/Webhead founder Gonzalez a role model for women, minorities in tech industry (via Qpute.com)
Webhead founder Gonzalez a role model for women, minorities in tech industry

Webhead founder Gonzalez a role model for women, minorities in tech industry (via Qpute.com)

While Janie Martinez Gonzalez was growing up, she watched her mother set up tables at flea markets to make the family some extra cash by selling gloves and bracelets, like the ones Madonna was wearing, or nunchucks, when karate was popular — whatever would sell.

“It was really neat to learn from her, and watch her operate — to take $20 and make $200. And for us, $200 was a lot,” Gonzalez said. “One of the things that I saw right away was how my mom was very smart, and society had told her that her job was to just be a housewife and raise her kids. And I was already being groomed for that.”

As she entered her teen years, the example of her mother’s entrepreneurship led Gonzalez to strive for a future beyond what was expected. After earning an associate’s degree at Palo Alto College and a bachelor’s at University of Texas at San Antonio, she became co-founder of one of San Antonio’s first internet companies, Webhead.

Since its founding in 1994, the company has grown into a major defense contractor, with 58 employees developing high-security software and cloud technology while doing work for local and state government, nonprofits and other organizations.

“Most companies can’t do government work and commercial work together. She and her company are able to be flexible enough to go both ways,” said J.J. Romano, who worked with Gonzalez while serving as a vice president at SAIC, a major defense contractor. “It has to do with the size and having the right people in place. I’m looking forward to seeing her get to the next level with Webhead.”

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Gonzalez has also been active in the community, founding Cascarón Bash, an event during Fiesta that raises money to promote education in science, technology, engineering, arts and math among members of minority groups. She is a trustee at CPS Energy — where her father worked as a mechanic — and serves on the boards of the Alamo Colleges Foundation and Texas A&M University-San Antonio Foundation.

She and her husband recently launched a startup in quantum computing, under the name Quantum Reality, which is still in its “infant stage,” she said.

‘Different culture background’

Growing up in a blue-collar area of the South Side, the tech industry was not an obvious career path for her. It took courage for her to break away from what was expected, she said.

“You have to unlearn certain things, and hold dearly to other things that are a core part of who you are,” she said. “When you’re the first, people are afraid for you, and sometimes out of fear comes individuals wanting to discourage you, telling you that you’re aiming too high, you’ll be disappointed.”

Her experiences have given her insight into how more women and minorities can be led to paths of success in business and technology. A study conducted last year by Accenture and Girls Who Code found that women in the tech industry leave those jobs at a rate 45 percent higher than men. According to a report from the Brookings Institution, only 7.9 percent of jobs in the computer and math fields in the U.S. were held by blacks in 2016, and only 6.8 percent by Hispanics.

Even as the tech scene is struggling with a lack of diversity, five of Webhead’s seven executives are women and seven of the 10 members of its development team are Hispanic.

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“I think that we have to understand that minorities approach startups very differently. They come from a different culture background,” she said.

The typical layout of a well-funded tech company — with ultra-cool interior design and free high-end snacks — can seem foreign to someone from a minority background, she said. And the freewheeling stereotype of a tech entrepreneur could discourage those who have children from pursuing careers in the field.

“It makes it difficult for someone to walk into that world when that’s not your world — you just have a great idea,” she said. “I think that we have to demystify what it is to leverage technology to start your business. You can start it in your house.”

“We need to do a better job of positive reinforcement — that being a minority is not a disadvantage, it is a competitive advantage,” she said. “All those things that are viewed as bad — poverty, lacking resources — they automatically, in my experience, introduce innovation and resourcefulness and an agile mindset to survive. You see the world very differently. And that’s a competitive edge.”

Finding another way

Gonzalez was born in San Antonio to a mother from Laredo and a father from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, who later became a U.S. citizen. After living on both sides of the border, the family settled in San Antonio when she was 3 or 4 years old.

“I was conceived in Mexico, born here,” she said with a laugh. “My parents went back and forth. I was literally what you’d call a border child. They lived in two worlds.”

As the oldest of five siblings, she learned to be responsible at a young age.

“There’s a lot of responsibility thrown at you,” she said. “I learned to be very diplomatic. I learned how to run an effective board of my brothers and sisters, including my parents. I found myself learning negotiating skills at a very young age.”

Her mother was an avid reader who encouraged her and her siblings to become educated, taking them to the library when they were young. Her sister is now a professor at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin, while one of her brothers is a digital engineer. On the wall of her office, she has a framed American flag another brother sent to her while serving in the Air Force in Iraq.

Once Gonzalez was in her mid-30s, her father came to terms with her career, she said. When she purchased the building where Webhead is located, on San Pedro Avenue in Tobin Hill, he told her he was proud of her.

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She never thought of her family as poor when she was growing up, she said. Yet she remembers having to wait for hours to see a doctor at a clinic when her family didn’t have health insurance.

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