Hack the Hood is turning five this year, and to celebrate this milestone we are highlighting the young people who have brought their skills and passions to our program. We'll be profiling a different young leader each month, with Natalie being our September feature
1. What made you decide to join Hack the Hood (HtH)? When did you start with HtH?
I first heard about Hack the Hood online a couple years ago. I wanted to join the bootcamp, but I wasn’t able to commit to the program hours since I was taking college courses and working shifts at a restaurant job. Eventually when I was only working service jobs, I got frustrated and was looking to change gears. I started catching on to the change of energy in the Bay Area. I realized that Silicon Valley and the tech industry draw people from all over to work or study. This whole movement motivated me to figure out how I could be a part of this space. I remembered Hack the Hood and noticed their application was due that week, in January of 2017. I made the decision to only work my serving job part-time in the evenings in order to join Hack the Hood, and see what it was about. It turned out to be a great investment.
2. What did you learn that was unexpected? Was there anything that surprised you about the program?
What surprised me about the program was that we had the option to choose any career avenue we wanted, instead of just sticking to one track. So if we were interested in entrepreneurship, coding, or digital marketing, Hack the Hood gave us resources and connected us with mentors or people with experience in those fields.
I also didn’t realize that I had an interested in web development until I learned how to craft websites and how they work. Programming allows so much creativity, perspective, and views to come to light. What I was most surprised about was that within just weeks of bootcamp, I learned so much about tech’s different compartments; distinguishing between coders, programmers, software engineers, user experience, user design, etc.; and understanding all the jargon. What I've learned thus far allows me to navigate different areas that I couldn't before. All we needed was that one person to understand that they couldn't assume we already knew everything. So I liked the accommodation given that, yeah, we're interested in tech, which means that we're not coming in with that background and we want to learn. This learning comes in many forms, from the instructors, to the technologies we learn about, different companies that are both local and global, working with the small business owners and hearing their stories because technology is a core interface in people’s day to day lives - it’s an all around thing.
3. What are your favorite foods?
I don't even know where to begin with this question, because I feel like I have to divide it between textures and types. But I love dessert. So if I was stranded on an island, and I can only have three choices of food to eat, it would probably be my mom’s homemade Morelia style enchiladas, Thai curry noodles, and chocolate!
4. What do you do for fun?
For fun, I really like to kick it with my homies. Seeing people who are part of your community is really healing and a great way to continue be motivated and inspired by those around you. We’ll get together, make food, catch up, talk about life, listen to music or dance. Besides that, I like to try doing outdoor activities - like going on a nice hike. The greenery and being in the elements are really good medicine that helps me when I feel like I need to re-center myself. I also love to dance. I participate in Danza Mexica with a Calpulli or circle a couple of nights a month. The Danza tradition is a way that I reclaim and embrace my Indigenous identity and through this understanding of ceremony I’m able to connect with my self, my homeland, my spirituality and community. I am extremely lucky and honored to have elders & teachers who embody strength and resilience and whose accomplishments and dedication I look up to. So danza is something I consider fun but also very necessary to keep me balanced.
5. What’s your favorite TV show?
I actually haven't owned a TV since 2009, it sounds weird but I think that had a lot to do with the switch over from cable television to the internet and YouTube. But anyways, I was really into was a show on Netflix called “She's Gotta Have It.” I think it's a remake of one of Spike Lee’s earlier shows, based in Brooklyn, in the eighties, about this girl Nola. She’s an artist and just trying to figure out life in New York City. It’s fun and relatable; I was watching that for a cool minute. Also a couple friends mentioned this one show everyone was talking about, then I got into Game of Thrones; I think they do a good job on the storytelling, the narrative and I just love how intense it is.
As of late, I've been watching this other show called Westworld. It’s also a remake of a 70s film set in a futuristic society where people can pay to visit this theme park and can basically do whatever they want without consequence. There is a lot about science fiction, human psychology, and social ethics that are involved, which is what makes it so interesting and I highly recommend if this interests you. I think this show really hits the nail on a lot of stuff we might start to see within our lifetime. The terms thrown around in the show relating to business investors, software, hardware, programming, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data it fun for me to watch because I can apply what I’ve been learning in tech to better understand the show.
6. What are three places you enjoy visiting in the Bay Area and beyond?
That's an amazing question. The Bay is so dense, having different pockets within the area. I really like the Mission, because that's where I was born. So every time I'm walking through there, I get a sense of nostalgia because that's where my parents met in their youth and had me and my sister. In a way, it’s a starting point where my grandparents and others from similar homelands come to seek a better life. My second place is Ocean Beach, or that whole coastal area in general because it is breathtaking. Ever since I was a kid, my mom would have to pull me back from the shore because I was so mesmerized by how the waves came up so intensely and I just wanted to be immersed in it. One thing I love about the Bay is being surrounded by so much water. The third place would have to be the East Bay as a whole. I have so much love for it. It's so cool how you can just move through different avenues and neighborhoods that are all connected like San Pablo, Telegraph, College Ave, International Blvd, Lake Merritt and each area has its own energy and character.
7. Who are your top music artists?
I don't feel like very committed to certain artists. I can mention genres because I just swing between various types of music on the daily. Growing up, I had different musical influences that my parents shared which was really different to stuff on the radio my older sister would record on cassette tapes. I like a lot of R&B and soul because it's beautiful music you can listen to and chill - I feel like I can relax. I grew up listening to a lot of female R&B singers, like Alicia Keys, Aaliyah, Whitney Houston, Toni Braxton, Brandy, Monica, Ashanti, Destiny’s Child, Keyshia Cole to name a few. I like ambient electronic music too. I think electronic music gets bad rep for being perceived as noisy computer sound stuff, but I appreciate the engineering aspect of it. I also love rap music. I don't know how to explain this, but when I'm having a day where I just can't figure something out, or I really need to push through and get things done, I'll put on rap music. Listening to artists like Tupac, Kendrick Lamar, or J. Cole get me motivated. I like rap because of the way they tell stories - how the word play can be so witty and entertaining, yet thought-provoking and empowering. I’ll listen to older artists and new ones; the genre is so fluid. In the end it’s lyrical audio poetry and I really like that. Some of my friends are artists or musicians, so it's always cool to like check in on their styles and see how they like bring a blend of a lot of different stuff into it their work (shout out to all the Bay Area artists and cultural producers doing their thing).
8. Who do you follow on insta?
I don't have like specific handles in mind, but I like the work of different photographers since I tend to get drawn to more high-saturated photos and portraits. Portraits fascinate me, because creating them is not as easy as it looks. You have to think about the mood, setting, and connecting with your subject - it’s such a human experience. I like following like a lot of female based orgs and other POC. I tend to like posts with tips on how to live a better life, food recipes, meditations, daily affirmations, just positive information that is helpful. I do follow POC artists, filmmakers, cultural producers, poets, activists, too. I like to follow herbalists and people that are grounded in spiritual work. I find the work these folks do helpful because I think that Instagram tends to be saturated with pretty photos and people really wanting to expand their network. So what really draws me are people who are selflessly sharing information that they have to others. I like that knowledge transmission of the Internet, it's like open source, you can share information freely or ask a question and chances are someone knows something they're willing to share.
9. Where’d you grow up? What do you like about the Bay Area?
I was born in the Mission district, so I spent my early years in San Francisco and throughout then, I’ve moved around a lot - from different parts of the peninsula, to the East Bay, out of the country, and back. There was just so much movement happening that when I think of where I'm from, I feel like I'm from all of the places equally because I never really like got too attached to a place. But what I can constitute as home is the Bay. I lived in different cities and went to different schools like in San Bruno, South City, San Mateo, San Bruno and San Francisco. Different landmarks hold different memories. I have been able to observe different pockets of the area and I really have a lot of love for the whole Bay Area in general -the food, the people, the culture, the environment! In a way it gave me this sense of belonging to many spaces. There's a reason why people in the past and present from all over have travelled here or are coming here to live. They want to see what it’s all about and what makes it special.
10. What’s something you’d like to see change in Oakland? What do you want your contribution to that change to be?
Something that I want to see change is more representation within all the economic growth and prosperity happening in the Bay Area - whether that's seeing small businesses thrive or having underserved communities have access to more opportunities. I'd like to see this city take accountability for the youth and how to better prepare them as they transition on to the next 20 years and beyond, instead of repeating the same cycles that have gotten us in the states that we're in - speaking for both the younger and older generation. The world around us is going to start changing faster than before. From what I’ve constantly heard is that we are in our own version of the Industrial Revolution with tech, and the changes are not going to be slowing down anytime soon. So we really need advocacy and people who have positions of influence to hear us out and find ways to create connections to allow us to strengthen our communities and be in on the conversation.
We still see a lot of leftover from the different decades, initiatives, and politics; it's a public health issue. We should have access to education and enough housing for everyone; the city should not be okay with having so many folks being displaced with nowhere to go or just merely providing a band-aid solution for it. Everybody deserves the right to live and the dignity of safety. I know it’s not easy, but there should be a more holistic approach. It's not just about cleaning up the problem, but also the involvement of communities to set things up right from the beginning. It’s crazy to think about how much movement and power the tech economy is harnessing at such a rapid rate. I really wish that in the future we're moving towards, we would be considered more active participants, instead of just mindless consumers. Because everybody's perspective is so unique, and everybody has something to offer in a unique way as a consumer perhaps even more as a contributor.
The contribution I can see myself making is to keep on the track I’m on, by continually hustling and moving forward with my career in tech. If somebody puts me down, makes me feel inferior, or questions my ability to accomplish my goals, I want to be there to prove that I can do it. I’ve been through a lot in life and have had my share of lessons but I don’t see these things as setbacks - they are all part of my path. It's hard not to see all these disparities, but I hope to make a contribution in the form of agency and asserting myself, including myself into spaces where I normally wouldn’t be comfortable in, knowing that the only thing that limits me is myself. I want to take the momentum of what I have accomplished and keep going forward. So ultimately, I want to bring the changes back to the community. My hustle and success would help open the opportunity for others. Be an example of how we can grow from the things that we see as limitations or where we are not expected to, like the rose Tupac talks about in his poem “The Rose That Grew From Concrete”.
11. What do you appreciate about today’s technology?
I appreciate my never ending, “Wow, I didn't know that there was an app for that.” But what I really like about tech is that it can apply to so many things and help solve problems for people. Being in these spaces can feel surreal at times, like is this all really happening now? Regarding tech, I’ve heard someone say before that it’s not about stopping the change coming into the neighborhood. The change is already here. It’s about moving with it, and being a much about the conversation because that is where we have influence. There is this company I heard about that is working on autonomous robots to begin to do neighborhood deliveries. Soon enough we might be sharing the sidewalk or maybe bike lanes with programmed courier robots. Like, actual ROBOTS. Should be an interesting time.
12. What type of technology do you wish you had, but hasn’t been invented yet?
I want to have a device that records dreams. I don't know how this could happen, but I’d really like to see people create the technology for us to see our dreams. I know that sounds perhaps kind of strange, a tiny bit terrifying, and almost Twilight Zone-like, but I always have these very vivid dreams that are so real and I forget a lot of the details of it after I wake up. So I know that there are dream diaries, but I feel could get a lot of information on how to navigate my day-to-day through my dreams. I like to read about the power of the mind and astral projection that explains how there are moments where I can be in my dream walking and I don’t feel like walking anymore so I'll just pick up and start flying. In my waking state of consciousness I feel like I’ve felt what it’s like to fly, it’s awesome! Like the exhilaration of them. I've never done that before in reality but I've done it in my dream. I think virtual and augmented reality are powerful technologies developing fast to perhaps fill this curiosity and I’m paying close attention to these fields!
13. What would be your dream job? What do you want to be when you grow up?
My dream job is to work on a product that many people around the world will use to develop their passions and creativity - whether that is for an established company or maybe starting my own in the future. Since I’m an intern right now, working for a company like Adobe is a great place because I feel like it's more feasible to find that opportunity within. I know that sounds hella ambitious, and in the past I would never catch myself saying something like that because I didn’t believe I had the potential to start my own business or be a CEO of a company, but my experience in tech is allowing me to see that everyone's path is so different and it takes connecting with the right people, creating feasible goals and milestones, and then tracking your progress towards those dreams.
It’s easier to think we can’t do a lot of things, but then that’s the easy way to live. Challenges are good because if it feels like you might be struggling to learn something new, then you are growing, you are changing with the struggle too. I want to be a successful female of color in tech that can continue to live and grow in the Bay, constantly growing and seeking opportunities. It’s empowering to connect with other people who strive to achieve success in their careers, and just being in spaces where we can be exposed to the work others have accomplished, especially females that are already making boss moves in the world of tech and being like, “damn these ladies are badass and they are doing amazing work, I can definitely do this too.” We are living in an amazing time. I hope to create a life for myself that makes an impact and I am working to grow as someone who a younger me would have wanted to look up to.
Photography by Christine Cueto.
Hack the Hood Blog
News items and musings on tech inclusion, youth development, buying local and more.