Alum Spotlight: Rosario Arias

We spoke with Rosario Arias (‘87), a seasoned professional in the tech industry, to discuss her remarkable journey from pioneering online banking in the ’80s to navigating today’s rapidly evolving AI landscape. With a background in computer science from UVM, Rosario reflects on the invaluable lessons she learned as an international student and the collaborative spirit that defined her early career. As a woman of color in a field historically lacking diversity, she shares her strategies for overcoming imposter syndrome and emphasizes the importance of seeking out opportunities for growth and mentorship.

Could you give me some background about yourself: name, pronouns, what you studied at UVM?
My name is Rosario Arias, and I’m she/her pronouns. I studied computer science with a minor in, what was called, Information Management from the Business School back in the ‘80s at UVM. Through the years, there’s been a decline in women participating in this career; however, my cohort had a lot of women in it back then. 

After graduation I worked as a programmer for a bank in Miami, FL and developing sort of what you would say is an online banking system for them without the internet existing yet. It was more of a snapshot where the customer would dial into their account and be able to see an image of their current transactions and balance every morning.  The thought existed as a concept for people to be able to do online banking, so it was pretty innovative in a sense and pretty exciting to be part of that!

And at the same time, I was part of a small group working on that and many of the engineers were much older than I was so that was my training ground and intro into the business world the first three years after graduating from college. I decided I wanted to move back to the Northeast and again, there’s no Internet, so it was very hard to figure out what companies were hiring so I went back to UVM and I asked for help. 

Back then, there was a Career Center, so through the Career Center, they were able to connect me with different companies that were hiring, and one of them happened to be a company that was headquartered in Vermont. I went through the interview process and got hired, so I ended up moving back to Vermont. That was not the plan that I had originally, but that’s where life took me. In a sense, that was great because I already knew the area but, I was coming back in a different mode, now as a person living in the community, not as a student. 

I got hired by this small company whose focus was in software development for products that were used by hospitals, clinics and radiology groups. They were homegrown but became really big so, when the owners decided that they wanted to retire they sold the company to General Electric healthcare; therefore, I became GE employee. We worked as part of the healthcare for 12 years, I believe, and then GE decided to break apart. I ended up now working for a different company called Athena Health, still working on the development side and still in the same area which is healthcare and revenue cycle management. I’ve been in my latest role for 10 years now.

What is difference between me and the other person that might go for [an opportunity]? Why not me? If you feel you have the qualifications to do something and the ability to do it, why not you?

Rosario Arias (‘87)

We are all working on new technologies and new languages in modernizing our software.

So that’s been the latest stuff that we’ve been doing is we’ve been taking this legacy code that we brought from the old GE/IDX and now modernizing it all.

In your experience at UVM, was there certain clubs, courses, professors, any specific things that you feel helped guide you in your career pathway and prepare you for the workforce?
I came to UVM as an international student and back then, I was part of this cohort, and they were very supportive in providing me with ways of feeling comfortable in this new country and new environment. That’s what’s excellent – that UVM provided that back then. In terms of computer science, it was very focused on electrical engineering – something that I don’t see nowadays as part of the current curriculum. It was very math intensive as well, which is one aspect of the major that was very different then. Also, the fact that there was no internet made my cohort work together a lot. It taught us a lot about teamwork and helping each other because we would work in these computer labs and we would be there for hours.

During your time at UVM you said there was a lot of women in your cohort and in your classes; has the same remained true for your jobs/project teams?
Yeah, there were a lot of women in information science back then. Comparing that for example to where I work right now, we have QA engineers on top of the development engineers and they have documenters, but the development engineers, we’re only three women. So that’s the scenario that you are facing most likely, you might be the only female engineer in your group.

That’s something to keep in mind when you go out there and are looking at employers and jobs.

As both a woman and person of color in a field that has historically excluded women of color, how do you navigate imposter syndrome and building confidence within your profession?
Since my days at UVM I have always been involved in some group or leading some kind of group doing activities that provided me not just with something more to do, but a feeling of satisfaction and contentment, and that allowed me to build my network of support outside of just my working group. I feel that has always played a very strong role in making me feel confident at work and that I was just not there doing stuff with my working group.

One of the things that helped me to deal with the imposter syndrome too is I took a leadership course and one of the lessons that I learned there was about imposter syndrome. It’s, you know, how most of us feel, especially women. Some of the questions they said may come up are: who am I to volunteer? or who am I to say this/that? Who am I to lead that group or who am I to go for the promotion? 

And that was the lesson: why not me? What is difference between me and the other person that might go for [an opportunity]? Why not me? If you feel you have the qualifications to do something and the ability to do it, why not you? Why can it not be you; and I always say that to myself.

Either way it will provide you a lesson. Either yes, you’re a good fit or you’re not, and it might just lead you to something better. This doesn’t mean you’re always gonna get it right or get what you want, but why not try for it and just be involved in different things?

What is your take on A.I advancements/changes your field of work since you’ve graduated? How has it been impacting your line of work?
AI is such a big thing right now, and workers are asking how we use chat GPT. That’s the new thing we’re being pushed to figure out – how we can take advantage of that technology to make our software even more attractive to customers or to provide new features. So it always keeps improving, innovating and changing. Even though I’ve been working for so many years, my knowledge and career keeps shifting. And just so you know, to give you an incentive, wherever you start, it’s not going to stay the same. Hopefully students will be working on something that will keep innovating, challenging and pushing them to learn new stuff.”

Have you been learning how to use AI at your company and integrate it into your work for your benefit?

I’m not learning any of it yet, it was more: let’s explore what it means and how it could be used.

Like where it would be the right place for us to apply that technology in our software. So it’s very, very new for us. I don’t know where that’s going to lead us, but you know, here it is!”

How do you feel about this new shift of everyone in this sort of AI craze?
Everything must be coded, right? So, you know, like the way my group saw it, if we have other things that were precursors to this AI idea, that’s what we could use AI for. I’m very open minded; it could be applied to different areas, but we still are trying to figure out exactly where to use it and, at the same time, you have to always be careful about security and privacy because we deal with a lot of private healthcare information from individuals, so that also comes into play.

It just keeps you challenged, and it is exciting because you don’t feel like you’re just stuck and not learning; well, it also depends on employer.

So, do you feel the reason why you’ve been able to stick with one employer for so long is because you’ve never felt stationary or unchallenged by your job?
Correct, exactly that. That has been the main reason, the challenge was always there.

I never felt that I was stuck in something, that there was no going upward movement or experiencing/learning something new.. Had that been the case, I would have been looking for a different job.

What do you recommend students do to build skill and confidence outside of just courses?
You just gotta keep trying different things, dipping your feet in different projects or initiatives.

Ask yourself, in any new involvement, where is this going to lead you? Is it going to open up a door for you? There’s nothing you do that will not be useful for you to use in your future. You know, another female in engineer called me ‘the real deal’ the other day and I said, what do you mean that I’m the real deal? 

She said, well, you’ve had so many years of working in the field as a software engineer.

There are so few people like that, women like that. And then she started asking me questions like how did I do it? How did I raise a family while working and stay in the industry?

When I was working for GE I was able to maintain my full employee status and keep working about 25 hours a week, and that allowed me time to be able to also have, raise and be involved with my kids. One huge benefit from the pandemic was the open-mindedness of companies to allow for remote work. However, if you end up in a position where you are working remotely most of the time, I would encourage you to find ways of connecting with people somehow.

There are many ways of connecting online and breaking barriers and just being able to connect with people as if you had some interaction in the office, face to face.

As a seasoned professional in a STEM career; what advice do you have for students who may be questioning their abilities being new to their field of study?
You know, that feeling doesn’t go away. I mean, even after all these years, like this week, I was working on a project that involved new stuff that I wasn’t familiar with or very knowledgeable about. I felt so stupid. But then a coworker who knows more about it kind of guided me and, at the end, and it was not that hard to learn!

Would you be OK for like mentoring or speaking with students after this?
Sure, sure, of course! Remember you can do whatever you want!

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