Changing The Face Of Tech: Latina Engineer Creates Faster, Better Systems

“There were more men named Andrew than women at the tech company where I worked,” says Nora Naranjo, a mechatronics engineer in Silicon Valley.Naranjo who worked at several startups before landing her current job at Eatsa, has had a path to success that is helping change the face of technology and also the automation that is inclusive in the restaurant industry.[bctt tweet=“Nora Naranjo has had a path to success that is helping change the face of technology #womenintech” username=“takeleadwomen”]A graduate of the innovative engineering program at CETYS University in Mexico, Naranjo has been in the U.S. since 2014 and has helped create an automated ordering process at Eatsa, a fast casual restaurant startup in San Francisco. She handles the lead test development for automation technologies, manufacturing designs, and robot driving.After graduating from college in 2006 with a degree inn graphic design, Naranjo began working full time and decided she wanted to pursue an engineering degree.“Talking among friends, I realized they had professions in STEM and were doing super interesting things, and I wanted that for me,” says Naranjo about her undergraduate studies at CETYS, which services 7,600 students. She graduated in 2015 with a second bachelors, this time in mechathronics engineering.With a new tech lab, renowned international programs, and partnerships with institutions such as MIT, students at CETYS in Mexicali are succeeding in the field of technology in the United States and abroad – and almost surpassing their male counterparts. Students like Naranjo at CETYS have access to global academic programs and internships including Google’s Student Ambassador Program that spearheaded her career.“Everyone wants to make the next Kuerig,” Naranjo says. “We have so little time and we want everything better and faster.”At Eatsa, Naranjo says she is working to advance automation in the restaurant industry as restaurateurs “want to create the magical recipe so customers have a magical experience that is faster and more accurate and that the people in the back have a better quality of life.”Naranjo says in the jobs she has held in tech in Silicon Valley, few look like her.According to the Pew Research Center, women are underrepresented in STEM occupations relative to their share in the U.S. workforce. For Latinos, the share of Hispanics working in STEM has gone up from 4 percent to 7 percent, while their share of the U.S. workforce has grown from 7 percent in 1990 to 16 percent today.[bctt tweet=“Women are underrepresented in STEM occupations relative to their share in the U.S. workforce. #womeninSTEM” username=“takeleadwomen”]Only a 33-minute drive to San Diego, CETYS University in Mexico recently opened the Center for Innovation and Design (CEID) – where students will develop and experiment with new products in aerospace, automotive, medical device manufacturing, and renewable energy, developing patents, process design and research studies.After graduating from CETYS, she moved into startups where she was often the only woman, and also the only Latina.“The hardest thing is to prove yourself over and over as a double minority,” she says. “You will not be taken seriously so you have to push forward, maintain calm and make sure your work speaks for itself.”When she first moved to San Francisco and began working in tech, Naranjo says, “I wanted to get in earlier than anyone else, stay later than anyone else.  That made me the hardest working, but not the smartest person in the room.”One position she had was at a startup with large companies as clients who when they had an idea they wanted to bring to market, would hire “our elite engineering squad.” She adds, “It was a really great job but what was tough was the administration did not do anything for diversity. I found my place on the team but they were not bringing other people on who look like me.”Networking groups such as Latinas in Tech, a non-profit organization with the mission to connect, support and empower Latina women working in technology is under the umbrella of the Latino Community Foundation and has more than 2,000 women in the group, representing more than 12  countries, working at more than 30 of the top technology companies.“Only 13 percent of U.S. engineering jobs are held by women, and an even smaller percentage by Latinas. According to the latest report by the National Science Foundation, only 2 percent of employed engineers are Hispanic women,” according to NBC News.The group began in Silicon Valley in 2014 and has since then expanded to Austin, Texas, and Mexico City to connect and support the Latinas working and living in those cities.Diversity on engineering and design teams helps to solve problems, she says.[bctt tweet=“Diversity on engineering and design teams helps to solve problems. #LatinasInTech #DiversityinSTEM” username=“takeleadwomen”]For instance, not having someone visually impaired to help with design eliminates the possibility that products can be used by the visually impaired—they were not included in the design solution.“If you have no one blind on the team, you will not answer the need,” she says.“Diversity is not something important because it’s a moral thing. It helps the bottom line; that is lost in all the conversations. This is a business. Diversity gives you better solutions,” Naranjo says.Encouraging Latinas to enter into the STEM fields at a younger age is critical, she says.“Most girls who do great in math and science see gender roles are limited. Most girls lose interest when they grow older so we have to target that transition and tell women and boys to pursue whatever they want,” she says. “Instead of saying, hey, girls, come over to STEM, ask, what do you want to be?” Naranjo says.“First generation Mexican American women are talented and can do anything they want. But they are not applying to programs because no one told them they can,” Naranjo says. “We need to make representation more visible.”Noramay Cadena, co-founder of Make In LA, and co-founder of Latinas in STEM Foundation, told Forbes:  “It’s a business imperative to build in capacity for STEM-related careers. Beyond the economics, we know that talent is ubiquitous yet opportunity is not. To have our workforce better represent our country’s demographics, we know we need by the community, for the community efforts in niche-underrepresented segments. The Latinas in STEM mission is to appeal to young Latinas and their families in a way that is information-based, relatable and actionable.“As for Naranjo, her advice to young Latinas who want to pursue careers in the teach field is simple.“Be confident in who you are and what what you know and know your limitations. Be really good at introspection as a human being. Know what you can learn.”