Women at IBM

How Crystal Took a Different Path to IBM

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The women of IBM are doing some amazing things to change the world, so let’s celebrate them! This March to celebrate women’s history month and #IWD2020, our incredible female IBMers are sharing their stories with you. Today, we’re catching up with Crystal Ramirez, Site Reliability Engineer with Watson Financial Services Solutions and an alumnus of the Tech Re-entry Program with IBM.

Want to learn more about the incredible women at IBM and how you can join them and work at IBM? Head over to our Careers Page to learn more!


Tell us a little about your journey so far and how you got interested in coding!

I am originally from California. I lived there until the age of 12, then we moved to Utah. My brother and I used to explore the black rocks and the canyons which surrounded the neighborhood where we lived. To this day, I still miss camping under the open night sky in the desert.

I graduated from high school in 1997. At the time I wasn’t ready for college, I didn’t believe it was the right path for me. Instead, I wanted to explore and see the world around me, but being broke, I did the next best thing and in August of 2000, I joined the US Army.

I spent 9 and a half years in the Army, deploying 3 times to Iraq and rising to the rank of Sergeant. I worked in logistics,  planning convoys between our forward operation bases (FOB) in Iraq. These were some of the most challenging times of my life and they taught me lessons I wouldn’t have learned anywhere else. I left the Army in January of 2010 and, shortly after, decided to pursue a degree in Supply Chain Operations. I graduated in 2014 and, while I did enjoy what I learned, I still didn’t think I had found my passion.

My partner at the time is who I credit the most for introducing me to coding. She knew that I wasn’t satisfied with working part-time jobs and introduced me to a program called Code the Dream (CTD). CTD is a non-profit with the mission to help minorities get into coding. I interviewed with them and shortly after, found myself taking night classes with them. The first coding language I learned was Ruby.


Once you got into coding, how did you come to IBM?

After I completed the classes in CTD, I got into a summer internship with them. I was working a part-time job as a food server, working on an internship, and working side gigs on the weekends to get by. I also had my kids part-time. You can say life was busy but I do best under pressure so I was pretty happy.

After my internship at CTD, I wanted to learn more. I did some research and decided to take a risk – I took out a loan and joined a coding bootcamp at the coding school Momentum. It was the most challenging course I have ever taken, like drinking out of a firehose. I built strong bonds with my peers and we leaned heavily on each other to get through this class. By the end, I was able to build a website.

When I was in my coding school I began to research programs I wanted to work with. That’s how I came across IBM. Now, I am currently working as a Site Reliability Engineer and was hired through the Tech Re-entry program.


Tell us about your journey with the Tech Re-Entry Program. How did you get involved and what was it like being a part of this program?

I actually found out about IBM’s Tech Re-Entry through a local meetup group. So I reached out to the recruiter and she guided me through the process. I wasn’t sure if I had the qualifications, but I figured the worst they could say was no. I was so excited when I learned I was chosen for an interview. The first team I interviewed with passed on me, but I was assured that I would hear back from other teams at IBM.

At that time, I didn’t let it get me down. I just kept pushing. I had to believe in myself and my abilities. Two weeks later I learned I had two more interviews on the same day. After the interview process was over, I kept replaying it in my head and hoping I answered the questions to the best of my ability. I still remember the day I got the phone call telling me I made it. I was so happy to see my work come to fruition.



How do you think a program like Tech Re-Entry could benefit job seekers who might take a more non-traditional path in their career?

The Tech Re-Entry allows others the opportunity to demonstrate their skills, ambitions, and passions. It provides people in a non-traditional career path with a platform in which they can compete. I think we, as humans, like to put people into boxes and say, “Only if you have x, y, z are you are a better candidate for this position.” With this program, we are given that consideration and our career break isn’t counted against us. It allows for our voices to be heard and our stories to be valued.


What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career and how have you tackled them?

With everything I was taking on, the biggest challenge I faced was time management. Setting aside time for myself and time to complete everything I set out to do was a balancing act. My military background gave me the discipline to get through it.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work? How do you find balance between these things and your work?

Outside of work I enjoy hiking, traveling, listening to live music, watching movies, crafting, and spending time with my family. I think I enjoy spending time at the beach the most. I find balance by keeping a calendar. On the weekends if I am not getting a pager duty alert, I dedicate that time to my family and friends.


What does Women’s History Month mean to you?

It’s about honoring the women in our lives and shedding light on their stories and backgrounds. It gives one hope and strength to see that there are women who are successful even in situations that are greatly geared to keep us out. Our stories show we can overcome great odds and that our efforts will and can be rewarded. To me Women’s History Month is an opportunity to be seen and heard and when that happens everything changes.


What has been your experience with inclusion in the workplace?

I think that depends on the industry you are in and the organization you are in. When I worked in the food industry, I experienced a different type of exclusion versus working in the tech industry. In either case, I found that I have to work harder to prove myself. I have to be able to handle the stress and not show it on my face.

I don’t think exclusion is always something that people consciously choose to do. It’s more a matter of people living with unchecked biases and not questioning them. Fortunately for me, my journey into the tech industry has been amazing. I have worked with great organizations. In my current team, I feel accepted and embraced. That is a great feeling, and I hope others are able to experience that in their work environment too.


What advice can you give allies who want to support diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

There are a lot of companies out there that are willing, but not sure how to include more diversity in their organization. I believe there needs to be an understanding that microaggressions exist and just because one isn’t experiencing, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Allies can take the time to educate themselves on the struggles women and minorities face instead of leaving that responsibility on the one who is experiencing it.

And take the time to use gender-inclusive language. It is helpful and matters! Recognize that we worked hard to be where we are and deserve to be here.


Do you have examples of how this has worked for you?

I believe my story serves as an example of how this has worked for me. I found the most opportunity in places that were the most aware of the problems women and minorities face. It ranged from CTD, Momentum, and eventually IBM. All of these companies had a high degree of consciousness of my needs and were able to provide me with opportunities to thrive and grow as a professional.


Crystal and her Tech Re-entry class


Why did you choose IBM?

I chose IBM because they are a world-class company and the amount of diversity that is here is amazing. Everyone is from everywhere and I love that about working here. When I first started working here, I was telling my mom about one of my workdays. She jokingly said, “Are you working for NATO?” We both laughed, but I think in some ways there is some truth to her joke.

This is an organization that allows me to pursue my passions and encourages out of the box thinking to solve problems. Another reason I chose IBM was because of their values. I needed to work somewhere that has high values that align with my own. I admire how they treat others in their business transactions, and I believe they make choices that are fair and right.


What is one piece of advice you would give your early working professional self?

One piece of advice I would give my early self, and even my current self, is don’t stress out so much! Have fun and trust in your own ability to accomplish what you set out to do.


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