Ileana Rivera: Leading the Way for Latinas in Technology



by Linda Castillo

Recently, Ileana Rivera, senior director of IT for Computing and Client Productivity Services for Cisco was a panelist within the Mentor, Lift and Lead Future Executives in Technology session at the Silicon Valley Latino Leadership Summit 2015. She was the only woman on the panel, an occurrence that is all too familiar with the small number of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers. Ileana talked about how many times she is the only Latina at the table or in meetings which only made her try even harder to become the amazing leader and professional she is today.

Modern Latina caught up with Ileana to learn more about the path she took to become a game changer in the Information Technology realm. Ileana shared how her career took shape and what she is doing now to help transition the next generation of Latinas to pursue STEM careers.


Ileana summarized her three passions as technology, mentoring Hispanics, and supporting women. She is able to combine all her passions within her new role as the senior director of IT for Computing and Client Productivity Services for Cisco. Rivera leads the teams responsible for computing, mobility hardware/software, mobility applications, eStore, email/messaging and cloud productivity for Cisco’s global workforce (70,000+) and manages a sizeable budget and a team of 125 employees.  Rivera is responsible for the productivity and user experience across Cisco, ensuring employees have the tools and equipment needed to excel at their jobs.

Passion for STEM at an Early Age

Getting to the c-suite took a lot of drive, determination and persistence. Ileana shared her humble beginnings growing up in Puerto Rico where she was the youngest of seven daughters. Her mother didn’t finish elementary school and her father didn’t complete high school. During her early childhood, Ileana never imagined that she would go into Engineering. She was always good in math and had a passion for math. She recalled a time helping her father with math in order for him to receive his high school diploma to get certified as an electrician. That was a turning point for Ileana; the time helping her father prepare for his high school diploma brought the two of them closer and confirmed her passion for math. It was at that moment she knew she was going to pursue a STEM degree.

Dream Big and Work Hard

For Ileana, pursuing a higher education came with many challenges and overcoming many obstacles. While she was attending the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez campus, Ileana recalls being one of 2 to 5 women in her engineering classes. One of the professors gave her a hard time and she had to look beyond that moment.

“You have to be super ambitious and want it more than anyone else,” said Ileana.

She shared how her biggest challenge was learning English as a second language.  Ileana had to persevere since a lot of the classes were in Spanish but the testing was in English. At first, Ileana struggled with the English language but then mastered the language. Every challenge that she faced, pushed Ileana to try even harder to succeed and graduate as an engineer.

Latina Mentors Creating the Pipeline for Latinas in STEM

Ileana is doing a lot to be a role model pulling the next level of Hispanics up the pipeline. Rivera is a Board Member for the Hispanic IT Executive Council and an active member for Conexión, Cisco’s Latino Employee Resource Group, and Connected Women, both Employee Resource Groups dedicated to the advancement, mentoring and promotion of Latinos and women at Cisco.  She is also a member of the IT Speakers Bureau. Her community involvement provides her opportunities to mentor, coach, and advise other Latinos.

For those young Latinas pursuing a STEM degree, Ileana shared the following words of wisdom; 1) find a mentor, 2) have ambition, 3) don’t focus on a moment,  and 4) it will be amazing once you get there. And once you are in your professional career, you must speak up about what you want and what you don’t want; otherwise you leave your success in the hands of other people.

For Latinas currently in their STEM careers, Ileana talked about the importance of finding an association to get involved with. “Find an organization that speaks to you and that you are really passionate about,” Ileana said. While you are in your career, she recommended to continuously network, understand the market and new technology to be on the edge of things.

“Work for a company that appreciates and endorses who you are. Don’t change to try to be someone else. We bring that perspective and make a difference. It is important to work within a company that embraces diversity,” Ileana concluded. Bottom-line continue to push the envelope and be yourself!

Linda Castillo is the Founder and Executive Editor of She writes on topics that empower and inspire Latinas including art, motherhood, green living, culture, travel, and issues transforming the Latino community. Linda has earned a B.S. in Business and a M.S. in Mass Communications from San Jose State University.