To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, Cindy Valladares and Laura Elena Garza discussed their experiences as Latinas in tech. Valladares, director of brand strategy, customer advocacy, and storytelling at Cisco security, and Garza, manager of the Site Reliability Engineering Delivery team for Cisco Duo, hadn’t met before but quickly connected over how their cultures have impacted their lives and careers and how they both currently call the Pacific Northwest home. If you also value connection, authenticity, and giving back at work, visit our open roles.

Cindy during a customer video shoot, taking it all in

Family, history and heritage

How would you describe what you do to your non-tech tío/uncle?

Cindy Valladares: The way I like to explain it to my non-technical family and friends, is that I tell stories. Whether they are stories where our customer is the hero or brand stories that showcase what Cisco does in cybersecurity to make a safer world, we connect with our audience and create experiences for them to see Cisco as a leading cybersecurity vendor.

Laura Elena Garza: I love storytelling, so I’m already hooked. As site reliability engineers, we are the first responders who take care of everything that comes between our production environment, our clients, and then our engineers working at Duo. One of our main responsibilities is to make sure we build, maintain and keep our production ecosystem secure and running. We are also always looking forward, building our next gen architecture. A good way to put it is that we make sure that all the products our engineers build for our customers find a secure, stable and reliable home to live in.

Cindy Valladares: This conversation is in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, and the Latinx community is very diverse.

Please tell us about your heritage so we can learn a little bit about you and your culture.

Laura’s uncle Gabriel Martinez, younger brother Virgilio Martinez, Laura, her grandmother Maria Elena and Laura’s husband Jorge Garza

Laura Elena Garza: I was born and raised in Mexico City or Ciudad de México. The richness of our Mexican culture is very palpable. You see it in every corner — from the food, to the pyramid remains downtown, to the music. All my memories are somehow related to food! My favorite memory is Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). You can feel the magic in the air, there is so much love and reverence for our ancestors.

Replica Quetzalcoatl Temple Teotihuacan, (Museo Nacional de Antropologia (National Museum of Anthropology), Mexico City

For the longest time, living here in the States, I used to feel that I did not truly belong here nor there. I used to disregard my culture and who I truly am to fit in. It took some time to get to know and love myself. Yes, my story starts in Mexico City, but it has become an extraordinary blend of cultures and many different experiences. I now live in a Pacific Northwest forest, where I find great joy. I get to view the world through my diverse lenses, and I have grown to know that this is a great gift and a strength.

Laura enjoying chilaquiles.

Cindy Valladares: I’m originally from Guatemala, born and raised in Guatemala City. That’s still where I call home and where a piece of my heart will always reside. All my extended family is down there. And in our culture, like you said, the warmth, the community, the family, everything is surrounded by food.

Cindy, her husband, and children in Guatemala

My mother’s side of my family is from Chinese descent and my dad’s side is from German descent. My grandmothers are from Guatemala, not Indigenous, but from Spanish descent. Latin America is indeed very diverse and rich in culture and traditions. That’s the beauty of our Latinx community.

Impacts of culture on career

How has your culture impacted your career journey?

Laura Elena Garza: At the beginning, it was rough. Especially in tech and as a woman, you often find yourself as the only one who looks like you, with no community. At the beginning of my career, I was not as secure nor loved the person I am. You try to fit in because you think that that’s the way to get acceptance and move forward within your career.

An interesting switch happened to me about a decade ago, when, unapologetically, I started to love who I am. I started to embrace that I am a strong woman who also is vulnerable and emotional. I started to look within my history, my abuela for example. She is the matriarch of our family, she’s the strongest and most resilient person I know.

Once I embraced my whole self, I saw a switch in my career. More people gravitated to that. People gravitate towards authenticity. It’s a beautiful thing: you open the door for others to embrace their unique selves and see how beautiful and wonderful they are. I see it right now within my team. They are a wonderful group of humans who come from different stages of life, different education, different cultures. It is such a powerful thing to be a part of.

Members of Laura’s team, Mary Mercado, Aditya Mudunuri, Grant Wasil, and Jose Then

Cindy Valladares: You talked about embracing your true self, and that’s not always easy when you have to fit into a mold or a culture or an environment. How did you make that leap into being comfortable?

Laura Elena Garza: It wasn’t easy. Most of the time, I found myself suppressing the fire in me. I am a very passionate person. I feel a lot. As I started my career, I suppressed that. You don’t want to be the stereotype, the boisterous Latin woman who feels a lot and is not respected.

When I saw the switch happen, I had a lot of help. Therapy is a wonderful thing, so I recommend everybody go to it. I started embracing it and using it as one of my strengths. I’m emotional because I care deeply.

Cindy Valladares: It’s your superpower.

“Let it fly, because this is who I am. I like myself and I’m here for it.”
– Laura Elena Garza

Laura Elena Garza: Yeah, I accept myself with all my flaws, and some of the things that I used to see as flaws are actually my strengths. In the past I thought, “People need to see you strong. They cannot see you tear up when you’re happy.” Now, I say to myself, “Let it fly, because this is who I am. I like myself and I’m here for it.”

Cindy with Advisory Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) Richard Archdeacon, Product Marketing Leader Steve Ragan and Advisory CISO Dave Lewis

Cindy Valladares: I have a similar experience in that my family is also matriarchal. The women are the driving forces behind our family. We have very strong personalities and are very passionate about the things that we believe in. I’ve also had to suppress some of that in the past, making sure that I led with poise and not always show my vulnerabilities. But being real and authentic helps people get closer to you.

I’ve had the great opportunity of leading teams that are very diverse and come from a variety of backgrounds — people who have had a career in marketing, people who have had a career in education, people who have had different experiences. I always encourage us to learn from one another.

Everybody has a different lived experience and it creates this beautiful piece of art. I always like to approach my career, my journey, the teams, like that: a beautiful mosaic where we all can learn from each other and build something great together.

Unifying + giving back as Latinas in tech

Cindy Valladares: My personal belief is that as we have certain benefits, certain privileges, we have the opportunity to give back and pay it forward. What has your experience been with leveraging Time2Give, a benefit where we are given time to contribute to causes we care about?

Laura’s dog, Alfie Cornelius Garza

Laura Elena Garza: Time2Give is such a fantastic perk that we have here in Cisco. We are given hours to go and make an impact in our community. I’m very passionate about nature, so I make sure there’s time for me to help with the trails. I am also so lucky that I get to live by the beach, so we have beach cleanup days that make an impact in the everyday ecosystem.

Cindy Valladares: Time2Give is one of my favorite benefits. I live in Portland and volunteer with my family at Blanchet House, an organization that serves three meals a day, six days a week to people experiencing homelessness. I always raise my hand to bring meals to the guests because I can look the guests in their eyes and wish them a wonderful day. That’s one of my favorite things to do.

Laura Elena Garza: I’m very appreciative of your time, Cindy. In my career, I haven’t seen others like me. It’s such a powerful gift that you’re giving me, just being in this conversation. I have somebody like you, so I really appreciate you.

Celebrating our Cybersecurity Defender of the Year during Cisco Live

Cindy Valladares: I love my culture, and I love to share it with others. Just the opportunity to meet one new person, Laura, that’s just wonderful. Thank you for the opportunity to get to know you and share a little bit about our culture and celebrate our heritage month. Now, together, we can join forces and help others advance their career and open more doors.

Laura Elena Garza: I like to say, let’s make good trouble because I love to make good trouble.

Interested in work that matters?

To join our team, visit our open opportunities. Stay tuned for more insights from Cindy and Laura about the importance of career mentorship.

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Mary Kate Schmermund

Employer Brand Content Specialist

Cisco Secure