how no matter how much success I aggregate, nothing can “buy me out” of being treated like a Filipina in this world. When I visited Hong Kong, a Chinese family mistook me for their house servant and ordered me to wipe down their dirty shoes at the mall. When I moved to Italy for work, I was always assumed to be a housemaid, or sometimes a prostitute, and was propositioned for sex multiple times while walking home at night (in a pantsuit mind you). The sad truth is I’m lucky; millions of Filipinos sacrifice life with their own families at home to take care of other, wealthier families abroad, often in places where they are treated subhuman or trafficked. This informs a lot of the “sacrifice” I want to make when I’m older — that is, building a rigorous software platform to help overseas Filipinxs find secure, vetted work.”
14. Marizza Delgado (she/her)
Student & Fashion Model
Marizza is a 20 year old full time college student and part-time fashion model. She hopes to pursue a career in Data Analysis and advocates for women in STEM. Marizza is represented by Stars Model Management in San Francisco and Marilyn Agency in New York City. After modeling full time for a year, she has moved back home to finish college and currently resides in the San Francisco Bay area.
“Professionally, I’m proud of having modeled for brands such as L’oreal, Macy’s, Target, Walmart, Fenty Beauty, and Marie Claire Magazine. All my clients are special to me, but one of my greatest achievements, as far as modeling goes, was walking in New York Fashion Week!”
15. Mika Reyes (she/her)
Incoming Product Manager, LinkedIn
Mika is currently a part of Dorm Room Fund’s Female Founder Track and will soon be joining LinkedIn as a Product Manager. She was born and raised in the Philippines and studied Economics, Psychology & Data Analysis at Wesleyan University. Professionally, she was previously a KPCB Product Fellow and was the first Product Manager at Ripcord and Kumu. Her mission is to grow the tech & innovation hubs in Southeast Asian markets (starting with her home, the Philippines). She is exploring this through marketplace models that empower the ‘micro-entrepreneur’ and technology that improves accessibility to economic resources. Mika enjoys Latin or hip hop dance, writes occasionally on her blog (mikareyes.com), and loves snacking on almonds.
“The idea that I may not be home for Christmas this year, for the first time ever, makes me really sad. Christmas is a phenomenon in the Philippines; it’s a time for reunion and partying. It’s karaoke season for Christmas songs. It’s food coma. But most importantly, it’s the best time to be with family, immediate and extended. I think a lot about how Christmas can be a pain point for the whole Filipino diaspora. Thousands of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) sacrifice being with their families every Christmas so they can provide for them in more lucrative jobs abroad. I’m lucky; I don’t have to carry that weight on my shoulders, and if anything, this would be my first Christmas without my family ever. Imagine all the Filipinas who’ve been separated from their children for years! If my personal sacrifice this season means working for a company that works to provide economic opportunity for people like OFWs, I can hold off the lechon a while longer.”
16. Samantha Zarate (she/her)
Samantha is a scientist at DNAnexus. Having lived in the Bay Area since she was 16, she feels more at home in California than anywhere else that she has lived, which includes the Philippines, Virginia, Tennessee, and Minnesota. She studied biomedical computation at Stanford and graduated in 2016. In her spare time, you can find her reading, traveling, playing Stardew Valley, or eating snickerdoodle ice cream.
“Even though my team at DNAnexus is incredibly diverse and supportive, I’ve still had to overcome my own impostor syndrome and others doubting me. I began working full-time in the industry at the age of 20, after graduating from Stanford at 19; I’m currently 22. My status as a young woman has led to challenges at work, which in my naïveté I’d never expected. I’ve been asked if I worked in sales at an almost completely academic conference — while standing next to a poster with my name on it as the first author. I’ve had to request customers that we not meet at a bar that checks ID. I’ve spoken to HR while literally wringing my hands out of nervousness. I’ve had to grapple with my own insecurities and fears while interacting with some of the most important people in the field of bioinformatics.
Today, I’m really proud of a tool I developed alongside my colleagues at DNAnexus and the Baylor College of Medicine called Parliament2, which is a structural variant consensus caller. (Structural variants are large mutations in the genome that are difficult to detect due to the technology we use to understand genomes. Structural variant callers tackle this problem in different ways, but a lot of them are difficult to install or integrate meaningfully; Parliament2 will pre-install the callers you want and integrate their results in an easier-to-read format.) We’ve recently submitted a manuscript to bioRxiv, a preprint journal for biology papers, and I’m first author — this is both my first authorship and my first first-authorship!”