Ariel Lopez Aims To Fill The Tech-Talent Pipeline With Black & Latino Candidates
Favorite read: Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss
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Ultimate goal for 2015: To educate as many people as possible on high growth opportunities in the industry.
Most inspired by: Helping people find happiness in their careers.
One quote that inspires you: “The question isn’t who’s going to let me, it’s who’s going to stop me.” – Ayn Rand
As a career coach at General Assembly, Ariel Lopez sees the tech-diversity conversation play out daily. Last year after realizing the conversations often focused on technical positions within the tech industry, the millennial entrepreneur founded 20/20 Shift to provide non-technical career opportunities to Black and Latino talent in tech and digital media.
MadameNoire spoke with Lopez about diversifying the tech industry, savvy business advice and what’s next for 20/20 Shift.
MadameNoire: How did you get your start in the technology space?
Ariel Lopez: I got my start in tech early on in my career while working as a recruiter at a digital staffing agency. My job forced me to learn everything I could about AdTech (advertising & technology) and build relationships with professionals in the space. Because I was constantly learning about different careers and companies, I began to form an affinity for the endless possibilities that the industry provides. I often say when I look at tech it’s like seeing a pot of gold. I feel as though part of my purpose is to lead as many people to the pot of gold as I possibly can.
MN: What inspired you to create 20/20 Shift, which aims to diversify the tech-talent pipeline, providing career opportunities in tech for Black and Latino millennials?
AL: The inspiration came shortly after seeing Google’s diversity report last year. Although I always knew I wanted to create something to help improve the diversity gap. I realized the disparity was much worse than I thought and was compelled to find a solution to the problem.
MN: What will it take to bridge the current tech-talent pipeline issue?
AL: There are probably a million answers to this question but to me there are a few main things. Education being the first as people are vastly unaware of what opportunities are available to them within the industry.
Outside of learning what’s possible, people must also be trained on the digital skills required for these positions (most of which aren’t taught in college). Companies must also challenge their current recruitment processes and change their approach to hiring talent. There’s a lot that needs to happen. I think, at this point, it’s a matter of execution.
MN: In discussions around technology, there’s a big push for people interested in tech to learn to code. While that’s important, there are a lot of existing non-technical roles at tech companies. How can one get involved in tech if they don’t have an interest in learning to code?
AL: There are so many essential parts to a tech company that don’t involve coding at all that go completely under the radar. From sales to product, data to design there are a number of things you can do to match your interests or transferrable skills to a cool career. I think the first action people can take is start to educate themselves. Really spend time learning how companies operate and how their business model is structured. Also by connecting to people that are in the industry already. It’s always easier to understand what will be expected of you in a particular role by getting an insider’s perspective.
More so, do the research. I know people that waste thousands of dollars learning skills they many not even need in the long run.
MN: There’s been a lot of conversation around diversity in technology throughout the year given big name tech companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter releasing their diversity data. As a Black Latina in tech, how has your experience been in maneuvering through the space?
AL: It’s a lonely road, but it’s getting better. I’m used to being the only or one of a few Blacks/Latinos, or women in the room, so I’ve felt the underrepresentation for a while. I will say the one thing that has helped me in my career is making more opportunities for myself than what were available. I’m a big believer in being fearless about what you want and you have to be even bolder when you’re a minority. You can’t sit in the passenger seat on the road to your success; you have to be the driver. I never let being a ‘token’ be an excuse to hold me back from achieving my goals; if anything it is a motivator to get more people like me access.
MN: When you first had the idea to create 20/20 Shift, what steps did you take to get it off the ground?
AL: To get it off the ground it was really about talking to the right people to validate my idea, and also assembling a team. This is not something you can do alone. I spent time speaking with hiring managers to see what their pain points were in finding diverse talent and also chatting with students and recent grads about their struggles. Everyone has a different perspective on the problem. We’re doing the best we can to be a holistic solution.
MN: What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received or given?
AL: The best business advice I ever received was to stop overthinking and just do it. Sheryl Sandberg has a saying, ‘Done is better than perfect.’ I challenge myself often to not stand in my own way.
MN: What’s next for 20/20 Shift?
AL: The focus right now is continuing to get the word out and gain support. We have a few large events coming up in the fall/early spring of next year and we also plan on launching a crowdfunding campaign in the second half of the year. We’re just getting started, so the best is yet to come!