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Latinx In Power

Tech has the Ability to Change our Generational Wealth

Based on an episode with Alejandra Budar 🇲🇽

elcome to Latinx in Power, a podcast aiming to help to demystify tech, the way we do that is by interviewing Latinx leaders all over the world to hear their perspective and insights.

We talked with Alejandra Budar who started her career working in the healthcare field, but after a quick stint working at a tech company’s clinic and a gap year in Italy, Ale fell in love with the Data Science world. Now she’s a Data Scientist at LinkedIn. Ale leverages her passion for data storytelling, as well as her ability to speak Spanish, French and Italian to excel on international projects and cross-cultural teams.

In this episode we talked more about Alejandra’s perspective of being a first gen who started working in the healthcare field and pivoted into the Data Science industry.

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What does it mean to be a Latina for you?

To me being Latina and I guess Latinx in general really means resiliency. It’s in our blood. It’s from the time of colonization to now our people face many challenges, both in our homelands like poverty, violence, corruption and in our new land that we often emigrate to, at least in the case of my parents, navigating new systems, racism, etc. As a result, we’ve become really, really resilient people and that’s a value that I carry with me all the time.

How did everything start?

A little bit of background on myself and my story. I am the daughter of immigrant parents from Oaxaca, Mexico, which is more in the south of Mexico. My parents immigrated to the US traversing the desert between the US-Mexican border. If you know geography, there’s a desert between Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego, California. My parents crossed that with a couple of my older brothers who were toddlers at the time. Then later, I was born and raised in San Diego. I have five brothers and I’m the only girl and the only sister. So, growing up with them was very interesting.

It was really interesting growing up sometimes, the only girl and you are protected and stuff, but I think that I’m very blessed that it also contributed to my personality. I’m also very resilient, because I had to grow up with all boys and learn to survive and deal with them. And also, being in a big family, you have to deal with lots of different personalities. That taught me people skills. You always have someone to fight with is what I tell people. You’re never bored. It’s never dull with that many brothers.

Then education wise, I have a Bachelor’s in Public Health from Santa Clara University in the Bay Area. I decided to do a Master’s abroad and move to Barcelona. I have a Master’s in Data Science from the University of Barcelona. I was pre-med throughout undergrad and pivoted later into data and tech. Now, I work as a Data Scientist at LinkedIn. I’m in the rotational program within Data Science, I’ve had the opportunity to rotate with three teams thus far in the data org. Essentially, I use data to make informed data-driven decisions on our products and features.

How was your process pivoting from public health to Data Science?

I totally stumbled into Data Science. I had no idea what it was. Even now, I’m still figuring out what it encompasses, because it’s so large, very broad, and can touch many different aspects. Essentially, I was pre-med all throughout undergrad. I think a common story within first gen children is that we are told to get a good job, a financially stable job, because our parents sacrificed a lot for us. So, that’s our responsibility, to do well. So, I picked a physician assistant in the healthcare field.

I was pre-med all through undergrad. After college, I got a job at an onsite clinic at a tech company. That’s when I saw how tech could revolutionize very antiquated industries, even medicine, where in the medical field, they were still writing on paper, but at this clinic, everything was electronic, the reminders, the setting up, the check-ins were on iPads. I was just like, “Wow, this is the power that tech has.” I saw it from an equity perspective, my parents had never achieved that level of service in the healthcare space, and I was like, “Well, tech cannot only make it better, but also can level the playing field in a sense for people who don’t have access to healthcare.” They can have better healthcare at a cheaper cost, if we were to really revolutionize the industry with technology. So, that’s where I first was introduced to it.

I still stayed in the space and I kept working at the clinic for a year and then I decided to apply to physician assistant school. I was dating someone at the time who was in the US Air Force stationed in Italy. We met while I was studying abroad in France. We met at Oktoberfest in Germany. So, after I did the one year at the clinic, he was like, “You should come and do your gap year in Italy while you apply to PA school and figure out what you’re going to do.” And I was like, “Yeah, that’s a good idea.” I took a year and a half to just find myself and reflect and apply. I had gotten an offer to the University of Utah. I had gotten an offer to interview. And then, it hit me that I wasn’t doing this for myself, I was doing it for my parents. They are the ones that wanted me to do medicine, because they thought that that was a good path for me and I had never really stopped to really connect with myself and figure out if that’s what I wanted to do until I had this opportunity in Italy to just sit with myself and reflect.

Then, I went into an existential crisis and I was like, “Oh, no, I’ve been working towards medicine forever. Do I really want to pivot now? What do I want to do?” I started investigating grad programs and I found one at the University of Barcelona that was tailored to nontraditional degrees. It came with a one-month bootcamp, a very intensive bootcamp. And then afterwards, you enter the master’s program. I had already had all the math and the stats from the prerequisite work I had done for PA school.

I broke the news to my parents and they also kind of freaked out. They didn’t even really know what I was going to do. They are like, “What is this data stuff? What is this tech stuff? Are you sure? What kind of a lifestyle are you going to live? Are you just going to throw it all away?” And so, I think that was one of the harder things, was to get them to understand that this was a good decision and to make sure that they weren’t going to freak out too much once I left medicine behind.

I decided to apply, got in, I did the master’s program and it’s been history ever since. I love it. Data Science is totally different from medicine in many aspects, but also very similar in the sense that it’s a puzzle and it’s still very analytical. I’m one of a handful of Latinas in Data Science and so, I’m hoping that more people hear the story and follow me also as I keep the door open behind me for them to enter the space as well.

I wish that it was more normalized in our community. I wish a lot more people were aware that tech careers exist, because tech has the ability to change our generational wealth and to build it very quickly. My mom still has no idea what I do, but she loves and sees that I can be home, that I work from home and she gets to be close to me. And so, she loves that and she understands that I have lots of meetings. She’s also very proud of the fact that she knows that there’s not that many Latinas doing what I’m doing. And so, that brings her, I think, a lot of pride to know that her daughter’s trailblazing in a sense for people. Yeah, it’s funny. If you ask her what I do, she can’t tell you, but I can feel the pride that she has. And so, it’s a very cute feeling. Yeah.

Which advice would you give for someone who wants to work in tech without a technical background or a computer science degree, for example?

It’s definitely doable. I hope people are more aware now than before that you don’t need to have a computer science degree, you can pivot into tech. I know people that I work with have history backgrounds or they have liberal arts degrees and then pivoted into tech. It’s definitely doable. I’m going to speak on Data Science since that’s what I know the most. It’s very easy to pick up some of these languages. SQL is a language that I use the most every day and it’s very similar to English. So, you can pick it up without having a C, C++, or Java, or any of the other languages. Without understanding those, you can still very easily pick up SQL. I always tell people that taking a language course in SQL, it literally will open so many doors. Learning that one language is essential for Data Science. You can get a Data Analyst role and start there, and then continue working up and building skills, and then pivot into Data Science as well.

I think it takes resiliency. I think it’s not easy to break into tech because of so many factors. For me personally, I know that the interview was really hard because I didn’t know anybody who had done a tech interview. It’s so specific. It’s very tailored to the industry. I was watching YouTube videos and reading lots of different things. And so, it’s not that you’re not made to break in. It’s that the system is very unique and sometimes hard if you don’t know someone already in it, because it is very customized and very unique. There’s no other interview process in other industries that are similar to this.

One thing is that as first gen, you tend to not know anyone who entered tech, because you’re the first generation in your family that’s doing it. And so, tech was no different. That’s why I was like, “Okay,” I was giving myself a little pep talk, like “We have done many other things that we had no idea how to do and so we’re going to figure it out.” Then, you become resourceful. I think YouTube, all these new resources out there are so helpful and are really good to leverage for people who want to break in.

When we talked before this episode, Alej, you mentioned about being the result of the American Dream. Although it is a privilege, it’s also a challenge. I love to hear more about being part of the first generation of Latinx migrants.

I have been throwing around “first gen” or I’ve been mentioning here and there. So, let me take the time now to define it in case listeners aren’t familiar. But essentially, first-generation children like me are the children of immigrant parents and we’re the first generation of US citizens in our family. I’ve heard us described as bridges nestled between our parents’ homeland and the new country that they immigrated to, which I think is a really great analogy for us. Emotionally and physically, we’re like that tie between both identities. And sometimes, you hear people say, “Ni de aquí, ni de allá.” So, we’re not from here nor there. But actually, I like to think of it as “de aquí en de allí” or both from here on from there. So, that’s a little background on first gen.

To me, being first gen often does feel like I’m a physical manifestation of my parents’ American dream of their hopes, and dreams, and everything that they aspire for their children. It’s both an honor and a burden. As you mentioned, it’s an honor in the sense that when I do really big things. I feel immense pride, because I know that I’m breaking into something like Data Science or into tech for all of us, for my parents, and for the ones who came before me who couldn’t do it. And so, I’m bringing in our cordura into these spaces, I’m telling our stories at the table now, and I’m validating my parents’ sacrifice. But at the same time, when something doesn’t go my way or in my head I “fail,” it feels immensely magnified because of that. So, I’m learning to not put so much pressure on myself to do the best I can.

I think that because we had to grow up so quickly as children of immigrants, I read that we often skip developmental stages, because you have to help your parents figure out how to fill out these forms, where to go get their social security cards, or how taxes work in the US. So, you grew up really, really quickly. And so, I’m trying to learn at least to slow down a little bit also and give myself grace and celebrate my wins.

I think that one of the things that I really wanted to emphasize on this episode also is that a lot of first-gen people, we tend to be balancing a lot of things at the same time. We’re not only balancing our careers, but also our family obligations. We spent our whole lives helping our parents navigate this system and that didn’t stop just because we graduated or just because we got jobs. Now, the system’s changed. Now, they’re older and I had to help them figure out Medicare and figure out retirement. And so, at least, I am often balancing meetings and work with following up a doctor’s referrals and taking them out to the doctor, because she doesn’t speak English and she still doesn’t understand a lot of the nuances of how healthcare works in the US. So, I think that’s one thing, that accepting as a first-gen child is that first gen doesn’t stop. I could be CTO and I will still have to peace out and be like, “I need to take my mom to the doctor.” So, that’s one thing that I wanted people to be aware of. As first gen, we’re often juggling many hats.

And even financially, I think a lot of responsibility falls on first-gen children who have good jobs, who are flexible. That puts even more burden on us, because we tend to be the ones who are the most flexible in our family to take our parents to the doctor or the more financially stable. We have friends who are their parents’ 401(k), for example, because their parents were undocumented for some years, that they didn’t have any of these benefits and they were paid on the table. So, now that they’re older, the children and the parents are trying to figure out what the next retirement plans will look like and stuff. But I guess, in a nutshell, that’s what first gen feels like.

You lived in France, Mexico, and Italy, besides the United States. How was your experience living and studying abroad?

Studying abroad, living abroad is great. It really helped me become a global citizen to understand how intertwined politics and what one country does over here can magnify and impact other countries over there. So, yeah, it made me more aware of how interconnected we are as people also. It also helped me improve my languages. I’m a better cook because I was able to learn different recipes in different countries. It was a great experience overall. Highly recommend it.

You mentioned that you studied in Barcelona and the fact that students sometimes don’t consider studying abroad, because they are too focused on Ivy Leagues, elite schools in the US, so they don’t consider studying abroad. So, I’d love to hear more about your experience.

My decision to study abroad was, one, because I was already kind of in Italy, but, two, also a very big financial one, because the science programs, master programs in the US are so expensive and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to afford a two-year master’s degree at a really notable school. So, then I started looking at alternatives and found the University of Barcelona one and it was a quarter of the price for one year, and it was one year only and I got to live abroad in Spain.

The nice part about living in Barcelona is that you can actually afford to go out as a student. You can afford one-year-old beers, two-year-old beers, whereas I remember going to school in the Bay Area, it was so expensive like schooling wise and to go out was really expensive. So, I felt I didn’t have as many adventures as I had in Barcelona. In Barcelona, I was able to travel, take the train everywhere. It was still a really good quality of life as a student.

It’s important for people to remember that a lot of these companies are large enough with very international offices in various countries. At least in my case, it wasn’t as big of a deal as I was worried about and as I thought. I was a little bit nervous coming back to the US. So, I think it was a little bit more just in my head, because when I came back, I realized that I had the skills and I did have a degree even if it wasn’t from Harvard or Yale, but it was from a good school and I could do the work. And so, I think that for people who don’t have the financial ability or even just want to get out of the US for a little bit, doing a degree abroad is a great opportunity to live abroad, get a great experience without sacrificing the quality of an education. A lot of the programs in Europe are actually taught in English. You can go do a degree without knowing the native language and still be fine.

I’ve gotten lots of compliments actually as I rotate throughout the data org about how I could bring an international lens to a lot of the problems that we’re solving. Because it’s such an international market, the US, we are from everywhere. So, having that international lens has a lot of value at these tables.

I hope you enjoyed the podcast. We will have more interviews with amazing Latinx leaders the first Tuesday of every month. Check out our website Latinx In Power to hear more. Don’t forget to share comments and feedback, always with kindness. See you soon.

Additional Reading Mentioned in the Interview

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Insights and exposure to Latinxs leaders around the globe. In each episode we feature insightful conversations about their journey, stories behind their trajectory, plenty of laughs and learnings.

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Thaisa Fernandes

Product Management & Global Partnerships | Host @ Latinx in Power Podcast | Book Co-Author @ Mulheres de Produto