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Transformational Power of Technology | Gracie Arenas Strittmatter

Hispanic Heritage Foundation

Welcome to, Transformational Power of Technology, a new series at HHF where we speak with Latinos in Tech who have been placed into jobs or internships after joining our Latinos on Fast Track (LOFT) and Code as a Second Language (CSL) network. The power of technology is a force like no other, a part of everyday lives and the means of constant communications across the globe. 

Next up is Gracie Arenas Strittmatter, Technical Art Director at BioWareShe gave advice for other students on leveraging her relationship with HHF and tips for other professionals in the workplace. This is what she said. 

What do you have to say about team management, especially that you work in a collaborative and creative environment?

I am currently working on a team of nine individuals who support animation tools and workflows on our recently-revealed project at BioWare, called Anthem.  Although my team is based in Edmonton, Canada, a few of us (including myself) work remotely from Austin, Texas and another from Vancouver, Canada.  In fact, my manager is in Edmonton!  As you can surmise, there is a lot of communication that needs to happen daily between our studios, and we are separated by thousands of miles, so this makes for a lot of interesting challenges to ensure that everyone is on the same page.  In my role as Technical Art Director, I must make sure that we are developing our art and animation tools according to the same standard between studios.

An important part of the day-to-day role of a technical artist is to be a very good communicator, and if your team and the artists/animators (the “customers”) you work with are in one location, this is simpler to accomplish because you can have organic one-on-one conversations, visit people at their desks, and get to know others on a personal basis.  However, when the team is separated geographically and covers three different time zones, I’ve found I must consciously work harder on that communication component to make sure that the team is cohesive, well-informed on developments, involved in key decisions, and tasks are effectively accomplished.  I do this daily through Skype and email, and our team meets at least three mornings a week to provide updates on our work.  I haven’t yet perfected my communication, but I continue to work on it every day to make it stronger and produce better results for my team.

What advice do you have for other people and women getting into a role similar to yours?

Be passionate about what you do.  I’m a woman and a minority.  I’ve been outnumbered many times in my life.  I never let that deter me from obtaining a degree in Computer Science or entering a field where I could use my creative and technical abilities.  Attend conferences and get involved clubs and special interest groups like ACM SIGGRAPH or IGDA and find people who share and support your passion.  Grow your network and make connections.  Identify someone you admire and approach them to be your mentor.  This is what really matters.

Furthermore, the makeup of a group you might potentially work with shouldn’t influence your desire to make a difference.  I think that sometimes people get uncomfortable because they’re not going to be a part of a team that has individuals exactly like them, or they fear exclusion.  The truth is that we get a lot more done with group diversification.  We need diversification to push humanity forward.  We need to have different opinions and ideas to stir creativity and innovation and create content that really pushes technological boundaries.  But we can’t do that when we are crippled by fear and imposter syndrome or stick to groups that are uniform.  We need to step up and face this challenge head-on by showing up and being a part of the change so that we can inspire others to do the same.

What is your favorite part of your recent promotion to Technical Art Director?  

I enjoy being a bigger advocate for technical artists here at my studio in terms of what they need to be productive and be the best versions of themselves that they can be.  I’m deeply committed to helping them find ways to grow personally and professionally, and I’m excited for the opportunity to do this.

What tips do you have for others on how to deal with constructive criticism?

I think one of the most important things to keep in mind is that everyone has an opinion.  You can look at constructive criticism one of two ways: you can see it as an opportunity for you to grow personally, or you can be offended and let it hinder your personal development.  I think it is always best to look at it from a growing and learning perspective. The person giving you constructive criticism may not be delivering it in the right spirit or in a way that speaks to you, so first try to understand the feedback from their perspective.  What can you change or do differently?  It may also help to gather feedback from your manager or other people you work with (since these people will know you best) to help you better formulate a plan to make changes in your daily actions to address the criticism.

Working on these games for a long period of time, how does it feel seeing the finished product?

It’s always a great feeling.  I’ve been in the games industry for nine years now, and the exhilaration of seeing a finished product still hasn’t gotten old.  I grew up playing countless hours of video games with my brother, and I am constantly reminded through my work that I am giving that same kind of experience to people around the world.  The first game I worked on for a full development cycle—Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2010—was a representation of a year of hard work and the first time I had given the very best of my skills to contribute to a professional product that people everywhere enjoyed.  I was beside myself to see my name in the credits.  Each title I’ve worked on thereafter—NBA Live, Madden, Star Wars: The Old Republic—has been like this.  With Anthem, I’ll have worked on it well over 2½ years before it comes out, so there is a deep sense of appreciation for all the hard work that goes into it, the technical challenges overcome, and the hundreds of people who are involved in getting it out the door, but also gratitude for the people who are going to sit down on their couches and enjoy every minute of it.  To be able to give others that experience is thrilling.

Who has been your biggest role model?

My father was a very integral part of me going into technology.  He came from a single-parent household at the poverty level and despite the odds overcame many obstacles.  He became the first in his family to obtain a college degree (also going on to obtain a master’s), and went on to a very successful career as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, serving as a meteorologist and systems analyst.  He continues to cultivate a love of learning and inspires me to this day.  Because of him, I know that greatness is possible, and I became the first woman in my family to graduate with a 4-year college degree.  If it wasn’t for the unrelenting love and encouragement of my parents, I don’t know where I would be today.

How was your experience like leading a workshop at our 2017 LOFT Coder Summit at Stanford?

One of the immediate realizations I had at the Summit was the importance and value of bringing the Hispanic/Latino tech population together.  I’ve always been a minority, whether it was in my computer science classes or on game teams, and I hadn’t been surrounded by that many Hispanics and Latinos passionate about technology and computer science before. At the Summit, we were the majority.  To be in a room together was empowering, because it provided an immediate support and resource network for all involved.  Many, for the first time, realized that they were not alone.  It encouraged me personally to know that we were actively blazing a trail for Latinos to be an integral part of shaping the future of technology.

I led a workshop on navigating tech careers from junior to senior level, titled “Level Up!: Boosting Your Tech Career XP”.  What I learned was that a lot of Hispanic and Latinos need role models, they need people who are in various positions in tech to invest time and actively be a part of helping them shape their career paths. Students especially need encouragement and support to know that they CAN succeed in tech.  Those of us who are already in tech need to be committed to setting an example that people can look up to so that we can cultivate a network that will insure greater success of Hispanics and Latinos in tech in the future, for generations to come.

HHF’s CSL initiative provides opportunities across the country and opens its doors to everyone. Whether you are a CSL fellow, participate in our Bootcamps, Academies, Jams and or attend our LOFT Coder Summits, the opportunities in technology are endless! We’d love to chat. Contact us!

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