Voices of Gatsby: Making a Difference in the Tech Ecosystem (With a little help from my friends)

Gatsby believes in cultivating inclusion and elevating the many members of our diverse community. Our new Voices of Gatsby series, publishing every other Friday, showcases and celebrates our users for who they are as they share stories from the tech life. True tales from the front lines, personal accounts of each of us came to be where we are today. Got a story to share? Visit the Voices of Gatsby info page to learn more and connect with us! 

I was born and raised in Venezuela. This gave me the privilege of a multicultural background that allowed me to learn and speak English and a few other languages. It also means I come from a country that once was a paradise on Earth, but is now ravaged by an unprecedented political and humanitarian crisis…Creating poverty so extreme that it forced millions of people to flee their homes in search of a better life. Myself included.

Diana Rodriguez at age 4

I left in 2013 when it was still “safe” to do so. Uncertain about my future, I roamed around many countries in South America, working as a freelance web developer. A long and winding path led, over time, to a successful career as a Full Stack Developer/DevOps engineer, with skills/certs in diverse areas including Google Developer Expert in Web Technologies, Google Cloud Platform, Google Maps Platform and Firebase. 

I’m not a hero in this story. I’m not Wonder Woman. I’m not where I am right now because I am a genius. I am here because of the fantastic work and positive impact of many people from all of the countries where I lived (and beyond!) who were part of the worldwide developer ecosystem: meetups, study groups, hackathons, mentors.

Every one of them, the people who taught me and reinforced the knowledge I have today. Those who believed in my potential, who encouraged me to learn, to try, to fail and try again: they are the heroes. We never know how much of a positive impact we can have on others, how much a kind word, advice, and most of all mentorship can save lives…literally. 

It certainly saved mine.

Mentor Mati 

After years of moving around and a lot of instability, I met Matias Blayer in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Mati became my mentor when I was on a hiatus in web development due to personal issues that had led to PTSD and severe depression. It was a dark time in my life, and Mati helped me work my way back toward the light. He doesn’t even imagine how much his support and encouragement helped me get to where I am right now.

I met Mati when I signed up for a web development course that I could barely afford. I wanted to go after “Full Stack” positions but, since my background was more in infrastructure and backend,  I didn’t feel like I had enough experience to apply for the jobs that caught my eye. I had always been a self taught programmer but now I felt like I needed structure to help me learn. Unfortunately the course didn’t deliver. I found I couldn’t continue the course and never finished it. However, it was still valuable because it brought me to what I really needed: my mentor! 

Mati believed in me. He encouraged me to keep studying. He made me part of the community. He even gave me a mentor role in a “Javascript101” event. He introduced me to new frameworks and instilled that curiosity, that spark, that ongoing depression had stolen from me. Mati was there for me, and I will be eternally grateful for everything he did for me without even knowing it. 

In the space of a year, I went from numbly idling the days away, wanting to end my life every day, to feeling once more like a valuable human being. This feeling grew most strongly from going back to where I came from: community. I started to get engaged in talks, mentorship, presentations. Suddenly my presence was requested and well-received. People believed in me again, and I made a secret vow to be the voice of those who, like me, felt like there’s no second chance…or even a first.

We are not our mistakes. There is always a chance to start anew. We all come from different walks of life and our experiences shape us and make us the people we are. We can be more empathetic, compassionate and appreciate the beauty of a fresh start. I learned these lessons with Mati’s help, learning first hand the power a good teacher and mentor can have in a person’s life. I vowed I would do the same for others. 

My turn to mentor

I dedicated myself to becoming a community organiser, going on to lead many groups and worldwide organisations. Eventually I became a Google Developer Expert, an Auth0 Ambassador, and a Microsoft MVP,  among other roles, and my audience grew to a worldwide one. I am still out there, shoulder to shoulder with the community. I consider these badges not so much awards but also platforms that allow me to reach the most remote corners of the developer world. Helping me share the message that yes, you too can do this! 

 

Diana Rodriguez presenting at podium

Success isn’t tied to fame or status. It isn’t tied to Twitter followers; it isn’t tied to being well known. I stay away from those who “love the uppermost seats [everywhere], and greetings in the markets“… a Bible quote my grandma often repeated, warning against pride and vanity. The real reward of community work is not public recognition. It’s the ability to make a positive and long-lasting impact on people’s lives.

As for me, I still fight impostor syndrome. Every day! Like I told you, I’m not Wonder Woman. But I also know now that, just like in a big puzzle, there are no two equal pieces — and that every one of them is necessary for creating a truly diverse big picture. All of us are important, sufficient and needed.  Our experiences, our perceived shortcomings and our unique perspectives: all of these are essential and irreplaceable elements that contribute to our collective knowledge. Together we all complete the big puzzle that is our community.

Let’s make our ecosystem a positive experience for everyone. We never know how many lives we might be saving — the same way Mati saved mine. Reach out, help others, learn…create, share!

I would like to thank Mati, and all the many other amazing people who were there for me, who inspired me and helped me move forward, like:

Jen Looper, Stacy Devino, Beth Laing, Angel Banks, Valarie Regas, Kim Crayton, Aaron Frost, Jorge Cano, my best friend Jalena Hay, my roomies and bff’s Diana Alvarez, Vanessa Alvarez, Elizabeth Portilla, Flor Baños, my Python & IoT heroines Nina Zakharenko & Stargirl …and many others who’ve had a huge and positive impact in my life, even if not mentioned here. To all of you: thank you, from the bottom of my heart.