Where did you grow up and how would you describe yourself as a child?
I was born in the Dominican Republic; my family immigrated to Lawrence, Massachusetts when I was very young and that’s where I was raised. Because Lawrence’s population is predominately Latinx/Hispanic, I was able to continue to be raised within the rich Dominican culture.
I was an active and creative child growing up. I practiced karate with my two older brothers and joined different sports teams for basketball, softball, and baseball. At the age of 13, I earned my black belt in Kyokushin Karate. I was creatively inspired by my parents. When I wasn’t physically active, I was following in my father’s footsteps by learning how to draw or in my mother’s footsteps through poetry. My mother still has most of the poems I wrote as a child.
Through sports and karate, I learned discipline, the virtue of hard work, the importance of teamwork and collaboration, and the art of healthy competition, which were all characteristics that helped me throughout my life and career. Through painting and writing, I learned to tap into my creativity which later helped me further develop my problem-solving skills and eventually my programming/coding skills.
What did you study in college and what was your first job out of school?
As an undergrad, I studied and graduated with a BS in Mathematics. I chose Mathematics with the goal of graduating early as a way of saving money, thanks to the math college credits that transferred over from high school. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my degree, but I was leaning towards accounting.
However, as part of my major, I had to take a Computer Science course. Prior to college, I did not have any experience with programming and had not heard of CS as a major. After taking Computing I where the focus was programming in C, I was drawn to coding. I fell in love with the exercise of solving a problem and then implementing/coding the solution so that future problems alike are solved by my software. Quickly, one course became two, which then became a minor, which then became a Master’s degree in computer science. I learned to develop software to do different things -- solve problems, create games, convey information, control hardware, and reverse engineer to modify existing software.
After graduating from my undergrad studies, I followed my new passion and my first job out of school was as a Software Engineer, developing real-time embedded software for defibrillators.
Can you share the details on your career path and what were the critical moments that got you to where you are today?
I’ve had a typical career path of starting out as an individual contributor/software engineer and navigating into management. However, the most critical moment in my career was after 5 years in the industry, someone offered to be my mentor. She helped me gain confidence in my technical and problem-solving abilities by challenging me to lead technical initiatives, encouraging me to speak up and share my ideas, and providing specific actionable feedback. Through my gained confidence, I started taking on tasks that although were ambiguous and scary at the time, ultimately stretched me as an engineer. If it wasn’t for her mentorship I would not be where I am in my career today.
What is your current role and responsibilities?
I serve as the Director of Software Engineering for the Robot Operating System Platform department at iRobot. In this role, I am responsible for the connectivity firmware, the operating system, and the manufacturing and customer care tools functions.
Looking back, is this where you thought you’d be professionally? Was it always your goal to be in this position?
I am fairly introverted so being responsible for a large organization is a big change from how I started my career and a welcomed challenge to my personality. However, it wasn’t always my goal to be in this position. I planned to remain on the technical route as a software engineer. As I went through my career, I found I needed more influence to impact the culture within tech. This caused my goal to shift towards management, and I embraced the opportunity to apply my technical and problem-solving skills in new ways.
For people who are looking to be in a similar position, what advice would you give to others in terms of helping them achieve their career goals?
Prepare yourself for the opportunities you crave. As an individual contributor, I read countless management books, I took initiative and was proactive in tackling and improving issues outside of my direct domain, and I sought mentorship from colleagues in management roles. When the opportunity arose and a Software Manager role opened, I was ready for it.
What are the most important skills that you need to do your job well?
A proactive mindset, critical thinking, and good collaboration skills. If I see an opportunity for improvement, I go into problem-solving mode and think of solutions to solve the issue or provide suggestions for improvement; this applies beyond technical challenges and whether it’s directly within my realm of responsibilities. Attempting to remove roadblocks instead of waiting for them to be removed is incredibly powerful.
What do you find most interesting/rewarding about your work?
Being in a position of influence, what I find most rewarding is mentoring others, providing opportunities, impacting culture, and working with people to achieve their career goals. What I find most interesting is working on robots and all the different disciplines, technologies, and collaboration it takes to build the awesome products iRobot creates.
What is your proudest professional accomplishment?
Reflecting on moments I’ve felt most proud or most accomplished from an engineering perspective makes me think of the software I’ve implemented for products that have saved lives, been to space, and/or have been worn by President Obama. However, the biggest impact I have felt was when I left one of my previous employers. In my transition, I received emails from my direct reports and peers voicing how much they appreciated my leadership, mentorship, and contributions. Considering I’m new-ish to management, this reinforced why I chose this path for my career and helped quiet my imposter syndrome.
Are you involved with any professional organizations outside of the company? Volunteer work?
I’m fueled by expanding access to STEM education, particularly for underrepresented youth. On a personal level, I serve as an engineering mentor at Lawrence CommunityWorks: Movement City designing and co-facilitating robotics workshops for local youth, ages 8-14.
iRobot also has a STEM outreach program which I love supporting; it’s one of my favorite parts about working here. Through my volunteer experiences with the STEM outreach program, I’ve been able to virtually support robotics classes in the Dominican Republic as well as meet students ranging from middle school through college to offer encouragement and mentorship.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my husband and newborn son. I recently became a mother so what I most enjoy right now is watching him grow, hit his milestones, and seeing him find ways to keep us busy/running around.
Outside of family life, I enjoy watching anime, playing basketball, and building my sneaker collection.
How do you manage stress?
I take a step back to organize myself; I make a list of the items that are on my plate, prioritize them, and tackle them one by one. I also have a network of trusted colleagues that I share my thoughts, ideas, frustrations, and proposed solutions with.
How many cups of coffee do you have in a day?
I have one cup of coffee in the morning to start my day.
What's one of your favorite places in the Boston area?
El Taller Cafe & Bookstore in Lawrence, MA. The café has amazing Latin food, but I also enjoy attending the community workshops they host, looking at the local art hung in their gallery space, and checking out the endless books (some by local authors) in their bookshelf.
Any book or podcast recommendations?
Some of my favorite books are: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Sheila Heen, and Bruce Patton, Quiet by Susan Cain, and El Descuido De Dios by Ana Puello.
What advice do you have for recent college graduates?
Be inquisitive and take your time to dig into what you’re working on to learn past your immediate task. Regardless of your role and responsibilities, there is always something to learn whether it’s how to do something, how not to do something, new technologies, pros and cons to different implementations and solutions, process improvements, etc. Your learnings from your experiences will prepare you for future opportunities.