Raquel Small (she/her) is a Paralegal at Google on the Litigation team and Head of Community for Women of Silicon Valley. She is also a newly minted Master of Communication Management from the University of Southern California.
Originally from the NYC area, she is the child of a proud Jamaican mother and a Panamanian father, and she believes empowering women and people of color is the only way to make society better.
In her very limited free time, she likes to bake, try new restaurants, and exercise because of all the baking and dismantling of the patriarchy. She currently lives in San Francisco with her husband Eric and her cat Foxy Cleopatra.
1. When did you know that you wanted to work in tech?
I have always been interested in technology. When I was in high school I was big in the Live Journal community and taught myself HTML, PaintShop Pro and a bit of CSS so that I could sell journal templates. I spent an inordinate amount of time on the Internet and always assumed that I’d have a job that was related to it. When I got to college, I took some pre-law classes since I was dead-set on becoming a lawyer at the time. One class in particular, Cyberlaw, completely changed my life. The class was all about the law surrounding the Internet and specifically about how far the law lagged behind. After that class, I knew that I wanted to be an intellectual property lawyer specializing in copyright law on the Internet.
2. Who is a role model that you look up to?
My mother is the most amazing woman I know. She came to America from Jamaica at only 12 years old, completely alone, to live with her aunt and uncle. By age 15, she was completely supporting herself and eventually landed a job at the United Nations where she’s been for almost 40 years.
She worked herself to the bone to put me into the best schools and extracurriculars and taught me to work hard and never take anything in this life for granted. Currently, she is working in Sierra Leone for a few months and has spent several months in the Philippines, Georgia, and Zambia helping to build women’s health centers. She is the most fearless woman I know and always taught me that independence is a woman’s greatest asset.
3. Where is your hometown?
I was born in New York City but grew up in a small town right outside of it called Englewood, New Jersey. Sometimes it’s hard for me to admit that I’m a Jersey girl but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to appreciate it. We have amazing beaches, thousands of malls and the best Taylor Ham, egg and cheeses you’ll ever have. I even got married on the Jersey Shore (not the fist-pumping part).
4. What is a challenge that you’ve faced and how did you handle it?
After studying for the LSATs four times and actually working up the nerve to take the test twice, I applied to law school in 2014. I applied to eight schools, but got rejected from nearly all of my top choices. My whole life, I had been told how smart I was, what a great lawyer I would be, and I truly believed that I had checked all the right boxes and taken all the right steps to achieve that goal. In hindsight, that was an incredible amount of hubris on my part.
Getting rejected from the top schools essentially shattered my dream of being a lawyer, which was something that I’d held on to for over 10 years. I did get into some schools and I could have chosen to go to those, but a small voice inside of me told me “this isn’t right”. I had worked so hard for this moment and I wanted it to be completely perfect. I was unwilling to accept anything less, so I decided to listen to that tiny voice and not go after all. It was immensely scary to give up on something I had put so much of my time and resources into, but I know it was the right move.
At some point, the dream transitioned more into a status symbol than something I actually wanted to do. In my job, I worked with lawyers daily and saw how much they loved their role — which was something that I never felt. In hindsight, I had plenty of signs along the way that law school wasn’t for me, but I chose to ignore them because I thought it was part of my “process”. I struggled for a long time with feeling like I had failed (which was honestly a new sensation for me) but in the end, I know I made the right decision.
5. What is something that you are immensely proud of?
I am immensely proud of receiving my Masters of Communications Management from USC this past May. After the whole law school debacle, I re-grouped and decided to get my Masters in something that felt more familiar to me — Communications. In reflecting on why I chose not to go to law school, I realized that whatever career I chose needed to be something that my personality fit into, not the other way around. While I’m sure I would have been a fine lawyer, I think I would have always felt like a square peg in a round hole.
Getting my Masters while working full-time was one of the most time-consuming, emotional things I’d ever done. Working in litigation, the job is extremely deadline driven and there were times when I would work a 13 hour day only to turn around and have to work on a paper due that night. It pushed me to my mental, emotional, and physical limits at many different points, but somehow, I made it through.
6. What’s something that’s been on your mind a lot lately?
I have been thinking a lot about self-care. It has become such a buzzword lately that it seems like it’s lost a lot of its meaning. I read an article recently that said something to the effect that if you find yourself looking for ways to self-care constantly, maybe it’s time to rethink your life. Self-care is meant to be a momentary relief from a crazy situation, not a way to escape your daily life. I’m trying to look for more ways to have the kind of life that I don’t need self-care from.
7. Favorite food?
Pizza — it’s good even when it’s bad.
8. Favorite book?
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. The protagonist of the story, Francie, always showed such resilience much like the titular tree that grows through concrete. I’ve read it four times and always find some new nuggets of wisdom.
9. If you could try another job for a day, what would it be?
Growing up, my dream was always to be a tornado chaser after I saw the movie Twister. I loved science when I was younger but it fell out of favor for me once I realized how much math was involved. Tornado chasing is incredibly dangerous but there is something about the high-risk, high reward nature of it and being that close to something so deadly that always excited me. I think it’s why I like rollercoasters so much!
10. If you could give your 18-year-old self a piece of advice, what would it be?
Just do it the right way — not the quick way. It’s tempting to want to just get things over with and move on to the next more exciting thing but if I have learned one thing over the years, it’s that the process is the reward. There are so many things that I missed out on because I was just looking to leave the job or hand in the test that I get upset when I think about how I didn’t take advantage of those opportunities to learn and grow. It feels torturous in the moment, but it really does yield better results.