Capital One Tech Leaders Inspiring Hispanic Technologists
October 23, 2019
Year over year, it would seem that the technology industry is adding jobs in the United States like never before. Yet, Hispanics have long been underrepresented in the industry, according to an April 2019 New York University study, with only three to five percent representation at the executive level. Capital One’s Dave Castillo (MVP and Leader of the Center for Machine Learning) and Mike Garcia (VP of Stability and Site Reliability Engineering) are helping to combat challenges, celebrate successes, and inspire other Hispanics within the industry.
This year, the Hispanic Information Technology Executive Council (HITEC) Leadership — an organization whose mission is to celebrate and increase Hispanic executive representation in technology — has honored both Dave and Mike for working hard to develop the next generation of leaders. Here, they shared stories of how they are helping to inspire other Hispanics and maintain Capital One as an inclusive place for all associates.
With a strong statistical modeling, deep learning and explainable AI background, Dave has worked at many large technology-focused companies where the Human Resources department was the singular channel to broach the topic of diversity and inclusion. But once Dave came to Capital One, he immediately saw that diversity and inclusion was embedded into the company culture.
“Diversity and inclusion are so ingrained into everyday work, including how we manage, recruit, and look for opportunities with potential partners,” Dave says. "I love that we have this lens because it gives opportunities — especially for young people — who are looking at places to work. Capital One gives them a chance at a fair and competitive landscape where they can begin and continue or find a path for their technology career.”
Having now been at Capital One for more than a year, Dave works to develop supervised, unsupervised, and deep learning ML solutions across several use cases within Capital One. He is also an advocate for responsible and fair artificial intelligence practices, partnering with a range of different academic and industry players to advance the field of explainability and fairness in financial services. In particular, the partnership has resulted in potential business use cases for more sophisticated machine learning and deep learning models that will better serve our customers and enhance business processes, including credit monitoring and anomaly detection, fraud detection, AML, forecasting transaction volume, and many other uses cases. Dave also aims to maintain the highest standards for explainability—in an ethical and fair way—as Capital One develops more advanced models for more use cases.
In his spare time, Dave mentors at high schools and colleges where he encourages students, particularly of Hispanic descent in rural areas similar to where he grew up, to fully embrace the courses made available for them.
At a time when 17 percent of all Hispanic Grade 8 students passed Algebra 1 nationally, according to a 2015-2016 U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights data, Dave’s executive status serves as an inspiration for young Hispanics to strive upwards.
“The importance of studying math is the main message I send,” Dave says. “The opportunities to have artificial (AI) and machine learning (ML) careers are rooted in that math foundation. You’ll be able to do a more effective job that way.”
Dave’s own love for math began as a young kid growing up in a copper mine town in southern Arizona, 40 miles from the Mexican border. The single-industry town kept his father employed at the mine, while his mother worked as a bookkeeper. His parents had the farsightedness to understand that the mines would one day become depleted so they steered Dave and his siblings to love math so that they could have distinct choices with their careers.
Now Dave offers the same advice to younger generations, pointing out that a math foundation could help people evolve more quickly with the fast-changing world of AI and ML.
“Rather than steer people towards computer science or engineering, I like to steer them towards mathematics,” Dave says. “With math, you can be an engineer, a business analyst, an econometrician, you have all of that available to you.”
“A lot of people don’t know about the opportunity so they give up before they even get started,” Dave says, pointing to words of wisdom given by a close friend who passed away.
“I live to make every day count.”
For much of his professional working career, Mike has considered himself “counterculture” in part due to forces beyond his control. Often one of a handful of Hispanic tech workers, Mike was cognizant of being an outsider trying to fit into a company’s culture — an analogy he likens to being a foreign substance triggering an immune system response.
“Something I’ve learned is that a culture will act to protect itself and survive,” Mike says. “When you come into an organization, you are the foreign substance in that culture. You have to become social, thoughtful, and make clear that you are meant to be there and then figure out how you fit best.”
Having built the muscle to adapt to changing work environments, Mike’s experience has made him a strong champion of bringing the authentic self to the workplace and making sure employees have a personal “why” for coming to work. As a tech executive, Mike oversees teams going through numerous iterations and exercises to ensure site resilience so that customers aren’t impacted by network and software issues.
“I’m proud of the engagement and specific trainings built around visualization that really helps make the invisible visible,” Mike says. “Things aren’t always the same at Capital One, but our teams have autonomy to do something different. Because of that, we create tools that allow us to make impacts across the board. We also hire people who are going to challenge the leadership, so that makes all the difference.”
As someone who grew up in a bicultural and bilingual household, Mike continues to make sure that his children see life through that lens. He and his family go to Mexico twice a year to ensure the family is steeped in both cultures. Additionally for the past four years or so, Mike has served as an inspirational speaker for English as a Second Language students attending northern Virginia-area high schools.
“When they hear my credentials and see me as someone who cares about them and gives them tips for success, it allows them to say ‘this is possible for me,” Mike says, explaining that rarely have his students been able to name a Hispanic leader who has made an impact in the last 100 years. “Who do they have to look at as role models? It’s really important that students have these data points of recognition for Hispanic leaders.”
During his speaking engagements with students, Mike provides three tips for future technologists:
Learn a programming language
Read up on the AI and ML disciplines
Learn cyber technologies — especially encryption — as this area will become more complex as you get into quantum computing
Through these mentor-mentee relationships, Mike says that he wants to leave students with the gift of knowing who they are and are on track to becoming future leaders who are authentic, empathetic, and logical. Most of all, he hopes that his presence serves as a physical embodiment that differences make people stronger.
“Enjoy the fact that you’re a beautiful human being and your differences are the very things that make you stronger,” he says.