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How To Lead By Example and Encourage Diversity in Tech Leadership
By Pete Torres
Pete Torres joined Capital One in 2009. He currently works in Finance Tech, supporting our Digital Transformation journey. His team focuses on Operational and Engineering Excellence—Compliance, Monitoring and Support enablement and acceleration. He has been married to his military sweetheart for over 20 years and they have 3 children. He loves his job at Capital One for the opportunities he gets to give back and continue to serve—his true passion.
As a child, I wanted to be just one thing when I grew up: My grandfather. He was a quiet giver, and a problem solver. He didn’t talk, he just did, and was always focused on solutions. It may have been a trait he picked up in the Army. I didn’t know much about his time in the service until after he passed away, but I knew I wanted to follow in his footsteps. So I joined, too. It was in the Army that I got my introduction to technology and saw firsthand how I could be solving problems and making the world an easier and better place. My grandfather inspired me to be a good leader, lead by example and solve problems for myself and those around me. He helped set me on the path to becoming a tech innovator and a leader in new spaces others hadn’t been.
Army training opened doors to tech
In the Army, I served as an intelligence analyst. Toward the end of my service, I was stationed in Europe. And it was while I was there that my fascination and desire to work in technology began, and it all started with a simple phone call. To connect with family back home, we used calling cards loaded with credits for “minutes,” which allowed us to make long distance calls. They were ridiculously expensive and I was trying to find other ways to chat with my family in New York. That’s when I began to understand the value of the internet.
In my work, we used video conferencing and I wondered if this same technology could be an easier, cheaper way to connect with my family. To test my theory, I bought a laptop and a video camera and opened up an AOL account. I tried out an app called NetMeeting, which allowed me to video conference, much like Zoom does today. After going home on leave to set up my parents’ computer with a camera and the required apps, I began video chatting with my parents from overseas. My mind was blown. Sure, I had used this technology during my job, but now I was using it in my personal life to stay close to my family from halfway across the globe. I was hooked on the world of tech from that point forward. The logic component, that cause and effect situation of “if you do y, then you get x” was exactly what I loved. It aligned very much with my thinking, approach and eagerness to understand the world around me.
Leading from the front and learning along the way
When I entered the professional world, I focused on fitting in and exploring tech. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t bringing my full self to the office. One thing we, as veterans, pride ourselves on is leading from the front (by example). And the first step towards becoming the leader I am today was being open and honest about being a veteran and how those experiences shaped me. I’m grateful to have been able to serve. I feel an unwavering appreciation for the discipline I learned in the Army, and the perspective, people, training and education, friendships, family and sense of community it gave me. All of these things shaped who I am and where I am today.
My life outside of the office is still heavily linked to my military ties and the bonds I made while serving in the Army. My wife is an Air Force veteran and my military sweetheart. We’ve been married for 20 years. She’s my biggest champion. Her unwavering faith that I could switch career fields kept me motivated to venture outside of military contracting to explore the tech field. I live each day aspiring to reach the limitless potential she sees in me.
We’re also surrounded by our military brethren, brothers and sisters we’ve served with. We even moved to the Washington D.C. area because of our military connections, our “chosen” family. We don’t just identify with the military, we are the military. But when I first entered the business world, I was hesitant to share my experiences as a disabled military veteran and discuss it openly in the office. I felt that it might not be something people would understand and I didn’t want to alienate anyone. But I couldn’t keep hiding that part of myself and my life, so I took a leap of faith.
The first step to fully owning my identity as a veteran was to talk about it to my coworkers and leaders and wear it as a badge of honor. The enthusiastic openness I felt from my team and leaders was a great comfort and made me feel supported and cared for. They invited me to speak and tell my story. It was humbling and an honor to know that others were willing to listen and hear my story. It also opened more doors for me to connect with others and take on leadership roles.
Sharing that I was a disabled veteran was another level of opening up about myself. After I began speaking about being a disabled veteran, it inspired me to take a leadership role in Salute, the military Business Resource Group at Capital One. I believed that if I could put aside my fear and concerns regarding oversharing, I could maybe, just maybe, make it easier for one of my brothers and sisters, or their spouses and family members, to feel more comfortable in their skin. Others helped me….it was time to pay it forward.
Embracing my role as a leader
A few years ago, I was asked to speak at an external event focused on disabled veterans. The conversation quickly “got real.” I found myself opening up about past events more than anytime before. Before I knew it, the panel discussion was over and I was meeting with people. The amount of appreciation I received for being open and honest was humbling. People shared with me how it was helpful to them to see someone who had gone through a difficult time come out the other side. These events helped me help others, and formed the foundation for my approach to leadership. I found that through common shared experiences, I could relate to people and help them find the courage to reach for more.
In addition to Salute, I’m also part of the leadership team for the Hispanics In Tech (HIT) Business Resource Group. When I first joined Capital One, there were no visible Hispanic Tech leaders standing out and speaking about their tech journey. I remember saying to myself, “I just haven’t met her/him yet.” Prior to HIT being officially launched, I would go to Hispanic conferences and meet leaders and other Hispanic people in Tech at Capital One as well. But I did not see a space for us all to connect in our everyday work. HIT has bridged the gap and brought Hispanic Tech associates together. It’s now growing and others don’t have to wonder where the Hispanic leaders are because they’re speaking up with me and sharing their stories. So much has changed over the last couple of years, and I look forward to working with/for some of the amazing new talent we’ve cultivated from our Hispanic community. Much like my military brethren, I feel committed and empowered to encourage a more diverse set of Tech associates and future technologists who’ll join the field.
Advice for the next wave of tech innovators
My children have been a huge inspiration and driving force in my leadership journey as well. My wife and I have a 14-year-old son and two daughters, ages 13 and 8. I want them to see others they can look up relate to, leaders in the field they can see themselves becoming. When I was looking around for other Hispanic leaders in Tech, there weren’t many I identified with. I felt compelled to step up so that my son wouldn’t one day find himself in the same place. If my son or daughters decide to pursue a career in Tech, I hope they have a diverse array of leaders they can relate to and draw inspiration from. My work with the BRGs is helping me take an active role in making that dream come true.
Several years ago, the Women In Tech BRG had a statewide effort in Virginia to teach young women to code. I had the privilege of leading the Fredericksburg regional event. Being a father of two amazing daughters, I jumped at the opportunity to take a leading role in bringing 100+ girls together for a coding event. Even though my daughters weren’t at the right age to participate, I shared every bit of the event with them, from planning to attending the day’s activities themselves. Being at the event helped my daughters to understand that tech is a career path they can explore and grow in. Most importantly, they had the opportunity to see other leaders who looked like them and hear the leaders talk about their thriving careers and ample opportunities in tech. It’s one of my proudest moments in my Capital One chapter, and something I’m reminded of even to this day when I run into participants from the event who are also friends of my son.
When I think about what advice I would give to someone considering a career in tech, my response is always DO IT! Why not? Tech is everywhere. Feed your own curiosity and the yearning to explore. There are so many different aspects and applications of tech that you can dabble in and try out. It doesn’t even have to be in a professional setting. Take a class on coding, learn how to use a new program, get familiar with a process and how a piece of technology can streamline it. Dare to understand the world around you and how tech is a huge part of it.
Remember also that there’s quite a bit wrapped up in “tech.” Don’t be intimidated or think that everything is “coding” and you have to spend your days programming things. To be a technologist and to truly understand any technology, there’s so much more than coding. I’m confident there’s always something that aligns to your passion because technology is everywhere. You just have to be prepared to peel back the layers of the onion and find that core focus that excites and inspires you.
And if there was one message I’d hope people will take away from my story, it’s that you can always use your experiences and your unique perspective to lead and inspire others. If you’re the first person like you to try something, don’t be afraid to use your voice to help others find their calling in the field or concentration. You can be the advocate for others like you and the inspiration that helps them feel confident and capable to tackle anything they set their minds to. I get inspiration from everyone in my life, whether it’s the amazing people I’ve had the privilege to work for and with, or the people I’ve been fortunate enough to help on their personal and professional growth and development journey. I’m thankful for everyone whose paths have crossed with mine. No matter the situation, these instances inspire me to be a better version of myself tomorrow. I am always learning and growing along with those I help and lead.
Read more about how Capital One supports its military associates here.
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