Detroit In Tech: Latinx in Tech

Hola, tech familia! In this blog, we’re featuring local Latinx working in tech and design.

We will begin with the wonderful Cristina Landa, director at Venture for America in Detroit, by day, helping young tech entrepreneurs find their place in the techworld.

I personally know Cris as an active member in her community in her freetime, and as someone who takes on leadership roles in order to provide for others. Most recently, she’s volunteering for Garlin Gilchrist who’s running for Detroit City Clerk and who promises to update our systems in order to make the city more tech savvy and efficient! Personally, I’m super grateful to both!

Below, Cris tells us about her day job and how her father’s story of hardwork and entrepreneurship has led her to help others in their endeavours to do good work and create change.

Q: Tell us about yourself!
I work as the Director of Detroit for Venture for America, a national entrepreneurship fellowship program for recent college graduates. Before this, I was a high school English teacher in a small town in Missouri, and before that I worked at a startup education nonprofit in New York City.

One aspect of my job in Venture for America is supporting individuals who are launching their careers at startups with technical products. In many ways, this job feels rooted in my identity. My parents came to the U.S. from Mexico because of the opportunities available in the U.S., and my dad launched his career as an entrepreneur starting a computer software company in Austin.

Q: What does your company do and what does your job consist of?
Venture for America is a fellowship program that places recent graduates at startups in cities with emerging entrepreneurial ecosystems, forging a community of entrepreneurs committed to building companies that matter.
My role at Venture for America is multi-faceted. I support our growing Fellow and Alum

ni network in Detroit, I source startups seeking top-notch talent in the region and I collaborate with our incredible network of local partners that are invested in our mission.

Q: What made you get into tech?
It was honestly an accident that I ended up working in startups. I thought I would be a teacher or principal someday, but instead I found myself thriving in a different setting. I love the fast-paced work environments, emphasis on innovation and collaboration and ability to grow quickly as an individual alongside a company.

Q: What are the opportunities that you see for the Latinx community in tech?
In many ways, the opportunities here are endless. Tech is an avenue for building wealth, which then drives other opportunities available to communities (such as property ownership, secondary education, economic autonomy and more). Tech is one avenue of many, but it’s important that the Latinx community sees it as a viable path, especially for our young people and women.

Q: What is the help and resources needed in order to ensure their success?
I would like to see tech companies decide to be intentionally inclusive work spaces from day one. I often see companies say they value diversity but it falls flat because the value is then not enacted on a daily basis. This can be hard work, but I think it goes a long way in ensuring that all individuals are prepared for success in their roles.

Q: What’s one piece of advice that you would give to someone who is Latinx and worried about jumping into the world of tech?
Somebody has to start it. It’s not always easy jumping into a world that is unfamiliar, but that is how it will start to reflect our community someday. My dad has stories about being self-conscious about his accent and citizenship status when he was launching his company, but I’m so grateful that he stuck with it and persevered. Though it’s hard to be the first one at the table, it means you can help make sure you will not be the last.

Q: What’s the most “feel good” memory that you have in your work in tech?
In my role I’ve supported some incredible Latinx Fellows in San Antonio who are building out a resource group for the national VFA Latinx community as part of our national program offerings. This year we are going to work hard on increasing our Latinx recruitment efforts, and I am excited to see what we can accomplish together.

Q: What has been the biggest challenge in tech that you’ve had to overcome? What did you learn?
Sometimes there are steep learning curves in tech! I have a Humanities background, and at times when I am talking to companies or Fellows about technical aspects of their work, I feel totally out of my comfort zone. My approach is to to listen, learn and ask questions. I also try to “own” my knowledge gaps and find individuals who can help fill them with resources and support!

Thanks, Cris!

Up next, Meet Eddi Gonzales:

In the world of tech and entrepreneurs, you don’t necessarily have to spend your time writing lines of code. Eddi breaks down how he uses technology, artistic expression and talent to help his clients with their business and organizational goals through his company, Eye Breathe Design.

Q: Tell us about yourself! Before tech and jumping into entrepreneurship, what did your life consist of?
I worked retail during the holiday season and landscaping during the summer. If I wasn’t at a local nonprofit taking a workshop on community organizing, I was writing hip hop lyrics in a corner somewhere in Detroit.

Q: What does your company do?
Eye Breathe Design offers local businesses, artist, nonprofits and student groups design support to amplify their current efforts. I contract other creatives pending the project; however, EBD is technically a team of one so I tend to wear many hats! Some of them being Lead Design, Project Manager, Customer Support and so on.

Q: What made you get into tech and into the entrepreneurship world?
As my confidence grew along with my hunger for truth, I found my way into a few Hip Hop and activist circles in Southwest Detroit. After participating and eventually organizing event after event, I realized the extreme need for design support. I taught myself in hopes of amplifying my own and other efforts happening in the city.

Q: What are the opportunities that you see for the Latinx community in tech?
The opportunities are endless! The biggest to me is using tech to create (or reclaim) our ever-growing and changing narratives within the community as a whole.
Q: What’s one piece of advice that you would give to someone who is Latinx and worried about jumping into the world of tech and entrepreneurship?
Dive in! if you can envision it, odds are you can manifest it! And while it might be hard at first or risky in others eyes, nothing feels better than waking up and grinding towards goals you’ve set for yourself.
Q: What’s the most “feel good” memory that you have in your work?
One time the parents of the 43 students who were murdered in Ayotzinapa, Mexico visited Southwest Detroit in efforts of raising awareness to their injustices, and I had the honor of designing a t-shirt for the cause to be sold while they were in town to raise money to contribute towards the rest of the caravan trip. I met one of the mothers and she thanked me for my work. The sincerity in her eyes and the smile on her face will forever sit with me. It was beyond an honor to contribute towards their efforts.

Thank you, familia!

Be sure to continue to follow us for more blogs aimed at diversifying our tech industry. These blogs are created thanks to our partnership with Code2040.

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Gabriela Santiago-Romero

Gaby is the Grand Circus diversity coordinator. She works together with the Grand Circus entrepreneur in residence, in order to connect tech to our diverse community.

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