Luz Mercado just wasn’t feeling it.
Born in Mexico and raised in Milwaukee, she’d been using her Cardinal Stritch University degree in business administration and communications in a variety of roles in finance, call centers, quality assurance … but nothing quite connected.
“I didn’t feel like it was like the path for me,” she said in an interview. “I honestly wanted something that was different.”
She’d also been running her own candle business on the side, and got to chatting with a customer at a vendor market event. That customer worked with an organization called i.c. stars and wondered whether Mercado would consider trying a career in tech.
Fast forward a few months, and Mercado is a cloud automation developer at Molson Coors, with aspirations to become a cloud engineer.
“Everyone is welcome”
Mercado, 28, was one of about 20 students who completed a 16-week hands-on education program with Molson Coors through its yearly partnership with technology training nonprofit, Inner-City Computer Stars (i.c.stars). i.c.stars participants learn by building applications to solve client challenges through a 16-week training cycle. As the project sponsor, Molson Coors tasked students in cycle 12 with creating a revamped company-wide internal human resources portal for increased access to HR information and support.
The students were divided into teams, which competed to build the best solution for that new HR portal. Mercado was project manager on the winning team.
“Not only does it provide graduates with technical skills, but it also prepares them for the workforce that they’ll be entering,” she said.
“I wasn’t a very technical person before,” Mercado added, but had shown interest – she was a member of the robotics club at Messmer High School on Milwaukee’s south side. “I did know day to day how to use technology, but I really wasn’t aware of all the different tools that tech had, or even the different roles that were out there. I thought that the only role you could have was just being a coder, or just being an engineer. But there’s just a different range for pretty much everyone.”
She also noted the diversity of the students in the program, who came from many different ethnic backgrounds and ranged in age from 19 to 54.
“The beautiful thing about i.c. stars is that everyone is welcome, as long as you have the drive to do it, and you’re willing to put in the work,” Mercado said.
With the i.c. stars program complete, Mercado landed a six-month project internship to stay at Molson Coors and work on a major cloud migration project.
“I am essentially learning how to automate those servers, how to make them more efficient and more cost effective,” she said. The experience has been one she wants to stick with.
“I’ve really been loving the cloud,” she said. “It was something that I had always heard (of), but I had no prior experience with it before joining and being an intern. And now that I’m here, this is so cool, how you’re able to do so many things and how it runs. My goal is to keep on pursuing a role within the cloud and eventually become a cloud engineer. I’ve been learning a lot about Azure and (Amazon Web Services). In the future, I do want to take a few certifications and continue on that route.”
“It definitely inspired me”
Mercado is one of eight students who’ve stayed on at Molson Coors at various locations in Milwaukee as well as in Colorado, Texas and Virginia, after completing their i.c. stars program with the company this year.
“The participants selected for the program consistently go above and beyond, exhibiting a strong drive to develop their skills and make a positive difference in their community,” Molson Coors head of emerging technologies Jonah Turner said in a press release. “i.c.stars shares our commitment of fostering innovation and inclusivity in the workplace.”
“At i.c.stars, we understand the importance of equipping our graduates with more than just technical skills; we provide them with the tools and support necessary to excel in a professional environment, where they will encounter diverse management styles and people from different backgrounds,” i.c. stars Milwaukee executive director Blanca Gonzales said in a press release. “Through our partnership with Molson Coors, participants receive networking opportunities and exposure to skills sought by potential employers. The program also facilitates deep relationships with companies, ensuring ongoing student success in the workplace.”
“I am truly grateful for the experience that I had at i.c. stars,” Mercado said. “The experience not only equipped me with the technical things that I needed to thrive and tools to enter the tech industry, but it also gave me the confidence to pursue a career in emerging tech and encouraged me to keep on going, regardless of how hard things got. And it definitely inspired me overall to be an agent of change, not only within the tech industry, but within my community.”