A Road Hard Traveled
Jessica Gomez’s path to becoming a tech CEO was not a traditional path and by no means an easy road. The oldest of four children, her early childhood was spent in a predominantly Hispanic lower income neighborhood in New York. The young family had struggles and financial stress and at age 9, the home-schooled Jessica, began transitioning into the role of caregiver for her three younger siblings. She was later to comment that it was at that early age she began to learn how to manage daily stress and how to communicate in a leadership role to get the right outcome.
When Jessica Gomez was 12, the young family moved to Oregon where her father started a cabinetry business. But the economy in Southern Oregon was suffering from the steep decline of the timber industry due to the spotted owl controversy. Financial pressures and seclusion took its toll. Her parents separated, and the family scattered. Without money or a family safety net, but with great tenacity, Jessica survived part of a year homeless – living on the streets, in parks and sleeping in a car. She has said that the community of homeless kids she lived among did not pass judgment on each other – they were all working towards a singular goal – to survive.
Rebuilding A Life
At age 15 Jessica Gomez moved back East to live with her bilingual, teacher grandmother who began to help re-shape her future. She started her first full year of public school and with hard work, determination and also with part time jobs she caught up with her 11th and 12th grade peers and graduated. After graduating high school, she went on to community college and then took a job at a semiconductor manufacturer where she developed a passion for technology. She attributes the changed course of her future life to supportive co-workers and mentors who taught her about entrepreneurship, business and management.
Grit and Risk Taking
The pull of Oregon was strong and in 2003 Jessica Gomez returned and at age 26, in partnership with her husband, she built from scratch, the first state of the art micro chip manufacturing facility in Southern Oregon. At the start there were just two people – Jessica and her husband, who worked 12 -15 hours a day, taking turns to sleep on layers of bubble wrap, with timers to wake them every three hours to make sure the machines were working correctly. By 2008 the company had 12 people employed. Then the recession hit. Jessica says her early life experiences taught her to kick into survival mode, develop a recovery plan and take some risks.
Back from the Brink
A skeleton work force, foresight, new investment and long-term planning brought the business back. In 4 months, people were re -hired and in 6 months came the realization that the company would survive. Now with 26 employees, 14 of whom are women and 11 are persons of color, Jessica typically likes to hire from Oregon Tech and Oregon state universities. She’s a big supporter of internships and apprenticeships – learn a trade, learn what it is like to work and learn that all of those skills are transferable. She points to a previous phenomenal employee who had a degree in zoology and no background whatsoever in the tech industry. The goal says Jessica, should be to offer all sorts of education and training opportunities so everyone can reach their potential.