#HearHerStory: Viviana Rishe
Viviana is a software engineer and currently working as a Technical Project Manager at a startup. She obtained her B.S. in Bolivia, where she used to work as an IT manager and in tech supplies sales before she moved to Los Angeles, where she graduated from a coding bootcamp. She’s passionate about female empowerment and hopes to inspire as many women to be themselves so they can do great things.
Viviana’s Story on Working in Technology
An Honest Start
Once I started my “cool” career as an Engineer in Bolivia and making it all the way through college, I felt so proud of myself being one of the 12 out of 100 that actually graduated. I had been through a lot. When I started college, my family had to flee to the United States due to the economy, my mother’s drinking problems had reached a climax, and I had been with a boyfriend of 8 years who was physically and emotionally abusing me. I strongly believe I did really well finishing my bachelor’s in Telecommunications Engineering in good timing.
I got my apartment by myself and was ready, thinking that I could make a difference in the industry where women are often seen as the weak gender. My goal was to challenge the stigma and prove them wrong.
Landing my First Job
I started looking for my first job as a professional. I was fresh out of college with little experience. I was seen as just a “girl,” someone who many companies wouldn’t consider to hire for heavy work such as traveling to faraway places to fix or install antennas, which was what most part of my career in telecommunications was about. No one wanted or even considered hiring me.
They told me that if I want to work with a telecom company, I should start from the very bottom, which I had no problem with, as long as I could grow and learn. The very bottom was the Call Center — by the way, I have a lot of respect to people who work here due to the immense toleration required to deal with angry customers calling in.
I used to go to work and avoid talking to other people, feeling I had reached my talking point after speaking to customers on the phones. I didn’t have many friends I could go to. At one point, I thought I had found a friend in my boss. I soon later realized that his intentions weren’t what I had expected. And for the first time, I didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t college anymore where I was paying for my tuition where I could speak up and complain. It was my job, and they were paying me! And it was the income that I depended on. If I’d say something, I could easily lose my job because my boss has been working there for so long. It was already tough enough to find a job in tech; I couldn’t risk my only opportunity at that time.
Dealing With a Boss Taking Wrongful Advantage
I stayed quiet, and so he kept trying to earn my trust. He would offer to drive me home when I was leaving late. I said no and made excuses many times. But I couldn’t hide forever. Until he drove me home once, and when we got there, he grabbed my hand and told me how fascinated he was with me and how other women would have accepted the ride since the first offer. I was confused; I didn’t want him to think that I accepted because I was looking for something else. I think he could feel my fear and he was trying to be gentle, he grabbed my hand, came to me and tried to kiss me. I avoided him and said I had to go. I was glad that he respected my decision and let me go. Very naive.
He wouldn’t give up. In fact, he was very smart to just try and pretend that he was a good friend. At that moment, it felt as if he was my only friend.
I had just ended a very traumatic relationship, where the way he showed me his love was by being extremely jealous and abusive. I just needed a friend, someone who cared if I made it home safe. And he knew that and used it against me.
One day, he offered a ride again, and I accepted. He was taking a different route, and I got nervous. I knew it in my heart that something was wrong, but I didn’t want to believe it. He drove into a motel without saying a word, I looked around and it was so dark, no one was there. He opened the door for me and said, “Relax I only invited you for a drink.” I was paralyzed. Am I supposed to run? Where? If I run, maybe something even worse might happen to me. I started walking fearfully, and the rest is history.
I felt worthless, I went back to work, and it seemed that everyone was judging me. I wouldn’t talk to him anymore, I was ignoring him and hid in the corner cubicles. Now when I think about it, I regret hiding. He should have been the one feeling embarrassed and despicable.
Running away from one bad experience to another
After a year and a half, I found another opportunity as an IT Manager in a hospital where my friend was working. The hospital’s director was a very prestigious doctor and was very good to me when I started. I felt good and thrilled about this new position. I even had a technical assistant that I was managing.
After a couple of months, the Director began to call me to his office too often, to fix his computer, printer or any other silly request. So I sent my assistant once. But he called me again and said, “but I want you to come.” I took a deep breath and went to his office. He had a request about his computer, so I was looking at it when he started talking to me about his female students and how they played games for better scores. And I asked what kind of games, and he said “ I challenged them to bring me something.” And he grabbed a box he had under his desk and showed me. It was a box of bras. I didn’t say anything; I just wanted to get out of there. He sat on his chair and said “come here sit,” clapping his lap. I immediately said “no, I think I’m done here, if you have any other issues just let me know.” When I left the office, his secretary looked at me and asked me if I was okay. I said yes, I’m fine. I was feeling hopeless, and she could see it in my eyes. She told me about how his students would come and stayed a long time in his office. I asked, “so everyone knows about this?” She said “Yes.”
I didn’t last very long there and was very disappointed in my career, the decisions I made and the world in general. I was pessimistic about everything and felt completely powerless.
Moving to the US
After a few years of struggling in the field and with Bolivia’s difficulties, I moved to Los Angeles. I felt like giving up on tech and thought I could try Digital Marketing. But in the path of finding myself and actually being aware that I am in one of the most advanced countries in tech, I was constantly amazed by technology. I thought I might give it one more chance because it is what I am passionate about. But this time, I got into software development. I enrolled in a coding bootcamp for web development. People were so nice and excited for me; I felt completely different and encouraged to pursue software development. All of the sudden I wasn’t afraid anymore, I felt protected.
After finishing the course, I got an offer at the bootcamp to be a Teaching Assistant — despite my accent. And after 3 months, I got my first job as an intern at a startup with great people, all guys and very respectful. I love my job and really feel like I have more opportunities. I’m now planning to continue a career in software and doing everything in my power to improve the tech industry for women.
I am so grateful and feel hopeful that we are in a new digital age. I am also very happy that women are speaking up, and that we can all help to transform our society to embrace equality. No matter the gender, race, color, sexual preference or religion, we should all have the same opportunities.
Be sure to follow Vivana @viviana_rishe.
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