Nearshore Americas

Profiles: How Latinas are Finding Their Way into Software Dev

In the overwhelmingly male-dominated realm of software design and computer engineering, there are some women who have found a place for themselves, and have become key players in their respective companies, and the overall design community.

“Women see video games and think of men, and this has created a discrimination in our heads,” said Teresa Muñoz, from the Bogota, Colombia offices of nditeravision, a video game design firm where she is Q/A Lead and Associate Producer. “I don’t think there is real discrimination, this is a field where everyone is welcome,” Muñoz told Nearshore Americas. Generally, when people think of video games they think of war games or other masculine scenarios. “Women don’t think they have a place. I have heard of companies that discriminate against women, but I have also heard of some that discriminate against men,” Muñoz added.

Divergent Paths

A lifelong video game aficionado, Muñoz always felt that software development was a natural path for her to follow. However, life took her in a different direction and she found herself doing her internship designing the control system for a new oil plant. “It had absolutely nothing to do with what I am doing now, and I realized I really wanted to design video games,” she recounted.

When her internship and classes ended, Muñoz sent two emails a day to different video game companies explaining that she had no professional experience but just needed a chance to show what she could do. Her perseverance paid off when in 2011 Colombia Games, a small games and app design shop, opened the door to her. Entering the company as a Microsoft specialist, the hopeful designer formed a close relationship with Microsoft and worked on Windows 8 and Windows Phone 7, but she found that she really wanted to work for a firm that focused on gaming, and left the company after ten months.

“You have to start somewhere,” Muñoz advised, “I didn’t study computer science, I studied electric engineering. I didn’t know anything about programming. Either you are an artist, a tester or a coder. Then you get into whatever field that you have the most affinity to.”

Finally on track to fulfilling her ambitions, in September 2012 Muñoz started to work for nditeravision, first on an elearning project, then on a game about a boy messenger for the gods. She then moved to Q/A and production where she became involved with most of the company’s production line. “If I had the opportunity, I would like to do a retro indie game for a console like Sony, for old time’s sake,” she said.

Everyone Welcome

“What I have found is that most people have no idea how a video game is made, they think that playing a video game is the same as creating one,” she said. Muñoz advised that aspiring designers should attend events held by organizations like the International Game Developers Association. In Bogota, Muñoz recommends attending Colombia 3.0 and Bogota Audiovisual Market. “This field needs all disciplines. We have the mathematical guys, the design guys, the programmers,” Muñoz said, before encouraging girls and young women who might be interested in this field to get into it, and not to worry about thoughts of sexism: “You have to know the basics of programming, but don’t have to be an expert. At college they don’t teach you how to program video games, they just teach you how to code. You don’t have to be a great programmer to get in – don’t let that stop you. You just have to have the skills to become great.”

The Curious One

Aurora Zeledón, Tech Lead and Senior Web Developer with Intergraphics in Costa Rica, was fortunate to get her first computer when she was five years old. Her natural curiosity drove her to exploring not only what the computer could do, but also how it did them. “There was a guy that came to our house to fix the computers and I would sit next to him and watch him working,” Zeledón recalled. This early interest led her to a technical high school where she studied technical science. “I started to learn how to do flow charts, logic and stuff like that. I also started to program with Pascal, Visual Basic, C++, C and FoxPro,” she said.

From Emergency to Engineering

Fresh out of high school, Zeledón started her professional career as a support technician for the 911 emergency system for about a year. Upon entering the Instituto Tecnologico de Costa Rica (TEC) to continue her studies in computer engineering, she worked with FONABE (National Fund of Scholarships) where she developed with .Net and managed its database.

A fascination with how people from around the world can connect to a system led Zeledón to website design. “I like the challenge that comes with trying to develop for new technologies like smart phones. Developing a site that is functional and has a UX experience. It has to be functional for everybody,” Zeledón said. She forecasts that over the next five years, web development will be focused mainly on mobile devices, since “everyone wants to get access through tablets or phones.”

“At the university there were a lot of females, but most of them like to do the administrative part, and not to get their hands dirty,” recalled Zeledón, “but I like to get my hands dirty.  Right now I am a tech lead but I also like to keep focused, to work with code and put my mind to work.”

Destined to Lead

Haymara Palma, a lead programmer and specialist with Flash and Unity 3D technology at the Caracas offices of NDiTeravision, did not set out to work on video games. “I began to work in development of technologies for businesses,” she recounted, “after a few months, the videogame department asked for my help with a project since they knew about my past experience with Flash.” Palma’s work went very well and a spark was lit, leading her to become, according to Director of Production Luis Daniel Zambrano, one of the firm’s most talented programmers. “She is so proactive and organized that she also helps me with many operative tasks, managing her own projects and she is currently exploring Associate Production with teams that don’t involve her as a programmer,” Zambrano said.

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Trust in Fate

Believing it was her fate to be in the software development field, Palma studied at the Universidad Alejandro de Humbolt in Caracas and began her career as an Informatics Engineer. Although her trajectory has always kept Palma’s head and heart firmly attached to programming, she said, “My greatest experience is in the coordination, planning, development and integration of projects. Thank God, up until now all the projects I’ve worked on have been wonderful. I like innovative projects that can turn into challenges.”

When asked what women can add to the development table, she answered, “We can give so much! Women are very intelligent and entrepreneurial in every field, and there’s always a need for the good ideas that we can bring.” To young women who might be interested in breaking into this male-dominated arena, Palma advised, “It’s true that the majority of this field is handled by men, but in the last few years, women are getting stronger every day. It’s a very interesting and fun field. Once in, you will never want to get out.”

Patrick Haller

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