Chiara Ledesma is a prime example of a woman who found her passion in CS, and continues to overcome all obstacles to pursue her dreams. And with the support of family, friends, and peers, she ultimately knew that a career in tech was truly her calling even though it was not the expected path for women like her.
Searching for passion
For Chiara, there was never one clear motivation that pushed her to pursue a career in CS. Learning about quantum computing in a TIME article, reading a mystery novel on forensic hacking, or watching a Benedict Cumberbatch WikiLeaks movie: her curiosity was piqued and she found her inclination. “I just found it really cool,” she mentioned.
As a debater in her high school, Chiara was aware of the existent gender gap which affects women like her in achieving their dreams in STEM. “I came across a lot of online campaigns (such as Obama’s) that tried to get young American students to study computer science.” For her, it was not only a dream, but a challenge and obligation to pursue her calling in CS.
The road to this dream, however, was not smooth. Her first year, she and her classmate “half-joked” about shifting as they had difficulty adjusting. She even broke down after devoting an all-nighter and still failing to fix the error in her program. But through these experiences, she learned to stand up and face failure with a new disposition. From then on, she knew she selected the right path.
“It’s so nerdy.”
One of her favorite classes in college was algorithms. “The thought that a bunch of 0’s and 1’s can make a screen come alive in a boundless number of ways just astounds me even until now.”
“What I love is how [CS] forces us to learn on our own.” She was once told by her adviser that the purpose of school is to train them about what matters so they can learn by themselves right after. She once joined a hackathon and was amazed by how much she learned in a day. “The experience gives you an extra confidence boost that you can really learn anything rapidly if you set your mind to it, no matter how intimidating it may be.”
Chiara at Google’s Women Techmakers Scholars Program in Singapore.
One of her memorable moments was flying to Singapore for the Google’s Women Techmakers Scholars Program. She applied for a scholarship and was selected as one of 73 Asian women-in-tech scholars! “There was a different kind of energy in that room that I never experienced in my life before, and it propelled me into ideating on my own projects for local women in tech now.”
Pursuing her career in STEM
Before she graduated last June, Chiara joined a leading food delivery team when they were mid-launch for her internship back in 2018. “No two days were the same with my crazy fun and intelligent team.” Her supportive manager also assigned her projects that enabled her to utilize coding and data analysis skills.
Chiara with her Executive Board at AteneoCODE
Afterwards, Chiara spent her senior year as head of Training, Research, and Development in Ateneo Consultants for Organization Development and Empowerment, where she led 10 officers in implementing training programs for new recruits and regular members. Working for a student-based organization that acts as organization development consultants for other youth orgs, Chiara found her duties a ‘far cry’ from CS work. “Not using all your extracurricular time that can help you in career is especially risky when you’re in such a specialized field as CS,” she said. However, her involvement “sharpened [her] critical thinking skills, shaped [her] leadership style, and forced [her] to learn how to learn” — ultimately molding her analysis and communication skills today.
Presently, Chiara works with a data science consultancy, a diverse team that aims to help organizations succeed by maximizing the potential of their data.
As a Woman in Tech
Although Chiara did not find aggression in the classroom, she realized the subtle ways that being a woman makes learning different. She was too shy to ask questions when lessons were difficult in the fear of appearing ‘stupid’. She was burdened by the irrational worry that if she found a lesson difficult, others would generalize her skills to other women as well – and that slowed her down. “Even now, there’s still a fear that I’m way behind my peers.”
“I get a lot of ‘you don’t look like you’re from CS,’ which I’m never really sure if those were meant as compliments or insults. What’s a CS student supposed to look like anyway?”
Future of Tech
Chiara aims to train herself as a data scientist or explore artificial intelligence. She believes that their potential is very high. These fields also sharpen one’s decision-making and provide solutions to human problems beyond our own comprehension. “The idealistic me sees that that’s where changing the world lies.”
Chiara also sees so many opportunities for tech in the Philippines. “I’d love to see more advancements in IoT (Internet of things) so that we can collect more data to make smarter real-time decisions.” She also hopes that people would focus more on this relevant tech innovation: Fintech, as the convenience that comes with cashless transactions should not be neglected.
To the women out there!
Chiara also shared some wisdom for women who are terrified to pursue a career in tech:
- “Go for it, headfirst.” Although intimidation could be a hurdle, hesitation should not be entertained. “Explore, join hackathons, take online courses––do things that interest you!”
- “Ask questions.” When one does not understand the lesson or is having difficulty catching up, asking should be the first go-to solution.
- “Find others you can relate to.”One way Chiara found courage in pursuing her dreams was finding people to relate to: from classmates to teachers and even friends abroad! For her, having people by her side was a stepping stone in overcoming loneliness and intimidation.