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.
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.
Written by: Kelly Punzalan
Edited by: Lauren Fajardo, Cebo Cruz
Interviewed by: Bea Rondon
Despite rising numbers of women in animation, the industry is still heavily male-dominated, with only 23.2% of jobs in the field held by women according to Animation Career Review. Marla Rausch thankfully did not have to endure the less-than-ideal treatment that many women in the technology industry are used to. Throughout her career, people naturally had formed biases and misconceptions towards her based on traditional gender stereotypes, but with hard work and the unwavering support of her husband and children, Rausch gained their respect and built meaningful professional relationships.
Prior to becoming the CEO and president of Animation Vertigo, Marla Rausch obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication at the University of the Philippines – Diliman, majoring in Journalism, then ultimately worked as a motion capture tracker in the animation field. At the beginning of her career, clients often mistook her for a sales or marketing representative solely because of her sex. Rausch considers herself fortunate since this kind of assumption was the only form of discrimination she faced. She describes her experience as “relatively uneventful” compared to other women who have been harassed and bullied.
One of the challenges Rausch faced as an entrepreneur was handling a business with young children in the picture. Starting her company in the Philippines with her family residing in the United States separated her from her 2-year-old and 5-year-old for some period of time. This also meant frequently travelling from the Philippines to the U.S., not to mention the fact that she and her husband financed the company from the ground up. Instead of discouraging her, these obstacles pushed her even further to be a model of ambition and achievement for her children.
This go-getter attitude was inspired by Bernarditas de Castro-Muller, Rausch’s late grandmother and mentor. As a respected diplomat who had a hand in the negotiations for climate change in developing countries with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), de Castro-Muller was truly a force to be reckoned with.
“She was independent, strong-willed, stubborn – she didn’t conform to the traditional Asian woman stereotype even at a young age. She made me realize that I can make a difference and I can do it my way. She always had expectations from me and my cousins, and I’ve often felt the need to ensure to live up to them.”
Now a thriving business for nearly 15 years, Animation Vertigo works on motion capture animation and post-production for films, television, and video games. The company has clients from all over the world and has produced notable works such as Mortal Kombat X, Activision’s Call of Duty franchise, and Injustice: Gods Among Us. Rausch plans to take the company to the next level by becoming more involved in the growing animation industry here in the Philippines.
As a female CEO, Rausch makes it a point to advocate for women and gender equality in the workplace. At Animation Vertigo, they aim to promote a culture wherein one’s skills and strengths are valued, wherein quality of work and performance is given importance over gender biases.
Like Nike’s famous slogan, Rausch’s advice for girls who want to make it in the big and challenging world of tech is to just do it. Fear is something everyone experiences, but it shouldn’t be a reason to hold back.
“Don’t be afraid to fail because everyone does, take a moment to reflect on failure but get up and do it again. If you believe it hard enough and want something badly enough, nothing should be able to stop you. Find mentors, ask questions, don’t be afraid to learn, but do it.”
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