Jennifer Gong, Director at Women Who Code New York City network and Software Engineer at Remesh, interviews Valerie Aguilar, Senior Software Engineer at Motive. They talk about Valerie’s move to Silicon Valley, the career challenges that came with that move, her advice for finding the courage to speak, and her ongoing commitment to mental health.
Tell us about your career journey and what you're doing now at Motive.
I went to school in Texas. Right after I graduated, I landed my first job in Dallas. I worked for two different companies, it was a little under 10 years. I worked in a variety of roles. I started at entry-level, and did a bit of platform-type work, and also software engineering. Towards the end of my career there, one of my good friends was recruited to Silicon Valley to work for Google. She put the bug in my ear for me to interview there. It was a tough process.
I made the decision, I'm just going to move to the Bay Area and try to get my foot in the door. It was hard to land a job in Texas. I did some contract work for about two and a half years, and then finally landed a full-time job at Chariot. I was so excited, so relieved, and then, unfortunately, within a few months, they went under. The business shut down and I was back on the market. That's how I landed at Motive. I've been here, for 3 1/2 years now. It's been wonderful, it's been challenging, and so much growth.
What were the biggest challenges moving to Silicon Valley?
Challenging is an understatement. I had no idea what I was in for. One of the first things that I noticed was the interview process was really different from what I had experienced. so far. It was an all-day, multiple-round interview process. In my first interview, I just went in and totally bombed it. It was really tough, which is why I went in the direction of contracting. I interviewed a lot to get practice. I started attending events to network.
What advice do you have for staying motivated during a long interview process?
I had good family and friends' support. When I was thinking about moving here, I remember talking to my mom and saying, "Hey, Mom, I'm going to move to one of the most expensive cities in the States and I don't have a job there yet. What do you think?" She said, "Go for it." My family and friends were the same way. That helped me pull through. There were times, I'm not going to lie, when I questioned whether I had made a smart decision or not. I'm glad that I stuck it out because it worked out well.
What's it like working at Motive and what is the company culture like?
It's been great. The company has an amazing culture. We have amazing programs. We have a fantastic Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Kelly Gonzalez. From the beginning, she's really helped get me opportunities to not just focus on engineering skills, but strengthen other skills. She approached me with a speaking opportunity at Techqueria.
As far as engineering culture, it's just been a really safe space for me. At Motive, I feel it's a really safe place to ask questions when I don't understand something. People are really up to the task of explaining and teaching. The engineers that I work with come from very diverse backgrounds, all levels, and staff down to entry-level. Being in a room with so many different people and hearing their experiences, what they know about, and learning from that. It's been fantastic.
How did you just find the courage to speak at your first conference?
That was the first time that I had been given an opportunity to speak. We had been planning the event for months ahead. It was going to be an in-person event, in the office. I knew I was going to have to stand in front of a group of people and hold a microphone. I was freaking out. I joined Toastmasters and started trying to strengthen my public speaking skills. It was really eye-opening.
Two or three weeks before the event was supposed to happen, covid hit and they pushed it out a few months. It ended up being a virtual event. It was a really good experience.
Why are diversity and inclusion so important to you? Tell us a little bit about the work you're doing within your company and outside, related to it.
The first conference I went to here was Latinas in Tech. Walking into a room full of people like me. I had never worked with another Latina engineer. Motive does a really good job with that. I'm fortunate to be part of the hiring process at Motive and it's really important. We have conversations about the things we need to look for. It's not just about passing or solving the coding problem in an interview. What do we need to look for to be able to hire women? And then on the other side of that, let's make sure that we're hiring good allies for women. Outside of work, just trying to stay involved in the organizations and attend events.
What does that look like for you when you're mentoring? How important is it to you that you help junior engineers find those career growth opportunities within your company?
At Motive, this has been my first opportunity to mentor some of the junior entry-level engineers. Impostor syndrome is a struggle. I still learn how to deal with that myself. I feel like sometimes I can see others struggling with things that maybe I have experienced before. I use my experience to help them along.
What are you most passionate about outside of work?
The most important thing for me is mental health awareness. I have some family members that I love so much who struggle with mental health issues. It's unfortunate that there's such a stigma, especially in the Latino community. Growing up we didn't talk about it. We didn't know what resources were out there to help guide you through. I try to learn more about it so that I can be a good support system for my family and also learn how to navigate those waters. I also make sure that I'm taking care of myself. Self-care is really important to me. On a lighter note, I love traveling. I also have a Yorkie named Zowie. I'm obsessed with her.
Any fun trips planned for the year now that we're kind of at the tail end of the pandemic?
Nothing official yet, but I do have something that I've been trying to slowly plan. I really want to go to Antarctica. Maybe not this year, but early next year.
Any pro tips or advice that you have for women in tech?
Be persistent. It's challenging for everybody. If it's something that you really want to do, don't give up. Interview a lot to get the practice, and strengthen those interviewing skills. Network, there are so many groups, like Women Who Code, Techqueria, and Latinas in Tech. All of these groups are good communities for support. Help each other out.