How Collaboration and Support Helped CU Direct’s Dulce Ruelas Launch Her Career in FinTech
Dulce Ruelas is a proud first-generation Mexican-American. “I was born in beautiful Sahuayo, Michoacan and when I was eight months my family immigrated to the U.S.,” she explains. “My parents always kept our Hispanic culture alive at home by imbuing us with the importance of cherishing family, working hard, and dreaming big.”
As the fourth out of five children, she’s been able to count on her family for support and encouragement in all aspects of her life. “My siblings always took care of me. They’re the first ones I go to for advice or help,” explains Dulce. Which is why she prioritizes recreating that sense of support and collaboration at work as a Development Manager at lending technology solutions provider CU Direct.
We sat down with Dulce to hear more about her background and career journey, as well as her best advice for women who may want to start a career in FinTech.
Getting Her Start in Engineering
Dulce was first introduced to the world of tech by her older siblings. “My brother saved all his money and spent it on parts to build his own computer,” she explains. While he was more into the hardware side of computers, Dulce was mostly interested in them for personal use. It wasn’t until her older sister encouraged her to take a newly offered computer science course at their local community college that Dulce really considered programming. “It was a C++ course and I thought it was really interesting. But something immediately stuck with me – I was the only girl.”
Undeterred by the lack of representation in her class, she completed the course and enjoyed it so much that she decided to study computer science as a major in college. “The first courses in college were tough. I failed a couple of courses and I started questioning, ‘Do I really want to stick this out?’” She turned to her now husband for advice, and he encouraged her to keep going. “Knowing that he believed in me, I started believing I could do it, too. Then it just clicked,” she says. “And then it became more fun. Everything was falling into place. It was still tough, don’t get me wrong. But it was more enjoyable after that.”
As she got further into her degree, she noticed a growing gender gap in her courses. “It was very lonely,” she explains. “There weren’t many other girls and there were fewer and fewer each semester.” That lack of representation fueled her fear that entering (and thriving) in the workforce might be difficult for someone like her. “I had heard so many stories about [women] in the industry, maybe being dismissed or just not taken seriously,” she elaborates.
So when it came time to look for a job post graduation, she knew she wanted to work for a place where people like her were thriving. “I was at a career fair and I saw a Hispanic woman who was the HR Director for CU Direct,” says Dulce. That woman encouraged her to apply to the company. “My sister and husband helped me with interview skills and [encouraged me through] the whole application process,” she explains. “I got an internship and became full-time after six months. And I've been here ever since!”
Dulce’s Journey at CU Direct
CU Direct aims to create an environment where employees can achieve their highest potential and career growth. And that’s exactly what Dulce has done over the past eight years. “I've been able to be promoted almost every other year,” she explains. “I actually just got promoted to Development Manager this last week!” She’s moved all the way from intern, to Software Developer I, II, and III, to Principal Software Engineer (PSE), to Development Manager.
This new role requires Dulce to take a broader approach to planning and strategizing her team’s projects. “I’m in charge of delivering quality software solutions to our clients. I’m looked to as a point of reference to give input based on my experience,” Dulce explains. Her team is currently working on a lift and shift effort, which involves moving software from on-site storage to the cloud. “There are so many components and it's not an easy effort. It's not something that we can just do in a day, so there has been a lot of planning and collaboration with other teammates.”
That collaboration and support from her team is what keeps Dulce coming to work every day. “At CU Direct, all of our projects are interdependent in some form or another,” she explains. “There are a lot of different perspectives, and everyone’s so passionate about what they do. It makes work that much better to come in and see what we can build together.” Collaborating and hearing other peoples’ perspectives also happens to be one of the most important aspects of working in tech, according to Dulce, and she wants to encourage other women to join her in those efforts.
“There are so many women at CU Direct, which is one of the reasons I love it. There’s just so much diversity,” says Dulce. “In HR, Product, and Customer Care — teams I work with — it's very rare where there's not a [woman] on the team. There are certain niche pockets where there's not as much diversity. We don't have as many [women] on the technical side,” explains Dulce. But she’s excited to see that shift — and to be a part of catalyzing that change. “I've felt so supported and valued here. I’ve seen so many women here in positions of power, but I haven’t always had as many examples to look up to in technical leadership roles, so that’s why I’m hoping to keep growing towards [those leadership roles]!”
Advice for Upcoming Women Techies
Dulce wants more women to join her in the FinTech industry, especially on the technical side. Keep reading for her advice for women interested in exploring the industry.
1. Take a seat at the table — there’s room. Dulce knows first hand how hard it can be to take up space in an environment when you’re new or different from those around you. “I used to think things like, ‘I'm just an intern, I'm just a one, I'm just a two,’” says Dulce. That’s why she wants to encourage other women to use their voice and speak up. “There is always something you can bring to the table and there is space at the table,” she says. “There are all these reasons for why not to [speak up], but you only need one for why you should.”
2. Be proactive about opportunities. The world of FinTech is growing, which means the demand for new, fresh perspectives is high. “There's so much opportunity to bring the knowledge you have from the technical side into credit unions and banks,” says Dulce. She advises women in tech to be proactive and learn more about opportunities in the field, even if they don’t have previous experience. “There are so many places where people will take a chance on you and that's all you need, one chance.”
3. Keep learning. One of Dulce’s most important values is continual learning. “There's always something to learn,” she says. And it doesn’t have to be through certifications — you can also learn from those around you. “Be open to others, even if you have different viewpoints.”
Are you interested in launching a career at the intersection of tech and finance? Check out CU Direct’s open roles here!