At 17, Daniela Castro made one of the toughest decisions she’s ever made: to leave her family behind in Ecuador to pursue a degree in computational mathematics at the University of Waterloo in Canada.
But that move opened up many doors for Castro’s career in tech, including a variety of different internships working at both startups and medium-sized companies. But it was a summer internship at Intuit that had the most impact—it led to a full-time job as a software engineer when she finished her degree.
“I had always wondered how a large publicly owned company like Intuit works, so when I got the offer, I accepted it right away,” she says.
As a Latinx engineer, Castro hopes to be an example for girls and young women who are interested in studying and working in STEM fields. “It takes determination to make it in the industry, and I want to show that success is possible if you work hard and ask for what you deserve, even if you struggle along the way,” says Castro, who is working to build a community through @latina_codes on Instagram.
Here, she talks about why she got into tech in the first place, how her internship experiences have helped her find success, and advice for those starting out in their careers.
Tell us about your journey into tech and why you pursued it as a career.
It all started with my love for math. In middle school, my parents switched me to an American school so I could learn English. I wasn’t really happy, it was a new environment, and I couldn’t understand any classes—except math. Math was my comfort zone, so I pursued it, got into more advanced classes all the way until my junior year, and started looking for degrees that involve math.
My parents also knew software development was going to become the next big thing, and hoped I would get into it. During my junior year, I reached out to my computer teacher and asked if she could open an AP computer science class, which would be more affordable than taking one online. By my first project, I knew that tech was it: I had been coding for five hours nonstop and didn’t even realize it. That was a good sign.
How did you land an internship at Intuit? How was your interview process?
I interviewed with several big companies and although some went really well, one left me doubting myself and scared of technical interviews. Right after that one, I interviewed with Intuit. My confidence was low so I wasn’t expecting too much, but my interviewer had this Zoom beach background with waves and he was welcoming and easy to talk to, which made all the difference. The interview went great; his questions were clear, and he gave me feedback and supported me while doing multiple challenges.
What was your internship experience like at Intuit, and what made you want to pursue a full-time role there afterward?
My internship experience was fun, and I was really impressed by those in charge of the program. Even though it was fully remote, they planned virtual activities for us to get to meet each other, like paint nights, challenges, and learning events.
My team was great. It was the first time I got to work with a Latina engineer, who was my manager for the internship. I was also paired with a buddy who was always available to help me out and guide me through a huge codebase. Overall the people cared, owned their work, and showed up, which is what made me want to stay at Intuit. I knew it was an environment where I could learn and grow.
What was the transition like to your current role?
When I joined full time, I moved to a new team that was formed last year, so it felt like I was starting over at Intuit again. Later, I realized I felt confident asking questions and working on some code in the first week because I knew what the product was about, I knew the insights of the process to deploy, and I wasn’t scared of all the acronyms we use (there are a lot). I knew who to ask for something and who could help me get more involved. I was assigned a great buddy I already knew and wasn’t scared to ask them simple questions.
What skills did you learn during your internship that you still use today?
Being able to ask the right questions so that you can share your knowledge with others and help everyone grow is one of the most important skills I learned during my internship. I was really interested in how such a big company communicates so I got into understanding the documentation, how to approach writing pull requests, and where to look for help, which has allowed me to move up faster as a full-timer.
How does Intuit help nurture and develop young talent, and what has helped you grow in your career here so far?
Intuit has amazing programs for young talent. I can access courses on a variety of topics for my personal and professional growth. There are also many other resources to help with the transition to full-time work, like Udemy access and O’Reilly Online Learning. The Udemy courses have helped me understand a lot of new concepts about front-end development, which are constantly changing and evolving and are very different from when I interned at Intuit. Finally, I’ve had many meetings with more senior employees to help me understand the possible paths of growth at Intuit.
Tell us about your interest in the Tech Women @ Intuit program. Why do you think initiatives like this one are so important to a company’s culture?
I think it all comes back to representation. As I mentioned before, my first manager at Intuit was a Latina and it made my experience so much better. The program opens doors for so many others and really levels the playing field. It provides a comfort zone to women in need of a stronger connection at the workplace, and it connects great minds.
How important is it to gain internship experience in engineering? How has it benefited you in your career?
Engineering is evolving faster than ever, and it is difficult to learn exactly what you will be working on as a full-time employee. An internship will open so many doors, and sometimes it’s not even because of the tools you learned but because you’ll learn how to work in that certain environment.
Even if it’s not an internship in engineering, you’ll still benefit. For example, you can learn from different industries, customers, and use cases in a real-world market. Take the risk when you are young.
What advice do you have for interns just starting out in their careers?
Don’t be shy and talk to people at the company. You will never know how much value a small coffee chat will bring to your experience during an internship. For me, it helped me understand the value I could bring to the company with a small project. And you’ll make great friends who can help you in your future professional endeavors!