At first, Carlos Galvez Jr. saying the term “imposter syndrome” seems about as likely as him standing up on his desk and doing a little soft shoe. Galvez, the vice president of security and crisis management at Oportun, looks like a security executive straight out of a movie. Even when he’s laughing, even over Zoom, one is keenly aware that this is one of the last people with whom you’d start a casual bar fight.
“In many ways, I’ve always felt like a bit of a walking contradiction,” Galvez says early on. The young man who made some bad choices while growing up in a particularly dicey gang neighborhood in San Jose, California, would ultimately build out a security career—and he’d somehow do it in reverse.
Fifteen years into his security career after executive-level experiences with some of the biggest names in tech, Galvez became a sworn reserve police officer in Soledad, California. He was primarily committed to working with younger versions of himself that he could hopefully encourage (or scare if necessary) onto the right path, and maybe even into the security and cybersecurity fields that need all the talent they can get.
Weaponizing Imposter Syndrome
While Galvez always wanted to be a police officer, he dealt with the additional pressure of being surrounded with security experts and feeling like the odd man out in more ways than one.
“I’d walk into rooms and be the only Latino in a sea of middle-aged professionals who had retired from law enforcement or other similar careers,” Galvez remembers. “I just didn’t fit in, and I think that imposter syndrome made me overcompensate in a lot of ways.”
Galvez weaponized those feelings of unjustified inadequacy in staggering ways to, as he puts it, “earn those gray hairs that I now want to get rid of.” Even now, the VP and father of three has a full slate of college credits that he’s pursuing at night. He’s already amassed a boatload of accreditations in security and risk management, executive development, cybersecurity, and others, but the lifelong learner and constant reader has made his natural curiosity an asset.
Now, Galvez wants to help more Latinos feel more comfortable in a job sector that desperately needs their intuition, their work ethic, and their talent.
“I don’t want other people to have to feel like I did,” the VP says, frankly. “I want them to walk into a room and see other folks that look like them. In any underrepresented demographic, unless you see others in roles that you’re striving for, it’s going to seem impossible.”
Galvez is currently working with internal partners at Oportun now to create more mechanisms, metrics, and organizations to reach out to underutilized talent, particularly in Latin America. For the VP, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other indicators highlighting the lack of Latinos in security and cybersecurity leadership positions is a call to action. Soon he will launch the Association of Latino Security Professional, a nonprofit to help increase representation in security leadership roles.
Galvez’s success is also a testament to the power of reframing one’s narrative.
“I used to look at having started from the bottom as a bad thing,” he explains. “I was that security guard in the polyester uniform who had some things he had to overcome in his early life to get on the right path. But now I’m able to see it as more of an asset, and I think so many people can relate to that journey.”
That early journey included his family relying on public assistance. Galvez’s parents, immigrants from Mexico, worked seasonal jobs and hustled to put food on the table doing whatever they could to earn money.
That upbringing is what brought Galvez to Oportun, where the mission seems to matter more than any other employer he’s worked for in the past.
“My former role was at a fantastic organization, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were just focused on the instant gratification aspect of our culture,” Galvez says. “In contrast, I can’t imagine the positive impact Oportun would have had on our family growing up, had they been around. I think I’ve found where I want to stay for the rest of my corporate career.”
Galvez’s visibility at Oportun is essential for those hoping to build out their own careers, but it’s his people-first leadership that earns him his success. He says his approach may seem confrontational initially, but he’d like to explain.
“The way I try to live that people-first mindset comes down to accountability,” Galvez says. “And when your manager tells you that they’re going to hold you accountable, it has such a negative connotation. But it’s imperative to understand that accountability is a two-way street. I’m not going to let you skate by, and I expect the same.
“I’ve learned that true accountability means you’re never going to be taken off guard by an assessment,” he continues. “It’s about transparency and growing together from failures and mistakes.”
Growing as a leader and a person isn’t optional for Galvez. His interests run the gamut: cybersecurity, politics, even the Mitch Rapp book series. Despite his accomplishments, Galvez is most intent on finishing his undergrad degree—if only to give his fifteen-year-old son one less arrow in his argumentative quiver.
“I always had to tell people I went to the School of Hard Knocks,” Galvez says. “I wished I had that opportunity after I left high school, but I’m doing it now to live the expectations I have for my children.”