Karina Canales is a Sales Insights Manager at Google. Prior to Google, she had six years of experience in digital marketing and business intelligence at a Peruvian bank. She holds an MBA from Wharton, University of Pennsylvania, with a major in Statistics, Marketing, and Management, as well as a Master’s degree in Marketing from Universidad Peruana de Ciencias Aplicadas. She received a degree in Systems Engineering from the Universidad Nacional de Ingenieria (Peru).
1. When did you know that you wanted to work in tech?
My passion for technology started at the age of nine through a course in school in which I discovered computers and it was love at first sight. This passion has developed throughout the years. By the time I was 13, I had created my own website on rented computers. When I was 15, I asked my parents for a computer instead of the traditional 15-year-old birthday party. Although my first PC was second-hand, it was the best present I ever received. At the age of 18, I had my first blog, one of the first ones in Peru back in 2004. I loved interacting with people from all over the globe. This was one of the reasons that I studied Systems Engineering. Since then, technology has driven my work experience.
2. Where is your hometown?
I grew up in Mala, a small town in the outskirts of Lima.
3. What is a struggle that you’ve faced and how did you handle it?
When I finished school, I decided to apply to the college with the most difficult admissions test in Peru: Universidad Nacional de Ingeniería (UNI) to study Systems Engineering. Their annual admissions test is taken exclusively to be accepted into UNI and lasts a total of nine hours over the course of three days. Furthermore, UNI is a public school and the best college to study Engineering in Peru, so it is in very high demand. The UNI admission test is so difficult to pass that there are institutes that specialize in helping prospective students prepare for it.
I spent the whole summer after graduating from high school studying for the exam an institute. In February 2003, I took the admissions test and did not pass it. The competition was steep and the admittance rate in my major that year was less than 5%. I felt terrible. Not only had I failed to get into college, but I felt that I had disappointed my parents. They told me they understood that the test was very difficult, but I knew that they were concerned because they had no money to pay for a private school education and I could have just lost the opportunity to earn a college degree.
Right then, I made a decision: I would apply to UNI again the next year. I studied all day, every day for the entire year. I gave up all the activities of a normal 17-year-old girl. Three months later, I won a scholarship at the institute due to my strong grades. From that moment on, my parents never had to pay for my education again. In February 2004, I took the test again and succeeded.
I entered UNI with the 1st place in my major and 3rd place overall among all 8,000 applicants! In addition, I won a full five-year scholarship granted by the German corporation Siemens after a selection process which included interviews and additional exams. I learned that I must have a clear objective, define a strategy, and focus all my efforts on the goal to achieve it. Furthermore, I realized that hard work leads to big rewards.
4. What is something that you are immensely proud of?
I feel very proud of my experience in the non-governmental organization (NGO) Un Techo para mi País (similar to Habitat for Humanity). I joined as a volunteer in 2007 when a college friend told me about this new initiative to build housing for the poorest people in my country and to implement a plan to help them achieve an economically self-sustaining community.
A month later, on August 15th, an earthquake destroyed several cities in Peru, causing them to go into a state of emergency. The most affected town was Pisco. Many volunteers were called to go into the disaster area but only a few had experience in building houses, so I took the role of construction leader. We travelled to Pisco by ship because all access roads were destroyed. When we arrived, the outlook was bleak. Everything was destroyed, hundreds of people had died, and thousands more were left homeless.
The goal of my team was to build 3 houses in 4 days. A house takes 2 days of work so we had to do what would typically be a 6-day job in just 4 day, with no experienced volunteers! It was a difficult challenge but not impossible. I focused on the goal and conveyed it to the team clearly. We worked hard every day from 7 AM to midnight. The area in which we worked had no electricity, so we used candles for light. We slept outdoors in sleeping bags and had to eat only soup for days. I proved to myself that I am persistent and can do my best even in extreme situations.
At the end of the 4 days we achieved the goal! All the teams combined built more than 100 houses benefiting over 500 people. After this amazing experience, I continued to lead construction teams for 4 more years in various cities throughout Peru.
5. Favorite food?
Peruvian Rotisserie Chicken. I have a tradition of eating it every year in my birthday.
6. Favorite book?
One day I found a book in my mom’s library called More Than One Thousand Problems of Algebra and I loved it! I liked solving those problems more than watching TV or playing any game. Thanks to this book, my passion for math grew and at the age of 8, I won my first national math contest.
7. If you could give your 18-year-old self a piece of advice, what would it be?
I can summarize my advice in 7 tips:
Be humble, even genius people have a lot to learn. One learns more by asking and listening than talking.
Don’t be afraid to speak up. Share what it is on your mind and your accomplishments. “More important that knowing is communicating properly what you know”.
Surround yourself with positive people. People who believe in you and in your dreams.
Find a mentor for every goal you have. Nobody can give you better guidance than someone who has already accomplished the goal you want to achieve.
Take a 5-min break every day to think about your true purpose. Why do you do what you’re doing? No wrong answers here. The key is to remember every day what your motivation is and then get back to work.
Prioritize yourself and your future. You will always have opportunities to explore the world and do crazy things, but if you keep your dream/motivation in mind, you will prioritize your future over your present. If you don’t do it, nobody else will do it for you.
Do all of the above with a smile, always. Smiling makes you more approachable, friendly, and happy. Smiling will not only help you achieve your goals but it will also help you enjoy the journey.