By Bob Rhubart
August 8, 2019
It may have been inevitable that Ix-Chel Ruiz would become a coder. “My father was a computer engineer,” says Ruiz, “so I grew up surrounded by equipment.” That equipment included a Commodore 64 with a tape drive, the computer on which Ruiz, then 11 years old, wrote her first code. “It was kind of a toy for me.” That “toy” would change her life, take her from Mexico to England to Switzerland to the US, and land her in a career she once described as “a mix off firefighter, miracle worker, and superman.”
Growing up in Mexico City, Ruiz was inquisitive, and her father encouraged that curiosity. Computer classes in high school helped to feed Ruiz’ interest in coding, which continued as she entered college in 1995 at the Monterey Institute of Technology, “home of one of the largest computer science laboratories in Latin America,” Ruiz explains. She worked part time as a system administrator in that lab as part of her scholarship.
“At that time, I was already hooked into open source,” Ruiz says. “So, we also gave workshops for installing Linux. I was teaching new students how to install the first version of Linux.”
After graduation in 2002, Ruiz moved on to a company where she worked on 3D modeling and animation. From there she moved to London for a brief stint at a company that developed software that tracked customer behavior for marketing campaigns.
2007 found Ruiz in the US, in the Bay Area, where she did consulting work for a number of small companies. While in the US, Ruiz and her husband Andreas, also a developer, started to get involved in developer community events and user groups.
But as much as Ruiz enjoyed the community engagement, public speaking was definitely not in her comfort zone.
“You cannot believe how difficult for me it is just to speak to people!” says Ruiz. “It’s horrible for me being in front of an audience, and—it is still one of the most terrifying things. This doesn’t come naturally to me by any means.”
Initially Ruiz and her husband copresented sessions at a number of events, including seven JavaOne conferences, but a conversation with one of the organizers of Q-Con Brazil inspired Ruiz to do more. The organizer mentioned that he was concerned about how few women were involved in computer science courses where he attended college, concerns Ruiz shared. “I totally understood and could relate with what he was voicing,” Ruiz says. She asked what was needed to change the situation. “He said we need more women role models.”
The Oracle Groundbreaker Ambassador program recognizes modern experts who blog; write articles; and give presentations on topics such as containers, microservices, SQL, NoSQL, open source technologies, machine learning, and chatbots. Learn more and follow the Oracle Groundbreaker Ambassadors.
Motivated by that comment, Ruiz presented her first solo session at Q-Con London in 2017. The presentation went well, and she received positive feedback.
Ruiz sees her participation in developer conferences and user groups—as a speaker and as an attendee—as critical in her evolution as a developer. “You get exposed to new ideas and different opinions. You can also track trends. Of course you can read blogs, magazines, books, and so on, but when you have the human component and people talking about what they are passionate about, it’s always more interesting,” Ruiz says. “Presenters acquire data, distill knowledge, and then when they share it in a way that they understood it, it’s perfect.”
Sharing expertise and experience is key to the confirmations Ruiz has earned as both an Oracle Groundbreaker Ambassador and a Java Champion. And although she enjoys those roles, for her it all still comes down to the work.
“We have tremendous computers today and the opportunity to provide ad hoc computing power to whatever problem we want to solve,” she explains. “So for me, yes, it’s really nice to try to solve the most incredible puzzles, but it’s also important to help the larger population to be able to use their computing power. So that means sometimes I’m helping to create tools, such as plugins for publishing things to the cloud.”
For those considering a career in software development, Ruiz says, “This is a perfect time to start. It’s very rewarding. You will always face really interesting challenges, and it’s an opportunity to change lives by steering the technology.”
And maybe, in the process, change your own life.
READ Ix-Chel’s blog.
WATCH Ix-Chel’s interview.
Photography by Darrin Vanselow/Getty Images