What a software engineering student from Mexico taught me in my career.

We are all too aware that we are experiencing a drastic shortage of people to fill software engineering and security roles. Technological innovations and threats continue to evolve at an unprecedented rate. This challenge is exacerbated by the mass movement of enterprises towards the cloud, which requires new skills in software engineering and next-generation computing.

Many organizations and hiring managers take a cognitive shortcut when it comes to recruiting, hire people they have worked with before, or look to the more affluent academic or Ivy League institutions that have software engineering programs and/or information security. In my opinion, this is why the face of software engineering and security hasn’t changed too much over the past decade. I think there needs to be more emphasis on finding and investing in underrepresented talent. You can’t advance the face of software engineering or cybersecurity if you’re only looking for talent in the same places.

University professors will tell you that the top 5-10% of students in software engineering programs, no matter what university they attend, are equally motivated and talented. Exploring and identifying underrepresented talent early on and from unexpected places is a lesson I learned first-hand while working as Director of Strategic Solutions and Principal Cloud Solutions Architect at D3Clarity, a computer services and computer consultancy.

D3Clarity has a unique partnership with singular point in Mexico, where they focus not on the premier schools in Mexico City, which are expensive and out of reach for most Mexicans, but rather on the Mexican Instituto Tecnológico, which is equivalent to the state technological universities here in the United States. These schools are completely technology-oriented. Punto Singular identifies students in their early undergraduate years through hackathons and workshops and offers them internships and career opportunities with Punto Singular clients such as D3Clarity.

To help with recruitment, Punto Singular encourages clients to come to Mexico and meet with undergraduate students and faculty to make connections. In February 2018, I ventured to Mexico, and it was then that I had the privilege of meeting Alejandra Bustamante, a computer science student at the Instituto Tecnológico de Zitácuaro. Zitácuaro is a town in the Mexican state of Michoacan, where agriculture and mining are the main industries. The students we met on this trip were excited to learn more about software development and engineering fields and careers after graduation. What I found most memorable was the question the women asked, which is no different from junior female developers here in the US. That question being, “How can I prove I can do the job so you can give it a shot?”

For me, this question is at the heart of diversity. Why are we more inclined to offer an engineering student from an Ivy League university an internship or hiring opportunity without proving they can do the job than those from a public school in the United States or in Mexico? For me, this highlights the need to challenge biases and assumptions and open doors to resources from other backgrounds.

Alejandra was such a star, as were two other students we met on the trip. Already committed to a position at Hewlett-Packard in Mexico, we decided to give Alejandra’s peers the opportunity to come work for D3Clarity as new software engineers.

Flashforward to September 2021. I joined Aviatrix, a pioneer in secure cloud networks, as a Senior Solutions Architect, and after two months I was promoted to Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) . Last spring, I had a job opening on my security team, a DevSecOps position. I needed someone with a little more experience than a recent college grad, eager to roll up their sleeves to get the job done, and located in Dallas. I continued to keep in touch with Alejandra and learned that she had recently moved to Dallas. I took that as a sign and contacted her as I knew she would be a perfect fit for the position. Given his skills, work ethic, and career aspirations, I wanted to give him the opportunity to branch out into software development and learn about security, cloud computing, and automation.

Soon after, she came to work at Aviatrix, sporting the title of SecOps Engineer and CSP Ops, and she excelled. I am enormously proud of her.

This experience marked me and allowed me to reaffirm the importance for everyone to develop atypical networks that open doors. Changing the face of cybersecurity and software engineering will only happen when we change the faces of our internal network.

Alejandra is the third person from the left and Jenn is the fifth person from the right in the front row.

Gordon K. Morehouse