For giving Latinas access to careers in technology—and added economic power
When Mariana Costa Checa was looking to launch a software company in her native Perú, she knew recruiting a diverse team could give her a competitive edge. But the talent market for software engineers was decidedly homogenous, consisting almost exclusively of men. So Costa Checa pivoted from her original startup and developed Laboratoria, a six-month, 1,000-hour bootcamp that trains women in areas like software development and user experience design—and then connects them to job opportunities.
Since Laboratoria’s 2014 launch, more than 2,000 women have graduated from the program, and nearly 80 percent of those graduates have been hired for tech jobs—on average, pulling in three times more than they were earning in previous jobs. It’s the kind of career revamp that can break generational cycles of poverty and exclusion, says Costa Checa.
The positive social impact she’s creating now extends beyond the borders of Perú. With funding from heavy hitters like Google and Citi Foundation, Laboratoria has scaled to open training centers in Chile, Mexico, Brazil and Colombia.
Advice to My (Even) Younger Self
We asked the Future 50: What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to your younger self?
Keep going. There were many times along the journey where I questioned whether I should keep going. The cost was high, it was hard, everything felt uphill. But if it’s something we’re passionate about, if we’re creative enough to find solutions to the problems we encounter, we can keep going. —Mariana Costa Checa
In a one-on-one chat, she talks regional expansions, learning to lead and pandemic pivots:
What are some unexpected challenges of expansion?
Though we share many things in Latin America, we are different countries—there are different legal systems, different markets, different contexts. It’s been a real challenge to make sure that, in every new country, we become a local organization in that ecosystem.
At the same time, project teams need to keep the same working culture, the same values, the same strategic alignment. One of the things that helped most is the people at Laboratoria value cultural diversity and that perspective of building a regional organization.
How has your leadership style evolved?
Today, we have about 100 people in different countries. Learning to lead them has meant very intense growth and getting to know myself well. There’s a lot of introspection and reflection and self-awareness. I’ve learned to value feedback, to be brave enough to provide feedback to others and to change my mind when it’s time to change.
You cannot build anything alone, so it’s having the capability to structure a vision and then motivate and articulate to the team how to work toward that vision. When Laboratoria first started, we had a relatively small team, and I liked consensus a lot. I tended to avoid conflict. I remember one of my partners told me: “You need to make a decision, and we trust you.” That was a very important growth moment for me.
How has the pandemic changed Laboratoria’s operations?
We used to be an in-person program. We decided if we were going to take advantage of being remote, we needed the mindset of taking advantage of all the upsides of being remote. And it’s actually been amazing. It’s enabled us to reach many more women in many more cities and even rural areas in Latin America.
One concern with the pandemic was seeing placement rates drop, given the economic crisis that has hit Latin America hard. But thankfully that hasn’t happened, and I think it’s another signal of the importance of our work. Digital has been one of the most resilient spaces in the job market. In the midst of the pandemic, we’ve seen placement rates of 90 percent plus and students going out and becoming the economic base for their families.
Do you plan to expand beyond Latin America?
I hope so. Latin America is huge, so we still have ground to cover here. But we could eventually serve, say, the Latina population in the United States or Spain. There’s an opportunity there, and I never say no before the conversation is clear.