Although she was born in California while her father earned his PhD from UC Berkeley, she spent most of her formative years in his homeland of Chile during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Also, Guendelman was raised Jewish—her Romanian-born mother had fled to Chile, by way of Argentina, to avoid communism—in a country where Judaism represented 0.01 percent of the population.
Growing up, she aspired to be an actress—that is, until she asked herself, “What would I want to grow up to be if I was a boy?” (Answer: a lawyer.) So she studied law at a time when, under Pinochet’s regime, most women didn’t even enter the workforce—much less become lawyers. At age eighteen, her motivation to study plummeted when her father suddenly passed away. Nevertheless, she stayed in school and finished at the top of her class. When Harvard Law School was suggested as a place for her to continue her studies, she got in and moved to the United States—primarily as a way to get out of Chile, where pressure was mounting for her to get married and focus on being a homemaker.
It was a few more years down the road when Guendelman began recognizing another problem with young Latinas and family expectations. Her Harvard degree had carried her to corporate attorney opportunities in New York City and Washington, DC, before she headed southwest to Albuquerque in 2007. There, she became keenly aware of the large number of local Latina teens being steered towards the University of New Mexico as their sole opportunity for higher education. Anything more ambitious and/or farther away from home was deemed out of the question by their parents, Guendelman says. “Higher education at an Ivy League institution was an alternate universe for most Latinas in New Mexico,” she says. “So that’s really where all my work started. I wanted to try something different, something creative…but I didn’t have any idea what that ‘something’ was.”
Though she continued for several more years as an attorney—a career she didn’t particularly enjoy, but stayed with “until I decided what I really wanted to do”—Guendelman found an entirely different opportunity when she worked a deal for Virgin Mobile to stream a massive rock concert from her homeland of Chile. “That was my first entrepreneurial experience,” she recalls. “It wasn’t my money, so I wasn’t an entrepreneur risking my capital…I just made things happen, basically. And I was good at it.”
For the next few years, Guendelman worked with different partners, testing this newfound talent in a variety of ways—everything from the formation of a tech community for women in 2012 (“it was early in the tech movement, so this was seen as very progressive,” she recalls) to an advisory position creating media strategy with the Boulder, Colorado-based National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). “That was for young girls,” she says, “and I started thinking about how to get Latinas in college involved.”
“It’s about showing tech companies that it’s possible to find very talented people from a population that is underrepresented.”
This is where Wallbreakers comes in. Guendelman and her mentor/business partner Issac Saldana, the CEO of JoyLabs, have created Wallbreakers with the specific needs of minority professionals and the tech industry in mind. “It’s about showing those companies that it’s possible to find very talented people from a population that is underrepresented,” she says.
Through Wallbreakers, recent and soon-to-be college graduates (including Latinx, African-American, and other underrepresented minorities) receive up to 100 hours of coding exercises—“the more you have coded, the more likely you are getting into a good job,” Guendelman explains—followed by one-on-one interviews with senior engineers that provide valuable insight into the jobs at hand, and the questions asked by employers on the way to landing them. The goal is not only job placement, but the development of well-rounded candidates. “The students work on their tech skills but also their soft skills,” she says. “It’s about understanding the thought process, learning how to take criticism, learning how to take feedback…being personable and being flexible is very important.”
With eight companies participating in a six-week beta pilot program, Wallbreakers launched in late 2018, the results of which proved quite pleasing to Guendelman and Saldana: six job offers in its first quarter, creating an interview-to-offer success rate of 42 percent. Wallbreakers’ 2019 website launch included company profiles that share values, culture, and ways for potential recruits to engage in interaction. Partnering companies have so far included Twitter, Indeed, Airbnb, Charles Schwab, Pagerduty, Gusto, Hired, Drift, and Prudential.
In addition to her role at Wallbreakers, Guendelman also serves as a consultant for the Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Everything appears to be coming full circle for the woman with the can-do attitude determined to exceed her family’s expectations. Now more than ever, Guendelman is humbled by the tough entrepreneurial lessons she continues to learn along the way, crediting Saldana and several Latina mentors—including WE Family Offices CEO Maria Elena Lagomasino, and BeVisible Board Advisor Beatriz Acevedo—for any and all success she achieves.
“As for something I do that makes me successful,” Guendleman says after considerable thought, “I have the ability to attract people to my ideas. That’s my gift.”