During Hispanic Heritage Month (September), the UC Tech community is celebrating the contributions of the Hispanic Community and those in Information Technology (IT) by sharing stories of empowerment, resilience, and breaking barriers to serve as beacons of inspiration. As a Latina woman from Mexico, Carolina Manel’s journey through the tech industry has been defined by overcoming challenges, embracing diversity, and championing inclusion. From her roots in a small town in Puebla to her current role as a Senior Web Developer at the School of Biological Sciences at University of California (UC) Irvine, and her recent appointment as the Chair of the UC Women in Tech Committee (UC WIT), Manel’s path has been guided by a profound sense of responsibility to her Hispanic community. In a candid interview, Manel shares insights into her journey, highlighting the hurdles she has overcome and the transformative impact of her work on future generations, particularly for Latina women in IT.
Describe your career in IT
My journey in IT started with education. I got a degree in computer science, thanks to the Dean’s scholarship I gained at the Universidad del Valle de Puebla (UVP), Mexico, where I’m from. Then, I got the chance to work at T-Systems (formerly Gedas North America), a premier tech enterprise in Mexico. Things got interesting when I moved to the United States in 2005, starting a new chapter in my life. I worked at different tech companies in Chicago, then moved to California and joined UC Irvine, first as a programmer with the Identity and Access Management (IAM) team, and later as a senior application developer for the School of Biological Sciences.
In the tech world, what I love the most is coding. I’ve been a developer since I started, and I really enjoy troubleshooting and problem-solving. In my current role, I’m responsible for the operations, security, and development of custom web applications that support staff, students, and faculty. I also manage the development of the School’s websites, including for the academic departments, initiatives, and labs. In 2021, I was honored to receive the Applause Award at UC Irvine, the same year I was named one of the top 40 leaders from my alma mater in my hometown.
What are the challenges you have faced in your career?
One significant challenge throughout my 27-year career has been keeping up with the ever-evolving landscape of technology. I’ve remained committed to continuous learning and adapting to new tools and technologies. I initially started coding in the BASIC programming language and have since transitioned to use state-of-the-art technology, including DevOps and the Cloud.
Another formidable challenge arose when I moved to America, where I had to learn English and adapt to a new culture while balancing a full-time job and raising my sons. The impact of this transition was not only on me but also on my family.
The hardest challenge, though, has been being a part of a small group inside a minority group – not just because I’m a woman, but also because I’m a Latina woman in tech. I’ve had to work extra hard for a long time to be noticed for my IT work. It’s been a journey of breaking stereotypes and overcoming biases. I’ve been resilient and I have opened my own path through my hard work.
While English remains a challenge for me, and I still have a noticeable accent, it hasn’t been an impediment to do my job, nor should it be an obstacle for anyone in their pursuit of credibility in their profession. In my view, effective communication is not solely determined by language proficiency but rather by the clarity with which you can express a message using the resources that you have.
You have made significant contributions to DEI efforts, how did you start?
My journey into promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) started in 2005, as a genuine effort to promote education among my Hispanic community.
Only three months after moving to America in 2005, I became the president of the Bilingual Parent Advisory Committee (BPAC) for School District 204 in Chicago, Illinois. Back then, the DEI conversation wasn’t as widespread as it is today. I noticed the need within my Hispanic community to navigate the American education system. Then I collaborated with the school district to establish workshops to bridge understanding that later on was the basis for the ‘Parent University’ program in that school district.
As I became more involved, I felt a strong sense of responsibility toward young Latinas. This led to my connection with ‘Atrévete a soñar, Edúcate!’, a non-profit based in Chicago dedicated to inspiring young Latinas to go to college. My engagement began as a board member and eventually grew to encompass the role of STEM coordinator. It was in 2016 when I took the initiative to bring the “Build a Dream” STEM conference to Fermilab, a renowned particle physics lab in the US. This effort continued to flourish for a couple of years, serving as a platform to empower aspiring minds.
My commitment extended to the UC Irvine community as well, where I began to mentor Latino students in computer science for the past two years. I’ve come to realize the importance of having someone who can understand their unique challenges and offer guidance and support based on personal experiences. This has been an invaluable experience for me, as I was able to relate to the obstacles that these students face. Moreover, I’ve also gained significant insights from them, enriching my own understanding and perspective.
At UC Irvine, I am also an active contributor to the Women in Technology Inclusive Networking (WITIN) Group, an initiative of the Women in Tech @ UCI, organizing monthly sessions to foster an environment of learning and connection.
Presently, I lead the University of California Women in Tech Committee, channeling my energy into empowering our WIT community.
Taking the chair position of UC WIT during the Hispanic Heritage Month, what does that mean to you and what do you bring to the table?
Certainly, taking on the role of Chair for the University of California Women in Tech Committee is both an honor and a big responsibility. My main goal is to cultivate a strong sense of unity within our Women in Tech community across UC campuses and create meaningful connections between our committee and others related to DEI. I want to promote collaboration, building robust communication channels, and enhancing our promotional materials to attract more sponsors. Through these efforts, we aim to inspire our community to become more actively engaged in our mission. I envision a supportive and inclusive environment that empowers women in technology and drives positive change.
What I bring to the table is a deep-rooted and genuine commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. As a Mexican-American woman who has journeyed through the tech industry, I understand firsthand the significance of varied perspectives. I intend to leverage my experiences and insights to cultivate an environment where each voice is heard and valued.
Assuming the role of chair of UC WIT during Hispanic Heritage Month holds deep personal significance for me. It provides a distinctive platform to inspire and empower not only our WIT community but also to highlight the importance of representation. I consider my heritage my source of strength and resilience. As I collaborate with a group of women from various backgrounds, I firmly believe that by enriching our shared experiences and actively contributing to our community, we can create a brighter and more inclusive future for the generations to come.
In addition to her professional work and volunteering, Manel maintains a balanced life. In her spare time, she is an avid hiker who has completed iconic trails like the South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails in the Grand Canyon, conquered Yosemite’s Half Dome, summited Mount Baldy, and tackled other peaks such as San Jacinto Peak. She also enjoys cooking and loves dancing.
Senior Application Developer
School of Biological Sciences