My career has taken me to places and companies I never imagined possible. Today, I am a technical solutions consultant at Adobe, a company that powers over 90 percent of creatives around the globe. My path here was not clear-cut. I started at a community college, attended a state school, and like many Latinxs out there, had no college fund waiting for me. At one point, I worked three part-time jobs as a full-time student to pay for my education. On paper, the odds were stacked against me.
I didn’t let that deter me from the elusive American dream that my parents (immigrants from Honduras) instilled in me. The truth is, the American dream has taken on a new meaning, which is the freedom to pursue your passion and design your life in a way that is purposeful for you. As someone who is currently designing a career and life I could not have imagined ten years ago, I wanted to take the opportunity to share what I’ve learned along the various turns, twists, and pivots in my journey in the hopes it will encourage you to follow your dreams and purpose.
How Did I Get Here?
I grew up in an immigrant Hispanic household, and education was emphasized to me from a young age. My parents viewed education as a safety net necessary to guard me and my four siblings from going through the hardships they had endured back in Honduras.
I decided to major in political science in college. At the time, I thought that my calling was in government or public service because that’s what I was studying, and it felt natural to follow the logical order of pursuing a career in what I studied, but my ambitions were full of ambiguity about exactly “what I wanted to be when I grew up.”
My first job out of college was an unpaid internship. After that, I worked at my local community college until I accepted a fellowship in Indonesia. In my five-plus years in the professional world, I’ve gone from being Fulbright Fellow teaching English in Indonesia to becoming a digital marketing professional to becoming a digital consultant at Accenture to, most recently, landing a job in the electronic signature technology space at Silicon Valley-based Adobe. At Adobe, I work on a team of professionals that help state, local, and federal governments realize their digital transformation goals, identify their technology road map, and plug into the Adobe ecosystem to modernize the way they operate.
Each of my career transitions resulted in various learnings and unlearnings that molded my view on our modern workplace. The verdict? Soft skills are the new currency of successful career moves.
There is a common discourse that says traditional hard skills play a significant role when someone is considering a career pivot. We’re told to enroll in thousand-dollar bootcamps, get arbitrary certificates, or obtain a graduate degrees that really don’t move the needle toward our passion.
I wholeheartedly disagree with this line of thought. Career pivots can and should happen without someone having to break the bank or go back to school. I’ve relied on training from my employers and an apprenticeship model of learning where I don’t have to spend a dime. And that’s not because of anything unique to me: I’ve found these approaches by using my voice and cultivating relationships in a genuine manner. In other words, by using my soft skills.
As I mentioned above, I grew up in a household where the value of education was stated many, many times. Many Latinxs out there grow up in similar environments where education is overemphasized. In those environments, education prioritized over non-tangible skills (soft skills) such as expressing and articulating one’s thoughts clearly, writing concise emails, relating to others, and building trust and rapport with colleagues.
But here’s the truth: Latinos inherently have the soft skills needed to succeed and are natural-born leaders. The most important factors in success—regardless of your credentials—are grit, resilience, and a hunger for learning.
And it’s worth the time and effort to do the inner work to build on these skills, particularly in the tech industry. When I transitioned into the tech world, where most employers believe that anyone can learn the necessary skills by shadowing others and by trying new technologies out for themselves, it didn’t matter that hard technical skills weren’t in my skill set. What mattered was that I was passionate, resourceful, and enjoyed learning new things.
My “Secret Sauce”
We Latinos already have many tools in our collective arsenal that we can use to realize our career goals. But I will also tell you about my “secret sauce”—the strategy I used to make three-plus career pivots (and secure salary bumps along the way):
- Take inventory of your experiences and articulate the underlying competencies you’ve acquired. I mean it—say it out loud, say it to a friend, write it in a journal. This is going to help you get clear on your goals. Notice where your face lights up, where you get excited about a particular type of work, and where you feel your energy dip. These physiological cues will help you identify what your true passions are.
- Set realistic expectations for yourself. You’re not going to be an expert coder after one week of lessons. You also don’t need to reinvent the wheel or start from scratch. Leverage what you already have in your toolbox: build upon and refine your existing skills by using resources such as Coursera, LinkedIn, Youtube, and Udemy. Use those learning experiences to augment your career narrative and underline how you continue to learn and evolve.
- Do your homework on the prospective industry or employer you want to work for, find current employees with whom you can do informational interviews, and tap into your network to ask about open jobs and referrals. Join networking organizations and attend job fairs. There’s no shame in approaching someone in your network and asking them to submit a referral—it’s how most people land jobs. In fact, it is how I got my first tech job at Accenture.
¡Adelante y hasta la proxima!
Alexandra is a multi-hyphenate young professional. She is a technical solutions consultant for e-signature technology at Adobe, a Silicon Valley-based software company that develops creative cloud and document services. Her clients are state and local governments in the Midwest, Central, and Southeast territories of the US. Prior to Adobe, she worked in the management consulting space at Accenture, where she worked on digital marketing technology stack implementations and strategy for Fortune 500 companies.
Outside of work, she serves as board chair for the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement’s Chicago Aux Board, in which capacity she leads a team of twenty-five Latinx professionals to accelerate the progress of Hispanics in the workplace. Her volunteer work earned her the Negocios Now 40 Under 40 Latinos in Chicago award in March 2021. She is a first-generation community college graduate and an alumna of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she studied political science and global studies. Prior to pivoting into technology, she was named a Fulbright Scholar and spent her first year out of college in Indonesia as an English teaching assistant. She hails from Waukegan, Illinois, and identifies as a first-generation Honduran-American.