Mi Historia Interviews - Jonathan Vasquez

/ What is your name? Do you know the story behind your name?

My name is Jonathan Vasquez. I think my mom had a crush on a TV character, and the name of that actor was Jonathan 🥰.

/ How do you self-identify your race and ethnicity?

Venezuelan. Venezuelan first before anything else. I am from Caracas when I am around Venezuelans. In the context of the U.S., I define myself as a Latino. 🇻🇪

/ Do you identify with the term Latinx? Do you call yourself Hispanic?

I prefer Latino. For many years, I used Latino and Hispanic interchangeably. I have not adopted the term Latinx. In Venezuela, an “X” means whatever, and you use it to refer to someone who is irrelevant. I understand why some people choose to go by Latinx, and I respect their preference, but I won’t use it to identify myself.

/ Share with us more about your upbringing. Where were you born? Where do you grow up?

I was born in Jersey. People ask me all the time, “Oh really, you are from Jersey? You don’t have the accent.”

My mom decided she wanted to move closer to the immediate family, particularly my grandparents 👴🏼👵🏻. So I grew up in Venezuela. I assumed for a while I was just born in Caracas. It wasn’t until I was nine that I learned I was born in the U.S. 🇺🇸

Back in the day, you were required to get a national identification card in Venezuela, and that’s how I found out. Due to tough conditions in Venezuela, I moved to Kissimmee, Florida to finish high school 🏖️.

I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and was basically raised by them. My grandmother used to be a teacher 👵, and she taught me to read and write by the time I was four 📚. The hardest transition moving back to the US was being far from family. In the States, it was just my mom and me. For New Year’s Eve, it was typical to have 20 people at the party in Venezuela 🥂. In the U.S., we celebrated the holiday with just a few people 😞.

/ What did you want to be when you were a child? What were your career aspirations and why?

At first, I wanted to be a doctor and help people 👨‍⚕️. I was always a bit of a scientist and wanted to conduct experiments, so research medicine seemed like a good fit. My first pet was a goat, even though I lived in the city 🐐. My great-grandparents live in rural areas so I had a lot of weird pets growing up. When I was five, I got a dog and decided to be a veterinarian because I loved animals 🐖🐏 .

After that, I thought I was going to go into politics, and that I should be a lawyer. That ended up changing again when I got to the U.S ⚖️.

/ Let’s start with your K-12 experience. Tell us about the schools you went to, and how did they help you prepare for a job or career?

I went to school in Venezuela until the 9th grade, and I moved to the U.S. in the 10th grade. I immediately got put in the ESL program. My experience of being new in this country was complicated, because at the same time I was born here and was not really an “immigrant”. Legally this is home 🏡, but it didn’t feel like home 😢.

It was challenging, having to learn a new language. I couldn’t communicate verbally, but I was able to communicate via writing. The ESL system back in the day was set up for me to fail 😞. My ESL class was 80% in Spanish, so I wasn’t learning to speak English. The one good teacher that we had ended up quitting. However, I did well in my classes, particularly in science 🙌.

They wouldn’t let me out of the ESL System, even though I wasn’t benefiting from it and asked to be put in regular English classes 😤. When it came time to apply to college, my college counselor, who was Latina, didn’t even help me out with the ACT. I didn’t know the process to apply to a college, so I had to figure things out on my own, and I barely made it into college. Even though I applied late, I got onto a waitlist, and then finally I landed one acceptance 🎉 .

When I came to the U.S., I felt that my life was stripped down to a lot of survivalist’s choices 💪.Growing up, I had a clear path for my life, but when I moved to a new country, I had to figure things out on my own. I struggled to adapt and didn’t feel at home until I was almost done with college.

I transferred to the University of South Florida (USF) as a Junior, and I found a support system there, meeting people that have become long-time friends. I would say I succeeded academically and socially 🙋. I was a student leader, joined a fraternity (Lambda Upsilon Lambda),earned two degrees, participated in an amazing internship program, landed my dream first job, and later secured a job at Microsoft while completing my Master’s degree. The environment around me made a big difference in my academic outcomes and set me up to achieve my potential 🏡.

/ Was the plan to always go to college? How did you choose which college you wanted to go? If you didn’t go to college, why? Did college help you prepare for a job?

The plan always was to go to college. My top two schools were far and offered me conditional acceptance, and the third school was closer to home. From a cost perspective, it made sense to stay home, and it was nice to see mom after classes 🤶. I had to register late, so I split my classes between UCF (University of Central Florida) and Valencia Community College. I ended up taking full-time classes at Valencia instead because they offered me a scholarship and I could eventually transfer my credits to UCF. This also gave me more flexibility, as I was working and studying at the same time.

Most of my decisions regarding college were made with cost in mind 💸. I would say that I never had a future where college wasn’t in the mix. The question was more about what I was going to do there and after.

/ Do you think choosing a college is like choosing an employer?

Choosing a college is definitely like choosing an employer. When you go to the first employer, you know you are going there for a set time, getting some experience, but there are a lot of unknowns (similar to picking a college). The best part of that first employer (similar to college) is about networking and building the foundation of peers, mentors, and sponsors. You have to think intentionally about the people you want to connect with while you are there.

/ Did you complete internships, apprenticeships, college campus jobs while in school to gain experience? Was it difficult balancing academics and extracurriculars?

I did an internship during my senior year with the Department of Veterans Affairs. It helped me define what I wanted to do after college, and it also gave me a competitive edge when applying to jobs. In addition, I worked for the IT department at my school. I essentially worked all throughout college, and although I had a lot of flexibility, it was a challenge to balance academics and work, particularly because the busiest time at work coincided with mid-term and final exams. I had to fine tune my time management skills and learn to stay focused. All these experiences helped me prepare for life after college.

My first job after college was as a Business Analyst for a software company. In 2010, the economy was still struggling, and there were few jobs available. I was interning with three other students, and we were all struggling to secure a full-time job. We decided to work together on our job search and build websites to showcase the work we were doing—we each had our own blog on Wordpress within a week and then started getting calls from employers. We all added our blog URLs to our resumes and that caught people’s attention. I got a call from Steve, the VP of Operations at a software company in a small town in Florida; he was looking for someone mid-career that he didn’t have to train. When he came across my resume, he saw I didn’t have a lot of experience, but he was intrigued by the website; he asked me a lot of questions about it over the phone and then asked me to come in for an interview. He appreciated curiosity and drive more than experience and decided to give me a chance; that job was a great opportunity for me, and it helped me launch my career. All my peers ended up landing the jobs they wanted; working as a team really paid off.

/ What scared you the most about choosing an employer?

Rejection was definitely the first fear, but then I just got over it. I graduated in May and I got a job by late June. Between late March and that point in June, I had already been rejected by what felt like a thousand jobs. Applying became a part-time job for me, and rejection was just a part of it 😢. Now I am more afraid of choosing the wrong employer and passing on a better opportunity😃.

/ What was the job search experience like? Did you search for jobs online?

I did a lot of networking. Going out. Meeting people. Trying to see what opportunities are out there. If an employer went to the school to recruit, I went to their event. I applied online to a lot of jobs and only received a few phone calls; the most promising callback came from a referral by a friend who already worked at the company. The recruiter sent me an email suggesting I had gotten the job and two weeks later I found out she sent it by mistake. It was frustrating.

Now I am at a point in my career where people find me. That might be unique to tech; there’s a shortage of talent, so recruiters are constantly having to reach out. I network a lot; I am always active on LinkedIn, connecting with people and sharing content that might be helpful to others. You also need to have brand ambassadors;👍 I can think of at least five people that will bring out my name to say something positive. You need to have people in your circle who know what you are good at and are not afraid to make connections⛓ or introductions via, text or email.

/ Do you feel your resume is a good indicator of your skills and experiences? Was it scary, writing your resume?

I do, but resumes are tricky. I find it hard to be succinct, having worked in so many industries. A few years ago, I worked with a recruiter to improve my resume, and she had me list out every experience. The document ended up being 7 pages. Since then, I’ve condensed it to 2-3 pages that highlight the most relevant accomplishments along with responsibilities. I prefer to keep my career history on LinkedIn; it makes it easier for people to find me.

/ What did you wish you had to support you in the job search process? What resources did you feel were missing?

I felt like I was missing a mentor or coach that could guide me and tell me do’s and don’ts. Someone that can connect me to people, someone 5 years ahead of me who knows which connections make sense and can coach me when I’m making mistakes. I have access to these resources today; I wish I had them when I graduated college.

/ What would you like to bring to the forefront regarding the conversation about Latinos in the workplace? What do you think is the important element of this conversation that is not talked about as much?

Belonging—you belong there! Something I struggle with is impostor syndrome. Being in consulting and particularly in tech consulting, I didn’t see many other Latinos in my role. I expressed this to one of my managers and he told me, “ You’ve worked hard to get to where you are and you’ve earned it,” and that was reassuring. It’s not an easy conversation to have, and when I see younger Latinos in my industry, I wonder if they are having the same thoughtsI wish I could tell them that they belong and to not be doubtful.