With all the negativity surrounding Trump’s suffocating travel bans and working visa policies, there are still plenty of encouraging success stories of Latin Americans achieving successful tech careers in the US.
Originally hailing from Tampico, a small town of around 1 million people in Mexico, Isidro Hernandez is one of those successes, and has taken his computer engineering career from humble beginnings to the lofty heights of Amazon over the last decade and a half.
A Lesser-known Technical University
During his early days in Tampico, Hernandez was a student of Instituto Tecnologico de Ciudad Madero (The Technological Institute of Madero City), which is not hugely well-known in the country, but offers strong computer engineering courses, according to Hernandez.
“The university doesn’t get much publicity in Mexico, and most people would more likely choose Tec de Monterrey,” he said. “I chose this one based on word of mouth and found that the computer engineering course had a fantastic reputation, even winning a national contest against other institutes. It’s a great place to begin a career as a systems engineer.”
After college, Hernandez found that he struggled to find work in Tampico, so began working with a friend who had a software engineering business called Lightsoft, which had its fair share of problems.
“Sometimes I didn’t have a pay check, or only got a small amount, so after a few months I moved on to technical support at Grupo D.A. Hinojosa in Tampico, a small customs broker, for over a year. Even so, there were not many software engineering opportunities for me there.”
Faced with a huge shortage of opportunities, Hernandez discussed the possibility of moving to Monterrey with his girlfriend, who soon became his wife at around the same time.
The Monterrey Chapter
“Right before the wedding in 2006, we took the decision to move to Monterrey, and I joined MDY Contact Center as an IT Developer for mobile customers, technical, and software engineering,” he said. “My wife was also a systems engineer; we met in university. At the same time, she found a job at Tec de Monterrey as a software analyst and developer, specifically for the human resources department. Today, she is freelancing for customers in Mexico.”
After nine months with MDY and a brief stint with another consultancy, Hernandez got the opportunity to work at Epicor as a software engineer, where he stayed for two and a half years, designing and developing customizations for an ERP warehousing system.
Following that, he joined Infosys as a Technology Lead through a recommendation from another person. At that time in 2009, Infosys was hiring a lot of people in Monterrey as it had only arrived one year before and was still growing.
“I was working on a project for a retailer in Seattle from Mexico, then talked to my manager about getting the opportunity to go on-site in the US,” he said. “At that moment, I wasn’t prepared, but they needed someone to fill a position in the US for a specific team, so I talked to my wife about the great compensation they were offering and we agreed to move to Seattle.”
Uprooting Everything for a New Life in Seattle
The decision to move north of the border was an easier one for Hernandez than for his wife, but they still faced the challenge of what to do with their mortgage, two cars, and baby of two years. “The main problem was economic; we had to sell everything we owned to make the move,” he said. “We also had lots of friends in Monterrey and family in Tampico, as well as my wife’s parents who were in Oaxaca.”
Even so, Hernandez has found a great community of people from Monterrey living in Seattle. “Monterrey has a tradition of holding regular barbecues each weekend, and that tradition holds true within this community,” he said. “I love to spend time with family and play with my son (5) and daughter (1), as well as attending these regular barbecues with friends.”
According to Hernandez, everyone he knows with a work visa is worried about the political climate, but trusts that if they change the law there must be a process to follow. “If the government cancels my work visa, then I’m okay with returning to Mexico. I’m not dying to stay here for my whole life – we sometimes get homesick.”
The immigration process when he first moved to Seattle was not an issue. Infosys sends a lot of people to the US, so they have plenty of documented steps for workers coming from Mexico, including flights, visas, and letters for the consulate. Even so, the job wasn’t ideal for Hernandez.
Snapped up by Amazon
“I thought my job at Infosys was very repetitive, and didn’t see that my career could grow with the company in Seattle, so I started searching for other jobs, and submitted my resume to Amazon. I had to go through four interviews, but the same day I got a call back to extend a contract. Amazon issued the new visa very quickly. I didn’t have to leave the country, just fill out new paperwork to change employer. The company even gives people guidance about traveling to other countries and returning to the US, and there is a team of immigration lawyers to help them do so.”
Hernandez has now been a Cloud support engineer at Amazon Web Services (AWS) for around two years, and now feels like he is in the right place.
“At Infosys, I was exposed to a small set of technologies, like .NET and Windows. At AWS, I get exposure to Linux, Python, and more technologies that are specific to AWS services. In the last two years, I’ve been developing my skills much faster than I was with Infosys.”
Hernandez and his family are settled well in Seattle, and plan to stay in the city with AWS. Ambitious as ever, he sees his next growth step as being a solutions architect, which is more focused on having conversations about using AWS services, and guiding customers toward the right solution. This might include migrating an on-premises data center to AWS, so I could define that migration.
“AWS has a great culture and what exactly what I was expecting,” he said. “Working with Americans, Mexicans, and Japanese, Indian, or Korean people is sometimes a challenge, but the opportunity to work with all these cultures is a fantastic experience that I feel very privileged to be a part of.”