May 28, 2024

Perla’s pathway to tech career lined with personal perseverance and MDC’s support

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The Miami Tech Talent Coalition seeks to help more students find their pathway and thrive

Perla Oquendo always enjoyed working with computers, starting with helping her aunt troubleshoot her computer when she was in grade school. She took some coding classes in high school at Miami Edison as part of the JROTC program and worked in a computer data-focused job as a JROTC staff member. Then after graduating from high school, she worked at BestBuy in customer service, including stints on their GeekSquad.

Still, even as her interest in tech grew, Perla never truly saw herself in a career in tech. Indeed, when Perla, a young mother, enrolled at Miami Dade College a few years later, at first she was pursuing a nursing degree. But with a lot of self-motivation and the support from faculty and advisors, she found her way into tech. It was also that support system that encouraged her to keep going when she dropped out due to personal hardships. “They didn’t give up on me. They always reached out, they gave me all the resources I needed to get out of those hardships. They provided me grants and funds. They’ve been with me every step of the way.”

Perla ended up choosing to pursue a bachelor’s in cybersecurity. “I saw all these things that are going on like cyber crimes and my mom was actually a victim of identity theft. That helped push me more into that field,” she says.

Cybersecurity is also one of the hottest tech fields in terms of opportunities. She also earned an associates in computer science and a college credit certificate in network security from Miami Dade College. 

The support didn’t end when Perla was ready to walk across the stage to receive her cybersecurity bachelors degree this spring either. She was ready to join the Reserves, but Antonio Delgado, vice president of Innovation and Technology Partnerships at Miami Dade College, recommended her for a couple of full-time paid tech internships and encouraged her to accept an interview if offered.

Hired!

Thinking she had nothing to lose, she interviewed with Miami-based Kaseya, the market leader in IT and security management,  for an SOC Analyst internship position. Her Kaseya interviewer – her future director  – told her he was so impressed he hired her on the spot for the summer internship. “I feel like without Miami Dade College’s support, I would honestly be right now in basic training, because I thought that was my only way of getting experience, the only way I’d be taken seriously,” Perla says.

Then, just two months later, she was hired as a full-time SOC Analyst at Kaseya.

“Stories like Perla’s highlight Kaseya’s commitment to fostering local tech talent at our Miami headquarters,” said Xavier Gonzalez, Executive Vice President, Marketing Communications at Kaseya. “We are proud to partner with Miami Dade College, FIU, the University of Miami, Barry University and other training providers in the Miami Tech Talent Coalition as we continue adding hundreds of high-paying jobs over the coming years.”

The Miami Tech Talent Coalition, part of the Miami Tech Works initiative created by a grant from the US government’s Good Jobs Challenge, took shape earlier this year with the idea of helping more students like Perla find their pathway into tech. That includes making sure they have the resources and support system to thrive and helping to connect them with local tech internships and jobs, with the ultimate goal of fueling the local tech talent pipeline. To that end, the Coalition’s Work Groups have already kicked off several pilot projects.

To be sure, Perla found her pathway with a lot of support from MDC, but she was also driven by her own perseverance. While studying at MDC, Perla and her fellow students sometimes found it hard to participate in tech organizations because the meetings were far away or conflicted with their schedules. Instead they formed a group of 40 to 50 cybersecurity students at MDC to work on projects together to sharpen up our skills. Their group, the Miami Dade 2023 Cybersecurity Graduates, had an advisor from the college who not only helped them make sure they had the classes they needed to graduate on time but also kept them informed about extra-curricular training opportunities. “It was really good experience,” Perla says.

Earning the degree and all the hard work that went into it helped Perla set an example for her children. She is only the second person within her extended family who has graduated from college, and the first in her family to pursue a career – and land a job – in their chosen degree field.

And how is the new job at Kaseya? “I’ve always heard that if you find something you love and you work in it, it won’t feel like a job, and that’s literally how I feel,” Perla says. “Sure, there are stressful moments but it’s not like oh, I can’t do this anymore. It’s just like, I’m going to learn how to get this done. It doesn’t feel like a job. It feels amazing.”

Her advice to others who are interested in tech is to enroll in a course at Miami Dade College or their nearest college.

“There’s so many classes available that you can try out even if you’re not seeking a degree,” she says. “I also took part in things like Try Hack Me and Hack the Box online, which also pushed me.  I follow podcasts about tech and cybersecurity. Do the things that keep you motivated and push you forward.”

How to get involved in the Miami Tech Talent Coalition

To help more students like Perla, the Miami Tech Talent Coalition is an industry-led tech-sector partnership that brings together a critical mass of business leaders with education and training providers to align academic programs with the needs of the employers. As part of the coalition, employers also drive ongoing discussion regarding development of employer-driven training models that guarantee pathways to employment for South Florida’s residents.

Your involvement can make a significant difference in shaping the future of Miami’s tech industry, creating a vibrant and sustainable tech talent ecosystem. Together, participants can continue to build Miami as an innovative hub and a desirable destination for businesses and tech talent.

  • Join the Coalition here. Employers can also specify a work Group they are interested in. 
  • Attend the next in-person meeting scheduled for Oct. 12. Register here.
  • Stay connected with the coalition’s progress and updates by signing up for their newsletter here, reviewing their website here, and following Miami Tech Works on LinkedIn and Instagram.

READ MORE ABOUT THE TECH TALENT COALITION:

Nancy Dahlberg
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