“I pretty much grew up in the hood.” Lauren Picado is blunt about describing the community where she went to school. She’s even more blunt about the expectations that teachers had for students like her. “They expected everyone to either get pregnant or not graduate high school or just go to community college, and that’s it.”
“I HAVE NO CHOICE”
But Lauren had bigger plans for herself. She imagined them for herself, even as a little girl.
“I did a drawing of myself working as a scientist in NASA.” When I asked her how she was able to get out of a bad neighborhood, she said, “My parents – they came here from Nicaragua. They sacrificed their lives coming here. And they are janitors. And they work very hard at night.” She told herself, there was “no excuse. I have no choice.”
No excuses led Lauren to Florida Atlantic University where she graduated with an electrical engineering degree. She says there were times when she thought she wouldn’t be able to make it, so she prayed to God. And God gave her strength. She told me it was important to bring this up because, with that strength, she graduated. She then went on to NYU and earned a Master’s degree in electrical engineering.
INDUSTRY: Tech/Electrical Engineering
STARTED IN INDUSTRY: 2019
LATINO CONNECTION: Born in Nicaragua, Parents are Nicaraguan
New York University – Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering
Florida Atlantic University – Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering
DREAM JOB AS A KID: NASA Scientist
BIGGEST GOAL YET (She has two):
Goal #1: “Right now, I’m just an engineer. I’m not a senior yet. Nor am I higher up. But I definitely want to get up there…I want to keep inspiring more women, more Latinos. And to be more confident with myself that I can do this.”
Goal #2: “I love working out. I’m bodybuilding right now. And I really want to get my pro card for weightlifting – for bodybuilding.”
THE RIGHT KIND OF NETWORKING
To go from a place full of gangs to what she does now at Qualcomm - radiation testing on chips for the Mars helicopter project - is a seismic shift in circumstances. Practically speaking, she says the key is “not to be afraid to network…And not just networking with engineers, but networking with different people.”
Going to conferences was the difference for her. To help others with similar goals, I wanted to know which conferences she recommends. She says groups like SHPE (Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers) and SWE (Society of Women Engineers) were helpful to her. But it’s more than just your technical skills that count.
WHY PERSONALITY MATTERS
At a conference, recruiters can get to know you and your personality. She says, “Because a lot of people could have all the technical skills and be amazing, but they could be terrible to work with. And they [recruiters] want someone to work well on a team.”
Even though the 26-year old is not an entrepreneur, I thought she could offer insight into helping older workers get hired in tech-related jobs or info to help them stand out, if they want to branch out on their own. “Be well-rounded. Make yourself more marketable.” Take, for example, someone who is a mechanical engineer. She said, “to make yourself more marketable, you can ace your skills on electrical components or coding.” It makes you more... “hirable to do more projects.”
Lauren didn't just beat the odds to get one of these sought-after tech jobs. Sadly, once women get to one of these coveted positions, they often leave these STEM fields because they’re outnumbered and feel a lack of support.
They can struggle with “imposter syndrome, "a psychological condition where the person feels as if they don’t belong or haven’t earned the position they have. In a nutshell, they fear they’ll be exposed as a fraud.
Lauren says she notices it a lot with Latinos because “we don’t see Latinos really in our field. I don’t really see Latinos in my division. It can be discouraging.” So she turns it around by telling herself, “You need to be proud that you’re the only Latino in the room.”
A resource she recommends to fight imposter syndrome is joining an employee resource group at a company, specifically designed for the group you identify with most. “It’s good to be in organizations like that because you feel…like you’re a part of the company. You feel like you can relate to other Latinos who are feeling the same way.”
THE ANTIDOTE TO “MACHISMO”
But it all started with her imagination and visualization, plus her backlash to the Latino culture’s tradition of encouraging “machismo”. That's the sexist tendency where men dominate as a way of showing off their masculinity. And it rubbed her the wrong way.
MARVEL MOVIES AND ME
In a twist movie-lovers will likely find endearing, she said she loves Marvel movies and loved Iron Man, in particular. She thought to herself, “I want to make an Iron Woman. Somebody needs to make that. And that’s what made me want to really be an engineer. So it was like a mix of…being a feminist, growing up in a Latino family, seeing my parents struggle and watching a bunch of Marvel movies.”
It’s now carried over into bodybuilding, something she’s very passionate about right now. So the little girl who, at the age of seven, called herself “the scientist” and who escaped a life of low expectations is now working on a project that involves NASA’s JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab). Some might say that she has, in her own way, fashioned herself as a modern-day "Latina Iron Woman."
THE TIP JAR (Tips passed out courtesy of Lauren Picado)
Do your own projects for fun. Companies really like that because it shows that you love it, that you take initiative.
“I really wish I had started doing my own projects because I think it would’ve made things a lot easier.”
STEEPED IN SKILLS (MID-CAREER):
To step up your game, expand your skills.
PRACTICAL APPLICATION: “I’m doing a lot of radiation testing, which involves a lot of coding. But if I want to…step up my game, why not ask my manager, or reach out to other teams, and say, hey, can I see what you’re doing with the hardware design?"
“I think companies really appreciate that because that means you’re the type of worker that can, basically, be switched around to…different teams. And when you do that, you learn way more.”
“Don’t be scared…don’t be prideful to reach out to people who are experienced” in the field you want to join.
PRACTICAL APPLICATION: “My sister is going through the same thing. She went to FAU and she studied biology. She did 3 years of med school and then realized, she hated it. So now she’s going into electrical engineering, starting from scratch at an older age.”
I’LL NEVER DO THAT AGAIN:
"Sometimes, there would be certain classes that I wouldn’t really pay attention to in my undergrad. And I would think to myself, this is just a one-time class. I won’t need this ever again." But, "it will bite you in the future. And I really wish that I had paid attention in that 'easy' class."
BEST ADVICE FROM “LA CASA”:
Lauren’s mom would tell her, “Ponte los pantalones!”
TRANSLATION: Put on your [big-girl] pants!
In undergrad, Lauren said it seemed as if there were only 2 women for every 50 men. In graduate school, the ratio didn't get any better. She estimates it was one woman for every 100 men. In the working world, at least for her, she estimates there are probably 20 women for every 300 men.
So when she would tell her mom “I don’t know if I can do this, her mom would respond, “Go out there and put your [big-girl] pants on. Don’t cry to me. Go do it!”
Now, she doesn’t even notice the lopsided female to male ratio. Although, she’s the first to admit, she's not sure if not noticing anymore is a good or a bad thing.
NO NEED TO GO IT ALONE
HELP ON THE OUTSIDE…because we can all use a helping hand:
I don’t have to tell you social media can be a big help in marketing your business. Well, this class will provide you with a “toolkit” for figuring out which platform is the best match for your business. The FREE session is also going to give you practical info like ideal times for posting and what kinds of posts you’ll want to focus on for your particular company. Here’s the link:
WORKING ON THE INSIDE…because, let’s face it, our culture has a hard time asking for help:
Boy, do I love the focus of this workshop. It treats “perfection” as taboo. It’s called “Every P but Perfection”. It’s part of the SBA’s Business Resiliency Series. The FREE online workshop teaches you how to focus on the other “P” words that can help your mindset and your business: Patience, Persistence, Pacing, Praise and Progress, just to name a few. According to the course syllabus, participants will also practice “attitude aerobics”. Find out more here:
Business Resiliency Series: Every P but Perfection
3 p.m. EDT – 5 p.m. EDT
THE INSPIRATION BEHIND THIS ISSUE:
You’ve probably heard someone say, when asked about how they got into their career, “I just kind of fell into it.” Well, John Atkinson Grimshaw, said, “If you don’t run your own life, somebody else will.” I usually add to the end of that phrase, “…and that will probably not be in your best interest.”
That’s why it’s best that “you” make decisions and not just leave it up to others - or just go whichever way the wind blows. Self-determination cannot be underestimated.
Lauren Picado is the perfect example of someone who wasn’t about to let what others expected determine her future or her life. She knew she had to be in control and take deliberate actions to change the expected path.
Even though I mainly focus on entrepreneurs for this newsletter, Lauren's connection to tech, engineering and the fact that she graduated from Florida Atlantic University (my alma mater), made her an interesting person to profile.
So many times, when people have coveted jobs, we tend to think their connections, the social circles they run in or their wealth may have played a role. But Lauren readily admits, she comes from a modest background.
While she stresses the connections she made at conferences definitely helped her, Lauren didn't start out with all those advantages many of us take for granted.
Sometimes, you just want to hear a good, ole fashioned story about someone living out their "American dream." Yeah, it may be cliché. But, these days, it sure is refreshing because it's still the promise that makes us all proud to be Americans.
Personal Disclaimer: As a journalist, I take disclosures very seriously when I'm working on a story. I wanted to bring up that Lauren works at Qualcomm. I have a very small amount of money invested in Qualcomm. It's so small, most people probably wouldn’t even mention it. But, I believe in full disclosure. So I wanted to share this information with you.
Subscribe to get future updates and benefits from Generation Sí!