Alumna Pivots to Tech Future

Maggie Fernandes

MATC alumna Maggie Fernandes

Maggie Fernandes helps develop spaces for women, people of color

In a world of rapid technological advancement, women still hold only about 25% of computer-related jobs, while women of color hold only about 10% of those jobs, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology.

When MATC graduate Margarida “Maggie” Fernandes decided to leave her 10-year career in retail in her mid-30s for software engineering, there was never a promise that she would succeed.

But Fernandes, now a software engineer at MacGregor Partners, has never lived life according to entitlements promised under the guise of the American Dream. At the age of 8, her family immigrated to Boston from the Cape Verde Islands with hopes of a better life, and hard work was the baseline.

As Fernandes recalled, the transition was difficult, primarily due to her lack of English proficiency and the overall culture shift.

Community cultivated
What got Fernandes through the transition was her family and community. Perhaps a foreshadowing of her future, she was the only girl in the house with her five older brothers.

Her siblings were competitive, each always striving for excellence — and the bragging rights that came with winning.

“We can take anything and make it a competition and challenge each other,” Fernandes said. “What was fantastic about it was that we would always sit down at the dinner table together and have these very in-depth conversations where your opinion was heard.”

Despite the sibling rivalries, her family always looked out for each other. Fernandes remembers her brothers helping her with homework assignments. “We were truly like our own little community,” she said.

Little did Fernandes know that the sense of community cultivated in her home growing up would lead her to form a ground-breaking community here in Milwaukee.

MATC courses lead to new career
At the age of 34, and thousands of miles away from her family, Fernandes was a well-established retail management professional in Milwaukee with 10 years of experience. However, the job lacked the flexibility she desired to spend time with her loved ones. She knew a career switch was necessary, and a return to school was imminent.

“I was always intrigued by the huge course list MATC had and how affordable and accessible it was,” Fernandes recalled. “There were night classes and virtual classes, which was a good mix for me. It was something I could explore on the side while still working.”

After enrolling, she was patient in her exploration of a new career.

“I was originally planning on going through the nursing program, which didn’t work out too well since I apparently have a fear of blood,” she said.

Reevaluating her interests and drawing on prior experience in merchandising, Fernandes took graphic design courses. The mix of analytics and design correlated with the things she enjoyed and ultimately led her to pursue a degree in mobile design and software development.

Fernandes credits MATC for her success because of the personalized instruction she experienced.

“I loved MATC because the class sizes were perfect, and I received a higher level of interaction with the instructors. As an older student and career transitioner, there was a different type of appreciation,” Fernandes said. “The conversations that you would have with instructors at MATC and the opportunities they would bring to you were all just fantastic."

As she progressed toward her degree, Fernandes excelled. She earned MATC’s Lamp of Knowledge Award based on her academic achievements and involvement in campus activities.

After graduation, Fernandes was confident with the knowledge she gained yet also realized that work was needed to bridge the gaps of equity in her profession.

I loved MATC because the class sizes were perfect, and I received a higher level of interaction with the instructors.

Maggie Fernandes, MATC alumna Software engineer and co-founder of We Pivot

Connects with Girl Develop It
As a woman and person of color, she remembers feeling like an outsider when she started her tech career.

Longing for the sense of family and community that fueled her childhood, Fernandes scoured the Milwaukee scene to fill that void. The search led her to Girl Develop It (GDI), a nonprofit organization that gives a platform to women in the software development industry.

“This was great for me because it was a space that you could go into, and it was OK if you didn’t understand things. Everything was so intentional to the point that we didn’t speak using acronyms,” Fernandes said. “You want to talk about barriers of entry for women and people of color? When you’re in a room and someone is throwing acronyms at you, it’s a way of making you feel unwelcome. If you don’t know them, then you’re like, I really can’t make it here.”

Fernandes’ experience with GDI reaffirmed her career change. Before leaving to start her own organization, Fernandes served as GDI’s chapter president. She also served on an MATC advisory committee to share her professional insights with the team that guides the college’s curriculum.

We Pivot focuses on equity and inclusion
In 2018, Fernandes co-founded the nonprofit We Pivot to further conversations and conditions where the most marginalized individuals are included, fulfilled and empowered, resulting in a more diverse tech industry.

“Our core values are based on learning, justice, trust, authenticity and collaboration,” Fernandes said. “We truly look to create a space where we prioritize the most vulnerable communities in tech. We feel that if we prioritize those who are vulnerable, then everybody benefits from it.”

Reflecting on where she is today, Fernandes is grateful for her upbringing. It helped her overcome the many obstacles she faced as a woman of color entering the technology field.

“Because of my background with my competitive brothers, I never felt like, oh, I can’t do this because I am a girl. It’s more like, I’m going to do this to prove that I can,” Fernandes said. “Proving something wasn’t what drew me to this career, but the beauty of it was that I could see the gender gap more clearly.”

At the same time, Fernandes understands that for the equity gap to shrink, she must do her part in recruiting others to the field. As program director for We Pivot’s Milwaukee chapter, Fernandes co-facilitates for FOR-M, Milwaukee’s first community-based tech incubator. In this role, she can connect the community with tech founders and mentors.

“For me, it’s the most enjoyable thing about the community work that I do. I truly enjoy being able to help somebody and make that connection, especially now having the ability with the FOR-M founders,” Fernandes said. “For anyone looking to get into tech, I would say that you belong anywhere that you choose to be. The best advice that I was given is to pursue your passion through the fear. Sometimes it’s hard, but on the other side of that, it’s always worth it. I started at 34 years old. If I can do it, so can you.”

In her current role at MacGregor Partners, Fernandes considers herself an ambassador for individuals underrepresented in the tech industry, such as women and people of color. “There’s a community that wants to help you. I want to be a part of that change, of marginalized individuals entering the tech space. That’s what excites me, and that’s what drives me.”

To learn more about MATC’s IT programs, visit or call the Recruitment department at 414-297-6228.