My Advice to STEM professionals “take risks and speak up”
Maria C. Villar began her career in technology after graduating with her B.Sc. in computer sciences and adding dual graduate degrees, MBA and MIS. With more than 25 years as a technology executive and Chief Data Officer, Maria currently advises SAP customers managing their own business data.
Latin Business Today caught up with successful technology executive Maria C. Villar and asked her about her life and career and if she had any advice to offer other professionals.
LBT: Can you share with our readers a bit of information about your early life?
Villar: I was born in Cuba and immigrated to the US at the age of 2 years, landing in and then growing up in Miami, Florida.
My parents were strong, courageous, honest people. My dad spent 6 years in a Cuban jail for defying Castro’s communist regime. My mom came to the US right after my father was incarcerated, at his urging, so that we could be in a free country. My mom was just 24 years old with 2 small girls. For the first year she raised us alone while working 2 jobs. My grandparents were able to join us 1 year later, but it was 6 years before my dad was able to join us in Miami.
When I was young I dreamed of attending MIT, but we couldn’t afford it. I went to Florida International University for my B.Sc. in Computer Science and then attended the University of Miami Graduate school for my dual MBA, MIS degrees. I am very proud to have been the first in my family to earn a graduate degree.
In my career as an executive in technology I work with MIT on a regular basis. It has been one of my greatest professional accomplishments to fulfil that MIT dream, albeit in a different way than I had planned.
LBT: Please describe your career as a STEM professional and your interests outside of your career.
Villar: I have worked for 25+ years in Data Management, including as a Chief Data Officer. Currently, I advise SAP (System Application and Products in Data Processing) customers on managing their most important business data.
As a STEM professional (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) I use my technical expertise to solve business problems. One of the reasons I pursued my MBA was to gain more insights into the business side of business.
Early in my career, I read lots of leadership books to gain different perspectives on the topic and formulate my own leadership style. As a leader in technology I believe if you want to be a great leaders you should paint a vision of the future and then motivate your team to do more than they believe they can do. You also have to be prepared to walk the walk you talk and model the behavior you expect from others.
It is also important to give back to the community and I look for opportunities to provide mentoring, sponsoring, sharing knowledge and ‘pulling up’ other Hispanics looking for new opportunities.
When I am not working I love to cook. Especially during the pandemic, my kitchen was my ‘happy place’. I like the comfort foods like picadillo, boliche. RICE!
Luckily, I also like to exercise, I jog, bicycle and Zumba every week. It keeps me healthy and sane! When I find time to relax I like to relax reading my cooking magazines!
LBT: What lessons have you learned and what advice can you offer to other Latin and Hispanic professionals?
Villar: I believe it is important to take risks in your career. Early in your career don’t wait to have all the experience you need to take a bigger job, you have to remember to believe in yourself and your capabilities.
I also advise others to speak up – this is especially true for Latin women as we were taught to respect elders and don’t always speak up. But in the business world you have a voice and an opinion to share. It took me a while to gain that courage – but then I was unstoppable. One piece of advice I would offer my younger self would learn to negotiate effectively, salary, next position and in your personal life.
The other advice I would offer is to remember to stand up for your beliefs. I admire people who have the courage to stand up for their beliefs, even if oftentimes you pay a strong personal price, like my father did when he spent 6 years in a Cuban jail for standing up for his beliefs and the brave citizens of the Ukraine.
LBT: Finally, do you have a motto or quote you would like to share?
Maria: Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations – it’s a plaque on my desk that I look at every day.