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It’s hard to say which is more striking, Ximena Cortez’s determination or her compassion. Ximena may be early in her career, but her passion and willpower have catapulted her into success as a quality assurance engineer here at Kenna Security. All the while, she composes herself with humility and a gentle spirit, underscored by a great big heart—a quality that reinforced itself when Ximena asked me (the interviewer) a question in return during the interview for this very Spotlight. It comes as no surprise to me that Ximena spends a lot of her free time volunteering to aid underserved communities and promote diversity (i.e. introducing students to STEM, supporting Latinas in the tech industry, mentoring first-generation students from low-income communities—you name it). With such a powerful combination of heart, ambition, and intellect, it’s no wonder that no circumstances or challenges have been able to thwart Ximena on her road to success.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I was born in Mexico City but grew up in the south-west side of Chicago. My parents brought me and my siblings to the U.S. when I was 9 years old because they wanted a better life for us. Chicago has been my home ever since.
Q: How did you come into this field of work?
A: When I was in high school, I got in trouble with a teacher one day and had to stay after school. During detention, the teacher made me play a game called CodeCombat, a coding game in which I had to create code to make a hero go from one place to another and collect gems. I was hooked and ended up playing it throughout my senior year, even during breaks at school. I took my first coding class in college and ended up failing it. I was really discouraged at first but, eventually, I retook the class and graduated with a degree in Computer Science and Criminal Justice.
My career started off through Urban Alliance—a program that gives High School students a year-long paid-internship—and I was very fortunate to have a lot of mentors who helped me during my search for a full-time job. They looked at my resume and sent it out to their networks, and I ended up landing my first full-time gig at a tech company. It was a good place to start gaining skills, but I found myself struggling with imposter syndrome and questioned why I was the only Latina in the engineering department. So, after two years with the company, I started looking for a new job.
That’s when I found Kenna Security. Interviewing at Kenna Security was probably the best interview experience I’ve had so far. Everyone was so welcoming. I’ve been here a little under a year, and I truly love working here.
Q: What keeps you motivated to get out of bed and come into work every morning?
A: There are two things that keep me motivated. First, the product is something I really believe in. As a QA Engineer, my goal is to ship great software out to production. I love knowing that I play a part in helping companies understand their vulnerabilities and make progress towards fixing them. The second thing that keeps me motivated is the people I work with. My immediate team—the QA team—is extremely reliable and supportive. I feel very comfortable reaching out to anyone, even during this unusual time of remote work. I didn’t have this kind of supportive environment at my previous company.
Q: What would you do for a career if you weren’t doing this?
A: When I was young, I wanted to be an astronaut. I used to look out the window up at the sky and tell my parents I have superpowers and could fly up to space at night. My family has a recording of me somewhere putting my hands on my forehead yelling “I’m flying! I’m flying!”
Q: If you could learn a new skill in 10 minutes, what would it be?
A: I’ve lived by myself for two years and I still don’t know how to cook. I know how to do eggs and basic stuff, but if I could master becoming a chef in 10 minutes, I would totally do it. Even baking would be great!
Q: If you could have dinner with anyone (living or dead) who would it be, and where would you eat?
A: My grandmother. I didn’t get a chance to grow up with a grandmother figure in my life due to our family’s immigration challenges. Everyone always tells stories about their grandmother’s cookies and such, but I never had experiences or memories like that.
As for where—we’d eat on her porch. She lived in a small town outside of Acapulco, Guerrero, and her porch overlooks a river. It would be so wonderful to sit down with her and ask her questions, like “What was my mother like as a teenager?”
Q: What advice would you give 15-year-old Ximena?
A: Be curious about everything and keep learning. Have the willingness to be open-minded. I feel like that attitude has helped me get through a lot. I believe it’s so important to have the heart to love people regardless of their background or where they come from. Really get to know people.
Q: Do you have any interests or hobbies that might surprise people?
A: Traveling around the U.S. My goal is to visit all 50 states, I have been to 31 so far.
Q: Top 5 songs for your road trip playlist?
- Viva la vida – Coldplay
- Mi Gente – J Balvin
- Riptide – Vance Joy
- Faded – Alan Walker
- I like me better – Lauv
Rapid Fire Round
Q: Pineapple or watermelon?
Q: Night owl or early riser?
A: Night owl
Q: Spiders or snakes?
Q: Time machine or magic wand?
A: Magic wand
Q: Superman or Batman?