Hack the Hood believes in highlighting the young people who have brought their skills and passions to our program to inspire others. We're profiling a different young leader each month to share their journey through Hack the Hood and beyond, with Ariel being our September feature.
1. How did you find out about HtH? What made you decide to join? When did you start with HtH?
I heard about Hack the Hood a couple of years ago from my then-roommate, Jodie. Back then, I was already working full-time as a cafe manager but wanted to learn some tech skills, like coding. Jodie overheard me talking to my partner about how I want to get into tech and said, “you could join Hack the Hood. That’s the program I was a part of. Hold up, I actually just got an email from them. Let me forward it to you. I gotchu.” I was a little hesitant to apply because I had many things going on at the time, but Jodie encouraged me to. So I went through the interview process and was accepted. I felt like the timing was perfect. I was already about to look for opportunities, and it found me. I joined the Fall 2018 Tech Prep: Coding program, and it’s been my best tech experience yet.
2. What did you learn that was unexpected? Was there anything that surprised you about the program?
There were a couple of things that surprised me! I distinctly remember sitting next to someone at the start of my class and was surprised to learn he was older than 24 - the age cutoff for the program. That’s when I realized that, even though there was an age range, Hack the Hood chose to prioritize their commitment to helping underrepresented and under resourced folks break into tech. It felt like “wow, y’all really are about what you say you’re about - which is trying to connect like underrepresented folks.” And I love that. Especially since that classmate I just mentioned spoke Spanish as his first language.
If I can recall, I remember a conversation about how Hack the Hood was trying to figure out how to expand their program to include folks whose first language isn’t English and folks who were previously incarcerated. I’m not sure if anything has come out of that conversation; these aren’t things that I see talked about in any tech spaces. Not only are folks thinking about it, but they’re proactively trying to figure out how to make it happen. I feel like “community” gets thrown around a lot in different spaces like a buzzword. And I feel like it’s different when I actually see it in action. It felt like Hack the Hood was really embodying “community.”
3. What has your journey post- Hack the Hood looked like?
I’d say I’m still working to break into tech. After graduating from Hack the Hood, I was still working full-time as a cafe manager while juggling to learn more advanced coding on my own. The cafe was a small mom-owned business. A lot of the work fell on me, so I pretty much ran the entire shop. It came to a point where I realized like I wasn’t able to dedicate the time to learn the things I want to while also being on-call all the time at work. It wasn’t healthy or sustainable. I decided to quit my job, live off my savings for a bit, and apply to other bootcamps. I got accepted into Techtonica and joined their Software Engineering Apprenticeship in December 2019. It’s a lot more self-learning than I was expecting, but they do provide stipends, and I read that they had a 100% placement rate with a sponsor company - so that’s what I was looking forward to. Unfortunately, due to COVID, a lot of the company internships fell through, so only 3 of 13 were placed with a sponsor company but they were able to secure a fellowship position for the rest of us. Now, I am at Major League Hacking. I’ve been a fellow since July and what I do is open-source coding (contribute to projects that are hosted on Github publicly). I’ll be doing that until October 2nd. It’s a little hazy after that. I’ve been offered a position at a Data Analyst bootcamp but I’m still figuring out what the next move will be. We’ll see, fingers crossed.
4. What do you do for fun?
I do a lot of different things for fun. I love gardening and being a plant parent. I have a collection of indoor plants in my room, and I’ve been growing vegetables and herbs outside. It’s my favorite de-stressor. Another thing that I do is I try to have weekly video calls with my 10-year-old nephew and we try to do different activities together. He likes to introduce me to new games, so we’ll play it together. I’m also trying to slightly nudge him to learn tech. I also love playing video games. I have hella housemates, and we’ll have a regular gaming marathon playing Crash Bandicoot, Mario Kart, or Mortal Combat.
5. What are your favorite foods?
I want to say if it’s spicy, I’m going to love it. If it’s not Mexican food, I really enjoy Indian or Korean food because it has the spice level that I like. Specifically, I love tortas ahogadas. It’s a traditional dish of the region where my parents are from - Guadalajara, Jalisco. I like it even more when my mom makes it, but truth be told, I made it recently, and I think it tasted better. (I’m not going to tell her that though.) This is going to sound weird, but I also love old people food. There’s something I love about fibrous foods - like oatmeal and like shredded wheat. I don’t know, like the mushy stuff. I love it.
6. What are three places you enjoy visiting in the Bay Area and beyond?
I love being anywhere with water. My last name is Ríos, which means rivers so I feel super grounded when I’m in or near water. If I could live in it, I would. I also enjoy being anywhere that has super old, massive trees - like the redwoods. I feel like they’re the grandparent roots of the world. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I’m not a big fan of city skylines. I’d prefer to see views of mountains and trees - like in Joaquin Miller Park or Grizzly Peak.
7. Who are your top music artists?
I feel so disconnected from this. A lot of the music I like or listen to currently doesn’t necessarily have words or lyrics to them. Lately, I just go to YouTube and search for low-fi hip-hop beats. I can’t think of that many artists I specifically listen to though. I’m trying to listen more to The Weeknd just because he’s apparently number one on Spotify.
8. Who do you follow on Insta?
I don’t have much of a presence on Instagram. I tap in every now and then. I mostly follow cutie (QT) BIPOC centered pages, anything with a queer/trans lens. I follow a lot of fat pages and black, sex worker, (hood) healer pages. That’s pretty much all my Instagram content.
9. Where’d you grow up? What do you like about the Bay Area?
I grew up in Compton, California. C-O-M-P-T-O-N. Straight outta Compton, all those things. That’s where I’m originally from, but I’ve been in the Bay area for about eight years, going on nine. So I’ve been here a minute. I came here to study at UC Berkeley and haven’t left since. I say I grew up in Compton, but then I grew up a second time here. Next to Compton, Oakland feels like home. Oakland reminds me very much of where I’m from. I’ve got deep love and a sense of responsibility for this place.
Oakland is super different from LA’s vibes. They’re both cities, but I feel like LA moves so much quicker and, unfortunately, a lot more independently. I think folks out in LA have this mentality of “I’m out here to get my own,” which I respect and understand, but I think there’s a different vibe up here. This is where I learned more about community, honestly. I think the Bay area uses a lot of buzz words, which can get tiring, but then when you find those pockets, there’s a deep desire to build community in these spaces. And I think that’s why a lot of folks are here. Like you feel more seen, more represented. You feel more heard, and you feel like you can find those specialized places where you can talk, and people will understand.
10. What’s something you’d like to see change in Oakland? What do you want your contribution to that change to be?
As a kid, I fantasized about somehow owning property and then sort of giving it away. It’s actually still a dream of mine. I wouldn’t know the legal aspects of doing that, but there are way too many homeless people. There should never be that many homeless people. And the unfortunate reality is, as someone who isn’t originally from Oakland, I do say to myself, “I’m not here making hella money and gentrifying the area, but I live in a house that isn't affordable for an average family to own or live in.” So I do have gentrifier’s guilt. Truth be told, I’m not from here, and a lot of these folks who are homeless are Oakland/Bay Area natives. So I would love to develop some kind of land ownership program somehow. I want to figure out how I can own property where people can rent to own at an affordable price in a shorter amount of time, so they’re not renting their life away or worrying about stability. It’s a huge dream, and I know there’s a lot of details and work I’m not aware of, but I aspire for that to happen.
11. What do you appreciate about today’s technology?
I think the things that make me upset about technology are also the things that I appreciate about it. There’s a lot to be said. Unfortunately, I feel folks sometimes feel entitled to people’s time because we are connected so instantly - and that bugs me. At the same time, wow, we’re able to have long-distance conversations because of technology. I, and many others, have access to bootcamps that we wouldn’t usually be able to join. Parents who previously had to leave their homes all the time can now work from home. Well, not all of them. I also acknowledge it’s still a privilege, but I think that there’s so much power in technology to bridge access gaps. That’s what I admire the most about technology, where you can build apps and products that help folks who have physical disabilities or speech impediments or provide resources to folks who need it most. We just need to get the right people in tech.
12. What type of technology do you wish you had but hasn’t been invented yet?
This is a tough question to answer, but I think it would probably be something aligning with health. There is a disproportionate amount of health issues in the black and brown communities, and I believe that technology could very much create a solution to provide more access. I’ve been battling to get my medical insurance for the last week and a half. I wish there could be apps to help streamline these processes for folks to instantly connect to their healthcare providers without having to play phone tag with the government as I did.
13. What would be your dream job? What do you want to be when you grow up?
My dream is to work on the land. I know that sounds counterintuitive because my people have worked the land for so long, and the whole point of organizations like Hack the Hood is to give folks more economic opportunities. But that’s what I really want to do. It brings me a lot of peace and joy to put my hands or feet straight into the dirt. If I could own land, grow my own food, and somehow give that food to free for other folks (while still being self sustained, of course), that would be the dream.
Photography by Christine Cueto.
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