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Advice / Career Paths / Career Stories

This Engineer Achieved His Dream Tech Career in a Way He Never Imagined

Ariel Peralta-Montan, an associate manager of test engineering at Medidata.
Ariel Peralta-Montan, an associate manager of test engineering at Medidata.
| Courtesy of Ariel Peralta-Montan

As a teenager, Ariel Peralta-Montan disassembled his family’s desktop computer to learn how it worked—the first sign that a career in engineering would be right for him. But the path he charted in college did not go to plan.

“My first semester as a computer science major at a big engineering school turned out to be a mismatch,” he says. “I needed some time to reevaluate my decision, so I took a leave of absence to think about my choices with the expectation of returning soon.”

Peralta-Montan ended up switching his university and major (to psychology) and paid his way through school by working in sales and customer support at various computer stores. Before he knew it, Peralta-Montan gained enough technical experience to pursue an engineering career in a way he’d never expected.

“Most of the technical skills I have today came from applying them in the field through my jobs,” says Peralta-Montan, who is now an associate manager of test engineering at Medidata, a healthtech company that powers the clinical development of new therapies.

Here, Peralta-Montan talks about how his diverse network helped him land a job at Medidata, his proudest moment as a member of the company’s Latinos Organized for Leading and Achieving group, and what you can do to set yourself up for a promotion at work.

What led you to your job at Medidata? How did you know the company would be a good fit?

I maintained many good relationships throughout my career, including some from the engineering school I first attended. One of those connections helped me land a referral to Medidata, where I took a leap of faith into a new career opportunity as a test engineer after years of working as a Mac tech and systems engineer. Being in a support role involved coming up with many workarounds and hacks to get systems to function the way end users wanted. Becoming a tester gave me a chance to apply those experiences to help prevent bugs from escaping into the wild in the first place. At Medidata, that plays a big impact in developing the products that help improve lives.

You’ve been promoted a number of times since joining Medidata and currently have a manager role. How has the company helped prepare you to become a team leader?

Before becoming a team leader, I got involved in different tasks that went beyond my role as an individual test engineer, including internal hackathons, engineering working groups, and projects supporting nonprofit organizations. Through these experiences, I developed project management and people leadership skills that I could carry back to my everyday role. They also connected me with employees across different domains in the organization and gave me exposure to senior leaders, which opened doors for additional opportunities, such as being sponsored to attend conferences for professional development. After becoming a manager, I was enrolled in several workshops on leadership development and was paired up with a mentor to help me navigate the transition into an official people leader.

What are you responsible for in your current role?

I lead a team of testers who investigate the risks and find bugs or issues with our software so they can be resolved before our customers ever encounter them. We work closely with our engineers and product team to make sure that we not only build the right thing, but also build the thing right. 

My role involves putting my testing team in the best position to succeed and help our product deliver on its promises. Sometimes that means enabling a strong performer to take on a high-value testing assignment. Other times, it’s setting a path to upskill and develop teammates so they can grow into a strong performer themselves.

What skills are necessary to succeed as a test engineer and why?

To succeed in test engineering, it’s not enough to find that something went wrong. You need to be curious about why it went wrong, then use your experiences and creativity to dig deeper and explore what else can happen. Sometimes that’s putting yourself in other people’s shoes and understanding the impact if they encountered the same issues. Other times, it’s thinking about the interactions of complex systems and developing tools or automation to manipulate them and find their strengths or weaknesses. 

In the end, you need to be an effective communicator and influencer. Being able to understand complex relationships and explain the risks in simple terms to convince the people that matter to do something about it is not always easy, but it is essential to succeeding as a test engineer.

What do you like most about the engineering culture at Medidata?

We have several groups and channels to support each other regardless of one’s role or domain. Maybe you’re a new remote employee and want recommendations on home office setups, or need help troubleshooting software behavior. We have folks who can point you in the right direction. We also have different engineering working groups who put together technical brown-bag sessions on a wide range of topics such as automation, API testing tools, DevOps, or data science.

Tell us about your experience leading Latinos Organized for Leading and Achieving (LOLA) at Medidata. What kind of impact has this group had on the company? What has been your proudest achievement?

LOLA’s mission is to provide Latinx professionals and their allies with the resources, opportunities, and support they need to innovate, advance, and thrive in their careers. Outside of professional development, we sponsor events to connect our diverse communities inside and outside of Medidata. For example, we’ve invited subject-matter experts to discuss health in the Hispanic community, brought in college students and young professionals to learn about different career journeys at the company, and hosted cultural celebrations for Hispanic Heritage Month. 

All our business resource groups (BRGs) have had a positive impact in building a sense of belonging and improving retention. I recently connected with a colleague who joined Medidata as a contractor and was first introduced to LOLA during our Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations. She said the LOLA community was the reason why she chose to stay at Medidata instead of pursuing other opportunities. Since then, she has become a full-time employee and a founding leader of our new Women in Acorn BRG. 

One of my proudest achievements was collaborating with different BRG members on a project during the pandemic to support the Emerson Clinic in DC run by Dr. Fabian Sandoval. We built a heatmap tool that helped his team find the neighborhoods most impacted by social determinants of health in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia (DMV) area, so that they could help get funding for mobile clinics. He was so excited about the possibilities this gave his team that he invited me to talk about it on his Emmy Award–winning TV program on Telemundo, Tu Salud, Tu Familia.

You’re also a member of the Diversity in Clinical Trials Steering Committee at Medidata. What inspired you to get involved?

During Black History Month 2018, our Black Employees At Medidata (BEAM) BRG hosted a panel with local doctors to raise awareness about diversity issues in clinical trials. I remember the opening video was about a commonly prescribed asthma medication that showed increased risks for people of color. I had asthma when I was young, and it terrified me that a drug I once took could do me harm and my family was never aware. I realized the importance of being represented in clinical trials. 

It also made me wonder from a philosophical perspective: If someday researchers figure out how to extend human life by 10, 20, or 50-plus years, will it work for people who look like me? Diverse communities need to be part of the process to have a real chance of benefiting from the solution.

The Diversity in Clinical Trials Steering Committee at Medidata strives to be a meaningful driver of change. We want to ensure that all patients have access to clinical trials and treatment regardless of their ethnicity, geographic location, and other social determinants of health.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

If you ever want to be promoted, don’t expect it to come to you just because you’ve been in a role for enough time to merit a promotion. It’s what you do with that time that matters. Surround yourself with diverse thinkers and leaders who can help you solve challenges in new ways. Learn the responsibilities of whatever that next level is and don’t wait until you’re promoted to take them on. Start operating on that higher level today so when employee evaluations come around, you’re being compensated for the work you’re already doing, instead of waiting for permission to do so.

What are you currently reading, watching, and listening to?

I’m reading Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Perez. I was introduced to it in a book club organized by our Women in Tech BRG and I’m so grateful to have had my eyes opened to all the areas in society that are designed, intentionally or not, for the “default male.” It gave me some new perspectives on systemic issues that were right under my nose and cannot be denied. I highly recommend it to everyone.

If football or baseball are in season, that’s what I’m watching. There’s no bigger drama on TV than a live NY Giants or Mets game, especially as a lifelong fan of the teams. Outside of sports, my wife and I currently watch See on AppleTV+ and House of the Dragon on HBO on the weekends. 

When I drive my kids to school, we listen to Wake with Clay Pigeon on our local public radio station, WFMU. Clay is probably the nicest guy on the radio and you’re guaranteed to hear songs and artists that mainstream channels don’t often play. (We use Shazam a few times every morning.) During my commute to work, I listen toThe Knowledge Project podcast with Shane Parrish. Every episode is an interview with world-class doers and thinkers. On the way home, I unwind by listening to our new LOLA Hispanic Heritage Month playlist on Spotify. It has a nice variety of old-school and new Latin hits.