The household culture of encouraging education was the catalyst for Maritza Diaz’s success in STEM. She grew up in Ecuador with three siblings, with a father who encouraged education. “It will drive your future,” he’d say. But Maritza – without a role model in STEM, nor even a computer — hadn’t anticipated becoming a software engineer, never mind an influential tech executive who is now transforming the international digital workforce.
Today, Maritza is the CEO and co-founder of ITJuana, a San Diego-based company creating an innovation economy in Tijuana, Mexico by partnering with California businesses to develop world-class software engineering centers in Tijuana. Through cross-border collaboration, ITJuana is helping Luna and other San Diego companies expand their software teams and create centers of excellence.
With more than 25 years of experience in IT and software engineering, and with deep knowledge of tech innovation, Maritza is a member of the Forbes Technology Council, sits on the board of directors for the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco representing San Diego, and was named San Diego’s Business Journal’s 2021 CEO of the Year Rising Star.
In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we caught up with Maritza for her to share more about her life story, career journey, and how she became a world-class tech leader.
Hi Maritza. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us. Can you share a little about your life growing up as a young Maritza?
When I think about my life growing up, I can’t help but think of family and true happiness. I grew up in Ecuador; the third child of a very humble family. We didn’t really have a lot of material possessions but certainly, all of that was exponentially compensated for by the love and family support we had at home. My parents had to work very hard to ensure all their four kids had access to education. My dad would always tell me to go get an education because that will be the most precious possession I could ever have for my future — something he didn’t have access to when he grew up. I was really good at math and problem solving in general, growing up. So, I made the decision to pursue a computer science degree at the last minute during college course registration. Sometimes what you don’t plan are the things that work out for the best.
All my siblings and I eventually became engineers and hopefully made my parents very proud.
That’s impressive. I’m sure you made your parents proud. Even more so, that you’ve created what is considered to be one of the finest software organizations in the industry. Let’s talk about the inception of ITJuana. What compelled you to create such an innovative company?
ITJuana is all about generating new jobs for people who are hungry for new opportunities and who are very capable of delivering high value. Digital talent is in extremely high demand across the globe. All companies are now seeing digitalization as a core part of their business rather than a nice-to-have. This new reality has put a lot of pressure on digital talent attraction. ITJuana is solving the digital talent access problem for companies in the US by opening a new source of high-quality talent available in Latin America in a complementary time zone and at a fraction of the cost.
Luna is thrilled to be partnering with you for many reasons, especially your ability to find highly experienced team members who will help Luna continue to scale and expand its platform. What excites you most about working with Luna?
Your mission and products. The fact that Luna is touching people’s lives in a positive way is very attractive to me. Because of many years spent in the Biotech and Medical Device industries, I realize that I want to work on products with a mission, products that are impacting people’s lives, products that will transcend and become a legacy that we can be proud of.
Besides the product and the mission, I feel very connected with your values and priorities. The sense of building communities and bringing a diverse team together are some examples of the values that we share and that I am personally very passionate about. I truly believe we are uniquely positioned to achieve great results together.
In celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, what aspects of your heritage do you think have impacted the culture of your company?
I am a firm believer that one needs to know where they come from in order to understand what they want to become. Being a Latina in the US has been challenging and rewarding at the same time. I’ve seen firsthand the lack of representation of Latinas not only in the C-level suite but also in tech. Not having a role model in tech when I was growing up certainly limited my way of thinking and it took me many years to finally realize that I can do whatever I put my heart and mind to. I learned this on my own, but I wish it wouldn’t have taken me this long to get to where I am.
One of my goals with ITJuana is to empower the Latinx community to dream big, to believe they can achieve impossible goals. Through ITJuana, I am hoping to accelerate this process of achievement by providing opportunities for young talent, including students and graduates, to start a meaningful career very early and to have access to mentors and role models that they can lean on to achieve their career aspirations and work on meaningful products.
What one piece of advice would you give to others passionate about a career in a STEM field?
STEM, and particularly tech, is the future. COVID accelerated the need for companies to become digital and that generated tremendous opportunities and what I call, “jobs of the future.” Jobs that will solve very difficult problems through software, jobs that will be impacting people’s lives, and jobs that will generate economic growth in our region.
To all Latinxs out there — be smart, be thoughtful, be purposeful and join a career in tech today so that you can have an awesome future tomorrow.
Such great advice from such a prominent, influential leader. Lastly, what do you want your legacy to be?
I want to be remembered as someone who touched many people’s lives for the better.
“Remember where you came from,” was something my mother always told me growing up, too, and not only did it provide guidance towards finding my purpose, but it was also a reminder of the many lessons that came before me. Your story, especially your life growing up as young Maritza, was especially resounding and I appreciate you taking the time to share it with us in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. Thank you.
Head of Digital Engagement at Luna
ITJuana is devoted to serving fast-growing, high-value market sectors that contribute to the growth of the Cali Baja region. With a nearshore model, working with the highest quality software engineers, data scientists, and creative designers from across Mexico and Latin America, ITjuana enables companies to create world-class software engineering centers of excellence in Tijuana, MX. For more information visit www.itjuana.com
Luna’s suite of tools and services connects communities with researchers to accelerate health discoveries. With participation from more than 180 countries and communities advancing causes including disease-specific, public health, environmental, and emerging interests, Luna empowers these collectives to gather a wide range of data – health records, lived experience, disease history, genomics, and more – for research.
Luna gives academia and industry everything they need from engagement with study participants to data analysis across multiple modalities using a common data model. The platform is compliant with clinical regulatory requirements and international consumer data privacy laws.
By providing privacy-protected individuals a way to continually engage, Luna transforms the traditional patient-disconnected database into a dynamic, longitudinal discovery environment where researchers, industry, and community leaders can leverage a range of tools to surface insights and trends, study disease natural history and biomarkers, and enroll in clinical studies and trials.