“In order to be respected in life, you have to be either a doctor or a lawyer.”  

That is what my parents always told me as a little girl growing up in Cuba. But when we moved to Los Angeles, as a teenager I ran into nothing but doubt when I said I wanted to be lawyerBut you don’t even speak English,” people would say. That only motivated me more. I learned English, embraced a new culture, and excelled in school. However, while I was working hard to disprove people’s assumptions of me, I actually found my own path.   

While studying for the Law School Admission Test, I took a few online software engineering classes to challenge myself. This was when I discovered my passion for software engineering, and much to my parents’ dismay, I took a chance and decided to go all in with my own career choiceMy attitude was, “Yes, I can teach myself all these things. And yes, I can be a successful developer.”  

After gaining a bit more experience as a software developer, I applied to the LEAP Engineering Acceleration Program, Microsoft’s apprenticeship program dedicated to bringing people into technology careers who had not come through the traditional academic path. I got in! And even more exciting, after the 18-week apprenticeship, I was offered a role at Microsoft! I remember being asked when I wanted to start working. I always want to remember my first day at Microsoft, so picked my birthday.  

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I’m so proud to be a Latina at Microsoft. Latinos bring a very different perspective to the table, and each one of us is distinct from one another. It’s easy for people to put us all in the same category, without recognizing our individual differences or coming to learn our stories. We’re united by a common strand, but we are not only ethnically diverse, we have different histories, different experiences, and different backgrounds that shape who we are Gema Beltran 3

I want to use my voice as a Latina woman in STEM to inspire young women to fight for what they are passionate about. When I talk to young Latinas I tell them“Don’t let the biases stop you. Just try. If you don’t like it, you know that you gave it a shot, and you can move on without regrets.” I’ve also gone back to my university, Whittier College in California, to share my story of defying cultural expectations, proving naysayers wrong, and challenging the status quo as a strong, self-taught Latina engineer 

As for my parents, I think they are finally okay with me not being a lawyer.