Vos te das cuenta, no en el partido, te das cuenta en la convivencia cuando algo grande se está formando.
[You realize, not during the match, but in the day-to-day interaction, when something big is forming.]
- Oscar Ruggeri, 1986 World Cup winner with Argentina
There have been three times when I have felt that the moment I am living in would change my life forever. One was in January 29th, 2001; there was another in October 3rd, 2015; and the last one was on February 21st, 2019. I imagine you all have experienced this kind of moments at least once in your lifetime. It is like in a movie, when an important character appears, or the plot arrives to a climactic moment: the music changes, the lighting changes, you know something big is about to happen. That Thursday afternoon, in February 2019, was a moment like those, and you are about to read why.
Everything started one year before, when I arrived in Spain for the second time. I had lived in Spain for a year, getting a master’s degree. I guess I did something right, because after a few months back in Mexico, my professors told me about an opportunity to go back to Spain and get a PhD. I said yes, even though I had never pictured myself as a “doctor”, and I still don’t. My first year was really hard, not only because I made the mistake of trying to live the experience of sharing an apartment with other people for the first six months, but also because even though I was doing my job well, putting my best effort into it, and enjoying the whole process of living abroad, I still felt there was something missing. I felt like if there was no purpose in the whole experience. That was about to change.
One of my colleagues, Cristina – an awesome scientist, an even more amazing person, and one of the best people I have had the privilege to work with – got into Technovation Challenge, which is a program that aims to get young girls interested into science, technology and entrepreneurship. If I had to describe it in a phrase, it is like giving girls the opportunity to create a small-scale tech company. Cristina enrolled as a mentor, and she was assigned to a group of girls. One or two months into it, while we were on our way to lunch, she told me about the project, and I thought it was a great idea, and since I had experience working with teenagers and had spent hundreds of hours in front of a classroom (and I would add that I have a master’s degree in education, but that would be me just bragging), I offered to give her some advice in case she needed it (on a side note, after a couple of months, I learnt Cristina is immune to my advice).
I had probably bored Cristina to death with all my constant questioning about how her team was doing, because she encouraged me to enroll in the program and get a team of my own. Even though the project had started in October and we were in the middle of February, I enrolled. She even offered to send an e-mail to the head of Technovation in Madrid, who told me to complete the training and get a few documents ready. I did so in one day. Then, I was sent a few options for groups which were looking for mentors. After a few hiccups, I was paired with a team from Móstoles, a suburb in Madrid, a one-hour metro ride away from my University and a bit farther from my home in the marvelous borough of Argüelles in central Madrid. The head of Technovation told me about this group of girls who were very interested in finding a mentor, and I told her to give them my contact information. Not even an hour had passed when I looked at my phone to see a notification for a missed call. I was trying to call back when the phone rang again: it was Gloria, the girls’ technology teacher at their school. She was so relieved they had found a mentor, since she had too much on her plate. She told me the girls were a fantastic team, which now I know was an understatement. The next step was meeting the girls.
It was a sunny afternoon in Móstoles, and as always, I did not know what to expect. We were two or three months behind schedule, and we had two months before the deadline. I did not know if the girls I was going to mentor had the slightest idea of programming or if I would have to teach them. I did not know if they had an idea of what kind of app they wanted to develop. I did not know if we would connect in a personal level, since there is always I chance we would not click or like each other. I did not know, oh boy, I did not have an idea of what was going to happen when I stepped into that meeting room with those five girls.
It was a sunny afternoon in Móstoles, and it somehow became brighter. That bright was probably coming from those five pairs of eyes, that were full of hope and attitude. Gloria introduced the girls to me, and I tried to introduce myself. To be honest, I did not learn their names immediately. I was busy trying to understand what was transpiring. It all felt right for the first time in years. I had the sensation that big things were about to happen. It was a sunny afternoon in Móstoles when I met the group of five young girls who would change the world, and after four months, they changed mine for sure.
Paula, Sandra, Nuria, and two girls named Lucia showed me their idea for an app. They had everything planned with a level of detail that you sometimes fail to encounter in professional teams pitching apps. They had already planned the look for the app, and market analysis was already in progress. They had so many questions, some technical and some about customer research. In the end, all those questions could be summarized in one: “can it be done?” Spoiler alert: It could. I sensed that their raw talent was so immense that I had to tell them the truth: that all they needed was to believe in themselves and work as if there was no tomorrow. I gave them a task to complete (making a small program that could detect your location) and we agreed to meet the following day.
It was a cool evening in Móstoles when I left that room in an ethereal form. I did not even care about the one hour and twenty minutes that I had to travel back home. I knew what I had seen: I saw something great was forging. I sent a message to Cristina telling her that I had found a team full of aces. That was not the last time Cristina would hear about them, because not even one week later I convinced her to join me as their mentor. Even when she pushes more working hours than the actual hours in a day, she accepted. Now, on the eve of their trip to the Technovation World Pitch, I don’t think Cristina regrets joining us.
Many sunny afternoons in Móstoles have passed, and after four months, an astonishing performance in the Technovation Madrid regional event, a long wait for the global semifinals, and a night without sleep while waiting for the results that sent us to the world final, I can say that now I know what the purpose of me coming back to Spain is: a front-row ticket to watch the most fabulous movie in the world. And it is just the beginning.