In this Sumo Logic Employee Spotlight we interview Rocio Lopez. A lover of numbers, Rocio graduated from Columbia University with a degree in economics, but certain circumstances forced her to forego a career in investment banking and instead begin freelancing until she found a new career that suited her talents and passions: product design.
Intrigued? You should be! Read Rocio’s story below. She was a delight to interview!
When Creativity Calls
Q: So tell me, Rocio, what’s your story?
Rocio Lopez (RL): I am a product designer at Sumo Logic and focus mostly on interaction design and prototyping new ideas that meet our customers’ needs.
Q: Very cool! But, that’s not what you went to school for, was it?
RL: No. I studied economics at Columbia. I wanted to be an investment banker. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been a nerd about numbers and I love math. Part of it was because I remember when the Peso was devalued and my mom could no longer afford to buy milk.
I became obsessed with numbers and this inspired my college decision.
But the culture and career path at Columbia was clear — you either went into consulting or investment
banking. I spent a summer shadowing at Citigroup (this was during the height of the financial crisis), and although my passion was there, I had to turn down a career in finance because I was here undocumented.
Q: That’s tough. So what did you do instead?
RL: When I graduated in 2011, I started doing the things I knew how to do well like using Adobe Photoshop and InDesign to do marketing for a real estate company or even doing telemarketing.
I eventually landed a gig designing a database for a company called Keller Williams. They hired an engineer to code the database, but there was no designer around to think through the customer experience so I jumped in.
Q: So that’s the job that got you interested in product design?
RL: Yes. And then I spent a few years at Cisco in the marketing organization where they needed help revamping their training platforms. I started doing product design without even knowing what it was until a lead engineer called it out.
I continued doing small design projects, started freelancing and exploring on my own until I connected with my current manager, Daniel Castro. He was hiring for a senior role, and while I was not that senior, the culture of the team drew me in.
Q: Can you expand on that?
RL: Sure. The design team at Sumo Logic is very unique. I’ve spent about seven years total in the industry and what I’ve been most impressed by is the design culture here, and the level of trust and level-headedness the team has. I’ve never come across this before. You would think that because we’re designing an enterprise product that everyone would be very serious and buckled up, but it’s the opposite.
The Life of a Dreamer
Q: Let’s switch gears here. I heard you on NPR one morning, before I even started working at Sumo Logic. Tell me about being a dreamer.
RL: People come to the U.S. undocumented because they don’t know of other ways to come legally or the available paths for a visa aren’t a match for them because they may not have the right skills. And those people bring their families. I fell into that category. I was born in Mexico but my parents came over to the U.S. seeking a better life after the Tequila crisis. I grew up in Silicon Valley and went to school like any other American kid.
When Barack Obama was in office, he created an executive order known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, since Congress has failed to passed legislative action since 2001. To qualify for the program, applicants had to have arrived in the U.S. before age 16 since June 15, 2007 and pass a rigorous background check by homeland security every two years. .
I fell into this category and was able to register in this program. Because most of the immigrants are young children who were brought here at a very young age, we’ve sort of been nicknamed “dreamers” after the 2001 DREAM Act (short for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act).
Q: And under DACA you’ve been able to apply for a work permit?
RL: That’s right. I have a work permit, I pay income taxes, and I was able to attend college just like a U.S. citizen, although I am still considered undocumented and that comes with certain limitations. For instance, my employer cannot sponsor me and I cannot travel outside the United States.
The hope was that Congress would create a path for citizenship for Dreamers, but now that future is a bit uncertain after they failed to meet the deadline to pass a bill in March. For now I have to wait until the Supreme Court rules the constitutionality of DACA to figure out my future plans.
Q: I can only imagine how difficult this is to live with. What’s helped you through it?
RL: At first I was a big advocate, but now I try to block it out and live in the present moment.
And the opportunity to join the Sumo Logic design team came at the right time in my life. I can’t believe what I do every day is considered work. The team has a very unique way of nurturing talent and it’s something I wish more companies would do. Our team leaders make sure we have fun in addition to getting our work done. We usually do team challenges, dress up days, etc. that really bring us all together to make us feel comfortable, encourage continued growth, and inspire us to feel comfortable speaking up with new ideas.
I feel like the work I am doing has value and is meaningful, and we are at the positive end of the “data conversation.” I read the news and see the conversations taking place with companies like Facebook and Airbnb that are collecting our personal data. It’s scary to think about.
And it feels good to be on the other side of the conversation; on the good side of data and that’s what gets me excited and motivated. Sumo Logic is collecting data and encrypting it and because we’re not on the consumer-facing side, we can control the lens of how people see that data.
We can control not only the way our customers collect data but also how they parse and visualize it. I feel we’re at the cusp of a big industry topic that’s going to break in the next few years.
Q: I take it you’re not on social media?
RL: No. I am completely off Facebook and other social media platforms. When I joined Sumo Logic, I became more cautious of who I was giving my personal data to.
Advice for Breaking into Design & Tech?
Q: Good for you! So what advice to you have for people thinking of switching careers?
RL: From 2011 to now I’ve gone through big career changes. There are a lot of people out there that need to understand how the market is shifting, that some industries like manufacturing, are not coming back, and that requires an adaptive mindset. The money and opportunity is where technology and data are and if people can’t transition to these new careers in some capacity, they’re going to be left out of the economy and will continue to have problems adjusting.
It’s a harsh reality, but we have to be able to make these transitions because in 15 or 20 years from now, the world will look very different. I’ve been very active in mentoring people that want to break into technology but aren’t sure how.
Q: What’s some of the specific advice related to a career path in UX/design that you give your mentees?
RL: Sometimes you have to breakaway from traditions like school or doing a masters program and prioritize the job experience. Design and engineering are about showing you’ve done something, showing a portfolio. If you can change your mindset to this, you will be able to make the transition more smoothly.
I also want to reiterate that as people are looking for jobs or next careers, it’s important to find that place that is fun and exciting. A place where you feel comfortable and can be yourself and also continue to grow and learn.
Find meaning, find value, and find the good weird that makes you successful AND happy.