Criseida Rico, founder of #WhatSheTechs

Giving women a voice in a male-dominated industry is not only Criseida’s passion, but also her business.

Criseida Rico’s On My Way story as recorded in 2017

Growing up in South Carolina, Criseida Rico had an amazing role model: her mother. “She’s always been the person who uplifted not only me but other women in the community,” she says. As a child, Criseida remembers joining her mother to help other local Latin American families who didn’t have necessary resources or someone to translate for them. She knew empowering others was important, but she didn’t know that someday it would be her career.

Realizing the dream…

When it was time for Criseida to head to college — the first in her family to do so — she picked marketing as her major. Coupling her degree with her love of fashion, she decided that after graduation from the Art Institute in Charlotte, NC, she would pack up and move to Manhattan.

But, she hesitated to make that leap. Criseida stayed in Charlotte for two years, working for a high-end fashion label and learning the ropes of retail. After two years she was tired of retail and wanted to pursue her true dream of working in fashion design. “New York was something that I wanted to achieve and I decided, OK, if I’m going to make it to New York, obviously I need a job lined up,” she says. “I started applying like crazy.”

Her intensive search paid off: She scored a position at an ecommerce startup and really took to the industry. “I started to learn about the power of ecommerce,” she says. She realized retail has a technological side she knew nothing about — but loved. “I just wanted more of it. I started reading about entrepreneurs that were starting publishing platforms or selling items online and how they achieved success.”

After almost three years in New York, Criseida was still searching for a feeling of creative fulfillment — and she wasn’t saving any money on her costly Manhattan rent. “I felt like I was just contributing to a very small percentage of something great, and I decided to go back home,” she says. With no job, no car, and a depleted savings account, she took a chance to reclaim her sense of purpose and started over with a clean slate in Charlotte.

“If one woman’s story is able to reach just a few girls, then I think that could ignite a beautiful change in the world.”

… And rethinking the dream

Criseida took a job at a software company and quickly learned — as the only woman in the office — that the tech industry as a whole lacked the presence of women. “After being there for a year, it became very frustrating not having my ideas taken seriously by the guys.” She knew she couldn’t be the only woman working in tech to feel like this. So, she went online in search of solutions.

To her surprise, what she was looking for didn’t exist. In that moment, the idea of #WhatSheTechs was born. “#WhatSheTechs is an online community that empowers women to pursue careers in technology,” explains Criseida. It’s a place where women can go to be inspired, exchange ideas, connect with mentors, and read interviews with women who have positions in well-known tech companies. “If one woman’s story is able to reach just a few girls, then I think that could ignite a beautiful change in the world,” she says.

Outside of #WhatSheTechs, Criseida also volunteers as a mentor for a nonprofit organization dedicated to the success of young Latin American women. “I see myself in them,” she says. “I want them to go to college and get the education that they need to be independent — to provide for themselves without having to rely on a boyfriend or a husband.”

Making it as an entrepreneur

Criseida has funded #WhatSheTechs on her own, through income from freelance gigs and occasional retail shifts. She’s also become conscientious about watching her bank account. “I’m really good at budgeting,” she says. “I do things like cooking at home as much as I can versus eating out, because that racks up a pretty hefty bill.”

And like anyone without “a traditional 9-to-5 gig with a 401(k),” she’s mindful about saving for her future — while being satisfied in her career. “I always think, OK, what if this absolutely fails? What am I going to do? But I think we all have one life to live. If I know this is my passion and my purpose, then I’m going to pursue it, because I don’t want any regrets as I get older.”

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