#WomeninSTEM · #WomeninTech · Computer Science · inspiration · Technology · women who reign

Women Who Reign: Katie Arriaga

Here’s a quote in Spanish from a poem by Mario Benedetti:
“No te rindas que la vida es eso: continuar el viaje, perseguir tus sueños, destrabar el tiempo, correr los escombros, y destapar el cielo.”
And here is the English translation as well!
“Don’t give up, that’s what life is: continue the journey, follow your dreams, unlock time, move the rubble, and uncover the sky.”

Tell us about yourself along with a fun fact!
Hello! My name is Katie and, if you are reading this, I hope my story inspires you to find something that you love to do.

I was born in Monterrey, Mexico, where I’m currently majoring in computer science. It took me a few years, switching majors twice, and meeting amazing people to find out what I felt truly passionate about.

After switching from chemistry to industrial design and realizing that I did not feel strongly about that either, I felt the need to go out there (again), find a new career path, and try to find a good fit for me this time (uh-oh). I wanted something impactful, with a good balance between engineering and creativity. Around this time, I talked about this to my older brother. He had recently graduated from college (majoring in robotics), and had focused most of his programming skills on creating really cool and user-friendly interfaces. He suggested that I gave programming a try, since it sounded like what I wanted to do. I had some friends majoring in computer science, so I consulted them about this, did some research and, finally (yet hesitatingly), switched to computer science with no previous programming experience.

The first weeks were really intimidating. There were barely any girls in my courses and everyone seemed to know what they were doing. I remember one guy (also a CS major) told one of my friends: “make sure she knows this might be too hard for her”. This got me a bit upset but, in all honesty, I’m quite stubborn. I wanted to prove everyone with that mindset (including myself) that I could do this. I worked hard during my first semester in CS, and ended up being one of the CS department’s top students. But I still felt like I needed to catch up, so I spent most of my following summer teaching myself how to build mobile applications.

The next semester, I signed up for an interaction design course, which helped define my career path. My professor was a very driven woman who also happened to be an Apple Distinguished Educator with a passion for inclusive technology. I am forever grateful that I took her course because it helped me find my passion: UX (particularly accessibility) in technology. I felt like I had finally found something that was a great fit for me – yay! I did a project on accessibility for that course, while also applying for internships at many companies. However, there was one that I was particularly interested in: Microsoft.

I had heard about Microsoft’s Explorer Internship program, so I spent about two months (yes, two months) polishing my resumé. I must have given my recruiter about 8 copies (just in case). A few weeks later, she called me saying that they wanted to interview me (YES!). I got through the first round and they flew me to Seattle for the final one. I met so many amazing candidates and interviewers here, but one of them particularly caught my attention: she was an Engineering Manager at Microsoft and the team leader of one of the accessibility teams in the company (what are the odds, right?!). I had a great time interviewing with her, given our common interests.

I finished my interviews and, just as I was about to board the plane back home the next day, I got a call from a recruiter. She said she wanted to congratulate me because they wanted to extend an offer to me (I was so excited, I promise I was crying out of joy at the airport!). Not only that, but I later found out that the EM from the accessibility team I talked to suggested that I do my internship with her team since she felt that I was so passionate about the topic. I am forever thankful to her for this opportunity because I had an amazing summer and learned a lot from the team I worked with. Next summer, I went back as a software developer intern and the experience just kept getting better. My mentors, managers, and co-workers were all amazing and driven people. I look forward to learning more from them in the future. So far, the experience just keeps getting better!

Right now, I keep trying to learn as much about UX and inclusive technology as I can, and I am so excited to go back to Microsoft this summer for my last SDE internship before I graduate. I think finding my passion has been a sum of cool experiences and incredible people I was blessed to meet along the way. So, if you are reading this: I hope you find something that motivates you to keep growing each day, like I did.

Fun fact: I love outdoor activities (particularly hiking and canoeing!) and pastel painting – although I’m trying to improve in both. 🙂

ri_01 - Katie Arriaga

Favorite website / app:
I use OneNote for taking notes during my classes (go green!). I love how easy it is to write and share notes, and I like that I can access them from all my devices! I also recently downloaded an extension for my browser to enable a Reading View which makes online articles more readable for me. Who doesn’t enjoy a great reading experience, right?

Someone who inspires you and knowledge they have imparted:
The person who inspires me the most is my older brother. Not only did I get my first exposure to programming thanks to him, but he has always been open to help me grow more (when I was trying to teach myself something and got stuck, he was (read as: is) the person I’d go to for questions). Finally, he has taught me to believe in my skills and be proud of my own potential. I hope that, when he reads this, he realizes the big impact he had in helping me find a career that makes me happy, and encouraging me to keep going. 

Song that makes you want to dance:
There are so many! One that always makes me feel like dancing and singing along is ‘Caraluna’ by Bacilos. And one that gets me through the day would be ‘Dare You To Move’ by Switchfoot!

Challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it:
I, as many others, have experienced what most people know as the “impostor syndrome”. Through my career, I’ve always felt the need to catch up with others that have been into software development for almost as long as they’ve been able to type. And I think it’s easy to see how that can be intimidating.

I recently took my compilers design course. Many people who had already taken it talked about how consuming the course was, so I was skeptical about what I was getting myself into. I found a great partner to work with during the semester (as the project was to be done in pairs), and we both dedicated most of our weekends and free time to build a great, ship-ready compiler (which also got us an A+ for the course! whoo-hoo!). But the best part of this was finding out how everything I had learned up to that point finally clicked. Almost every bit of every other course I had taken and every other project I had worked on somehow played a part in what we were building. This is when I realized that I had truly been growing on the technical side – which helped me feel more confident about my abilities. And, even though it’s common to doubt oneself sometimes, I think I can use this experience to remember that everything adds up when it comes to learning and growing – and the results will show.

ri_04 - Katie Arriaga

Ideal Job:
Naturally, it’d be a job where I’m able to create a huge impact on people’s lives. I would love the opportunity to use and grow my UX and accessibility experience to something related to healthcare. Have you ever watched the movie Big Hero 6 (if you haven’t, write it down on your bucket list of movies to watch)? I’d love to build something like Baymax (a healthcare robot!) someday.

What knowledge would you impart to women in order for them to REIGN their lives?
Take as many chances as you can to learn from the people around you! I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to meet so many incredible and driven people that I’ve learned a lot from (I’ve only mentioned a few here). I think life overall is a learning experience, which can be enriched by others if we let them.

Katie Arriaga has received numerous recognitions including:
– Recipient of a distinction for being one of the top students in engineering school at Tec de Monterrey.
– Recipient of one of the 100 Microsoft scholarships for students around the world to attend Microsoft BUILD 2017.
– Recipient of a Google student scholarship to attend Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.
– Recipient of 2nd place award at HackMTY (largest university hackathon in Mexico).

Connect with Katie on social media! She loves meeting new people and helping the next generation of women in tech:

GitHub: katiearriagam
LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/katiearriaga/

ri_02 - Katie Arriaga

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