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2021 Hispanic Heritage Month Pt. 3: A Celebration of Hispanic Heritage and Hope

Did you know, the timing of Hispanic Heritage Month coincides with the Independence Day celebrations of several Latin American nations?

At McAfee Enterprise, we’re celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month by recognizing some of our amazing employees and asking them about their heritage and the impact it had on their career and journey to cybersecurity. Read my conversation with Zuly Gonzalez below on how her family and culture have impacted her career.

What do you enjoy most about your heritage and what is one of your favorite memories growing up?

My parents moved to mainland US when I was young. During the summers, we’d go on vacation to Puerto Rico and one of my fondest memories growing up are the plane flights to/from Puerto Rico. This was before 9/11, when flying wasn’t what it is today. My sisters and I would keep ourselves entertained playing games. It was an adventure for us and the highlight was always a warm chicken or pasta meal.

What family traditions did you have growing up?

We had two Christmas celebrations, which as a kid, you can’t ask for anything better! We celebrated Christmas on the 25th, which was the big event where we got most of our presents. Then on January 6 we’d celebrate “Día de Reyes” (Three Kings Day) where we would get a few more presents.

What are the three most important things that people should know about your culture?

I’d say three things that are central to Puerto Rican culture are: family, God, and passion/hard work. Puerto Ricans believe in traditional family values. Religion plays an important part in our culture. And the Puerto Rican passion is hard to understate. I have to be careful, because a lot of times my passion leads me to speak very loudly, which can sometimes be misinterpreted by non-Hispanics as anger or aggression, when in fact, it’s just excitement. I saw a T-shirt recently that said, “I’m not yelling. I’m Puerto Rican.” This is so true!

Describe your favorite traditional dish, and how it was prepared. Who usually prepared it for family meals?

One of my favorite dishes growing up, because we didn’t have it often, was sancocho. It’s a rich, comfort soup made with root vegetables and other starchy vegetables common in Puerto Rico. Ingredients include ñame, yautia, pana, papas, platanos, guineos, maiz, and batatas, among other things. A few of the ingredients are hard to find in the US, and when you do find them, are expensive, so we didn’t have it often growing up. But when my mom did make it, it was always a treat!

How have Hispanic individuals helped contribute to where you are today in life and career?

My parents were by far the biggest influence in my life. They taught me that I could be and do anything I wanted in life. They didn’t set limits for what I could achieve and taught me that with hard work anything is possible.

I followed my father’s footsteps by pursuing a career in STEM and attending the same university he attended. In fact, thinking about it now as I answer this question, I think that even more so than my mom, my dad had the biggest influence on who I am today as an individual. He shaped a lot of my personality, my beliefs, and a lot of the decisions I’ve made in my life, both personally and professionally.

Tell us about your journey to a career in technology and how your heritage played a role to where you are today?

Family values are very important in Puerto Rican culture. My dad was a math teacher and growing up he was always ready to help me with my homework. During the summer trip to Puerto Rico before I graduated high school, we took a tour of the university my dad went to. I ended up going to that university, which set me on the path to where I am today in my career. I obtained a degree in Computer Engineering and a co-op opportunity (similar to an internship) at NSA. NSA led me to a career in cybersecurity. At NSA I met Beau Adkins, who later turned into my partner in life and in business. Beau and I founded Light Point Security, which ultimately led us to McAfee Enterprise. But it all started with my parents. Without my parents’ motivation, support, and ultimate push to attend the University of Puerto Rico, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

As the country continues to grow more diverse, what advice would you give to young Hispanic individuals interested in starting a career in cybersecurity?

Same advice I’d give any young person interested in any career path. That is – look for ways to learn outside of a traditional school setting. Getting a hands on experience is so important. First, it shows initiative and passion. Second, to use an analogy: Reading and memorizing a cooking recipe, and even knowing the history behind each ingredient, isn’t necessarily going to translate into a delicious meal, it takes practice. Practice with the equipment, practice with the ingredients, and sprinkle in your own creativity to make an expert dish. One that people will pay money for!