TRANSFORMATION STORY

Mother. Daughter. DREAMer. And now an Engineer at Spotify.

 
Erika as a little girl growing up in Mexico

Erika as a little girl growing up in Mexico

 

Published September 4, 2019

When Erika crossed the border from Mexico into the United States with her mother and little sisters at the age of 10, she was living in poverty. For a time, she slept on the floor of the hair salon where her father swept hair. She couldn’t take a proper shower.

So as a child, Erika set her eyes on learning. All she ever wanted to do was go to college and get her degree—a way out of her situation and into a better life.

“That was my dream ever since I came to this country,” said Erika.

 
 

With her goal set, Erika kept going back to her high school college counselor’s office in search of advice. She had straight As; she was a model student. But as a DREAMer, she was grasping for options. Were there any scholarships she could win? Loans she could apply for? Financial aid? Anything she could do to get into college and earn her degree.

Unfortunately for Erika, there were no viable paths to take: She couldn’t pay upfront for college, she wasn’t eligible for loans or scholarships. Instead, Erika, who had scooped ice cream since she was 14 to help support her family, just kept working.

 

Erika is not alone: almost 70 percent of Americans do not have college degrees. Most of them are stuck in dead-end jobs with little hope of increasing their wages or moving up in their careers. Without a college degree, an individual can expect to live at or below the poverty line. For many families, the American Dream is out of reach.

“The doors to my dream were closed. I ended up giving up on college. At the time, I thought to myself: I’m just going to work now. This is it. This is my life.” 

Without any options, she felt invisible. She struggled with anxiety and was so depressed that she skipped her high school graduation.

She continued to work one low-wage job after another: cashier at a children’s clothing store; waitress at a diner; receptionist at an insurance office. She got a little breathing room after she turned the receptionist gig into a full-time role as an insurance agent. Still, it wasn’t the life or career she wanted.

That was until she found out about Pursuit from a news segment on Univision. A self-described “creative soul,” Erika loved the idea of becoming a software developer. And with the financial hurdles she faced, she loved the idea of being able to access Pursuit’s training without paying upfront. 

 
 
Erika (left), her younger sisters, and her dad

Erika (left), her younger sisters, and her dad

Erika entered Pursuit’s intensive training program in 2018. Less than a year later, she accepted a job as an associate software engineer at Spotify.

To mark this milestone, Erika rang the Pursuit gong—a ritual that celebrates our Fellows getting their first jobs and the start of their careers. During her speech, she remembered her father and his journey to the United States in search of a better life for his wife and three daughters. Exactly a year had gone by since he passed away.

“The day after he died was the day of our entrance test at Pursuit,” she recalled. “My sister and I didn’t know if we could do it. But I know he would’ve wanted us to seize this opportunity. This is what he wanted for us. He wanted us to be the best versions of ourselves, to keep on going, to have faith.”

 
 

Now an associate developer as part of Spotify's NYC Technology Fellowship Program, she’s finally realized her dream. She hopes to give her daughters the same opportunity that her father gave her—to open doors that were closed to her for so much of her life.

 
 

“I still have to pinch myself. This is real. This is no longer a dream. I have so much to look forward to—for my kids, my family, and my future.”

 
Erika before her job interview at Spotify.

Erika before her job interview at Spotify.

Building a bright future for her family

Building a bright future for her family

 

 
 

Erika’s celebratory gong ceremony