September 27, 2023

Hispanic Heritage Month: How Hispanics in Computing is Empowering Future Tech Leaders

Hispanics in Computing BoF session

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we spoke with Dr. Manuel Perez Quinones, Professor in the Software and Information Systems Department in the College of Computing and Informatics, at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and Dr. Brianna Posadas, Assistant Professor in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences at Virginia Tech, to share more about a community that reconnects every year at the Tapia Conference, while maintaining strong ties and support throughout the year.

Hispanics In Computing is a community-driven organization that provides a safe space for Hispanics and Latinx individuals in the computing industry. Founded just before the 2009 Tapia Conference in Portland, this organization began as a simple listserv for Hispanic individuals in computing with a shared goal of connecting like-minded individuals. Upon meeting at the Tapia Conference the same year, the group quickly became something more than an online community. Dr. Jose Andre Morales called for an informal face-to-face gathering, which ultimately led to the birth of Hispanics in Computing as it is known today.

By 2011, more than 140 members had joined the online community, and the group had its first official Birds of a Feather (BoF) session at the 2011 Tapia Conference in San Francisco. With yearly BoF sessions at every Tapia Conference since, the organization has grown to over 400 members. Hispanics in Computing has expanded its reach and has its own website, a social media presence on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, and a Slack channel. The growth of the organization reflects a growing need to provide a network for Hispanic and Latinx individuals in the computing industry to connect and support one another.

One of the key reasons Dr. Posadas kept coming back to Hispanics in Computing was the feeling of being welcomed and represented. As a Latina professor in computing, she often found herself as the only woman and Latina/o in the room. But at Hispanics in Computing events, she saw a room full of Latino and Hispanic individuals who shared her background and culture. It was a refreshing experience for her, as she no longer had to constantly explain or represent her identity. Dr. Posadas joined as a graduate student and continued to strengthen her involvement, organizing the last few BoF engagements.

In addition to the internal community of support, Hispanics in Computing also aimed to represent the diverse experiences of Hispanics to those outside of the community. They recognized the diversity within the Hispanic community and wanted to ensure inclusive representation of thought and experience. 

Outside of annual Tapia conferences, Hispanics in Computing primarily connect through their listserv, where job announcements and informal networking occur year-round. The listserv acts as a tool for community members to find mentors, support one another, and share opportunities. 

The influence of Hispanics engaged in computing is crucial for driving innovation. Dr. Posadas’ experience with technology policy during her post-doctoral research highlighted the importance of diverse perspectives. She witnessed how the lack of accessibility considerations affected policy decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic when researchers aimed to implement smartphone apps and technology to track the spread of the virus. Without her presence in the room, certain populations, like her tíos, who were front-line workers but didn’t have a smartphone, might have been left behind. Considering accessibility and diverse user experiences is essential for creating better products and services.

The community built through Hispanics in Computing is driven by the desire to connect, support, and represent the diverse experiences of Latinos in the field. Through their listserv and events like the Tapia conference, they provide a platform for networking, mentorship, and knowledge sharing. Learn more about Hispanics in Computing here, and join their sessions and BoF experiences at next year’s Tapia conference, September 18th through the 20th in San Diego.