Karen Rodriguez La Paz was born in the Dominican Republic. She lived there until she was ten years old, when she moved to the Bronx in New York City with her family. Her upbringing in a diverse environment and the challenges she faced shaped her life, teaching her to be resilient and persistent. She credits her past for helping her find her life's purpose—"to be able to give back and make the community better."
Hard-working and dedicated, Karen fills multiple roles that help her fulfill her purpose. She is the founder and CEO of Code in Color, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to improving tech education for students of color. According to their website, Code in Color's mission "is to transform the tech sector by creating inclusive and racially equitable technical and professional development for Black and Brown young adults."
In addition to her duties at Code in Color, Karen works as the Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Purple. She describes one part of her job as "ensuring that everyone feels like this brand is for them, because everyone deserves a good night's sleep." As if these two jobs weren't enough to keep someone busy, she is also the Head of Marketing and Communications for the Utah Black Chamber, "the largest organization in the state that is focused primarily on the advancement both professionally and personally of Black people."
It's clear that Karen believes in the importance of increasing racial equity in all areas, especially tech. The question is, what motivates her to dedicate her life to this mission? The long answer includes a lot of factors: places she lived, people she met, her work in politics, etc. The short answer: her family.
Karen Rodriguez La Paz comes from a family of tech pioneers. Her grandmother was one of the first women in the Dominican Republic to study computer science at her university in 1972. Her father also studied computer science and instilled in her the understanding that technology was the future. She expresses gratitude for her family and all that they taught her about tech: "I recognize that there are a lot of people that have never been exposed to [the importance of leveraging technology] because they don't have the same story that I have. We need to make sure we find a way to introduce people to that story and help create a new story for them."
But, her gratitude for her parents goes beyond their interest in technology. They were immigrants who faced challenges like homelessness and poverty, and worked incredibly hard to support their family. Their dedication and work ethic is ultimately what motivates Karen most. She shares, "When I start to feel a little lazy I think two things. Number one, these people were able to do it with nothing in their pockets. And number two, how resilient we are."
She works hard; what exactly is she working to accomplish? Karen wants to ensure that people from marginalized groups understand the power of STEM so that they can have the motivation and courage to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of increasing equity. The first step to getting students interested in coding is helping them understand that they can create things they love (e.g., games and apps). The second step is more impactful. Karen wants kids to understand that the beauty of coding, especially AI, is that students can "teach a computer how to see the world the way [they] see the world." She notes that creating a more inclusive society is not dependent solely on politicians; tech empowers everyone to make an impact.
One phrase that she shared best sums up what Karen Rodriguez La Paz believes and wants everyone (parents, teachers, companies, governments, schools, etc.) to understand: "By introducing [students] to STEM education early on, you are introducing them to this idea that they can change the world."