5 lessons I learned as a Latino working in a startup

Working at a startup is an adventure. In my almost two years at NationBuilder, downtown Los Angeles’ anchor startup, I lived more excitement than in all my other work experiences combined. I worked with two South American presidential campaigns in helping them hash out their data management and field organizing, facilitated hundreds of trainings on the platform, and most recently led the company’s social media efforts to generate new leads and brand ambassadors programs.

As fulfilling as it all was, a side of me felt like I lacked role models and a guiding light. You see, my family and I immigrated from Colombia when I was twelve, and the quantity of minorities working in tech is abysmal at best.


With that in mind and with hopes of providing guidance and mentorship to upcoming generations, I’d like to share with you five lessons I learned as a Latino working at a startup:

1. You are the catalyst for diversity. Don’t wait for management to decide to go make it happeninvite community groups and curious individuals to take office tours (check with your supervisors). While you’re out networking be extra diligent and connect with people who you don’t feel are properly represented in your organization - grab their contact info, follow up, and try to get them into the hiring pipeline or into the internship application process.


2. Tell your story. We don’t have to look further than a campaign speech to see that many in America are oblivious to the major role immigrants and Latin@s play in making the US as great as it is. Telling my story by sharing funny timesthrough the day, the things I learned, and special moments helped show that I am a communications and technology professional who knows how to use social media to trigger change, who can carve up a database to learn about communities, and work with strategic partners to accomplish goals.

3. Embrace, leverage, maximize it. Make the most of your time at a startup, go on panels, network, let the world know what you’re doing and about the awesome technology the company you work for makes. Nonprofits and governments need tech and private sector partners to make their work more impactful and efficient, be the person that facilitates those relationships.

4. Work relentlessly. It’s a bit of a bummer, but one mistake can unravel a whole lot of work. And it can also play into a negative, false idea of an entire culture or community. Focus on your work, don’t worry about what others are doing, and be thoughtful of your actions.

5. Utilize and share all your skills. Be so good that your roots, culture, and language are not anywhere near the main reasons you are employed. Be so good that even if you weren’t Latin@ or a minority you would still be considered a rock star. Shine at the right times and respectfully, step up to the plate and don’t be scared to be a leader.

All in all, it’s about taking personal responsibility and leaving nothing on the table. I’ll take these lessons and many more to the next adventure in my career and hope  you find some value in them. Let’s connect on Twitter at @JuanSVas and LinkedIn

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