Community Spotlight: Karolina Benitez-Calderon
Karolina is a social worker turned software engineer. She worked as a case manager in Oakland and served youth in the foster care system who were affected by human trafficking. After learning about the intersection of tech and social good, she wanted to know how she could leverage her skills and use technology to scale the work that she was so passionate about. Karolina recently completed a coding boot-camp and is currently volunteering on open-sourced projects and looking for a software engineering opportunity.
Some fun facts: Karolina is a major homebody, and when she’s not busy helping out with her daughter’s activities (band & ballet folklorico), she likes to read, draw, try new recipes, and binge her favorite TV shows.
What is your professional passion these days?
I want to make careers in tech more accessible to folks from marginalized communities. I grew up less than two hours away from Silicon Valley and never in my wildest dreams did I imagine tech as a career path. I’ve recently met a lot of amazing people in tech who shared similar backgrounds and experiences of “accidentally” getting into tech. Underrepresented communities (specifically BIPOC) NEED to have the ability to contribute and benefit from the opportunities created by technology. I’m beginning to take baby steps to mentor some youth from back home, with hopes that I can create an impactful and long-lasting mentorship network.
What does it mean to you to be a responsible citizen while working in tech?
A lot of people get trapped inside of the stereotypical bubble when working in the tech industry. Even with my background, I sometimes find myself losing sight of what’s around me and where I came from. Everything moves so fast, and it’s absolutely necessary to slow down and think about our roles and their consequences. The technology we build can have a direct effect on our very own neighborhoods or the entire world. The scale of our impact alone can be hard to process or comprehend, but we must remember to really listen to the people and work towards cultivating an environment that benefits those who are most vulnerable.
How has TechEquity impacted civic participation?
TechEquity is exactly what I was dreaming of when I made the decision to get into tech. They are very intentional about discussing how the tech industry is impacting the Bay Area and focus on communities that are most at risk. I appreciate that they approach issues with a solution-based perspective and are very thoughtful about providing tangible and manageable solutions. I had such a fun time volunteering on a recent project and was really impressed to see how well-organized, detailed, and clear the tasks were, which allowed me to jump in head-on.
Why is it important for the tech community to become more civically engaged?
During my time in social work, I personally witnessed the devastating impact that gentrification and wealth inequality have had on families. I don’t believe tech workers are moving to the Bay Area to intentionally rip people out of their neighborhoods, but the reality is that the people who make The Bay so unique and badass are being forced out. These are just a few of the issues affecting folks in and around the Bay Area. The more engaged we are, the more likely we are to learn about further challenges and contribute our resources towards greater change.