This spotlight is part of a series of posts to amplify exceptional Latina talent in the workplace and tech industry, in collaboration with our partners.
Spotlight Partner: PlayStation Visual Arts
Featured Talent: Merilly Ruglas
1. Tell us about yourself. How did you get to where you are today?
I was born and raised in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Being a single mother of two, my mom had to immigrate to the United States so that she could financially support our entire family – my sister, my grandmother, my two uncles, and I. I was aware from a very young age of how much our family struggled financially. We were not well off and often dealt with hunger.
Although growing up without my parents was very hard, I would find ways to fill that void by doing several things like watching Anime, writing fiction stories, and playing video games. Some of the people my mother worked for as a Maid would gift her used gaming consoles, and she would send those to us. Because of this, I was exposed to the Nintendo, Super Nintendo, and PlayStation consoles. I remember when I got my first PlayStation from my mother, I was very curious and a bit skeptical about it. But then, I turn it on, put the Final Fantasy VIII game disc in, and my entire world changed. I was blown away by the graphics and I felt like I had been pulled into a beautiful fantasy world.
It was my love of video games that fueled my interest in the gaming industry. As a I child, I ‘dreamt of someday making my own video game and writing the story for the next Final Fantasy game. However, the reality of my circumstances made those dreams seem impossible and unrealistic, thus I never even tried to pursue them. When I turned 19, my sister and I moved to New Orleans, LA to live with our mother. Our newly reunited family experienced a lot of struggles, and we were still a low-income family, living paycheck to paycheck. My sister and I focused our entire energy on getting a college degree and well-paying jobs. My sister was very good at that, and she is now a very successful General Manager for a Hotel in New Orleans.
I, on the other hand, struggled with a bit of depression which made me suicidal at times and grappled with my desire to be an artist versus the need to get a corporate job where I could make good money and pay bills. Although I graduated with a BS degree in Marketing, I could not find a well-paying job for several months after graduation. I felt stuck and unable to break through this invisible ceiling that prevented me from rising above minimum-wage jobs. I eventually hit rock bottom, working two part-time jobs, and still, I could barely afford to pay my bills. It was at this time that I found my mentor in life, Dr. Daisaku Ikeda. His life philosophy is based on the practice of Nichiren Buddhism, which states that every human being has unlimited potential and that we are born to live the happiest of lives.
“Even if you think you’re hopeless and incapable, I know you’re not. I have not the slightest doubt that each of you has a mission. Though others may disparage you, please know that I respect you, I believe in you. No matter what circumstances you now face, I have absolute confidence that a wonderful future awaits you” (Discussions on Youth, pg. 27)
This quote, among several others of his quotes, was a constant source of courage for me to believe in myself and my potential. My mentor’s encouragement and my Nichiren Buddhist Practice helped me not to give up on life. Not long after finding Buddhism, I decided to pursue my passions and sought to become a successful artist. I went back to college, and I pursued a Bachelor of Arts degree in Digital Design where I learned about animation, graphic design, motion graphics, photo/video editing, web design and web development. I realized that I really enjoyed designing interfaces, and sometimes, even coding them from scratch. It reminded me of RPG video games because it is like a challenge to figure out the best way to solve a problem and move forward. Fast forward to today, I am a User Experience Designer at Sony Interactive Entertainment who is constantly honing her craft.
2. What inspired you to pursue a career in the tech industry?
Well, I truly have a love for technology. I believe that technology is meant to help us live to our fullest potential as human beings, and I wanted to be a part of the tech world where I could create products that make people’s lives better. Living in New Orleans definitely made it hard to become involved in the tech industry because hospitality is the biggest industry there. For years, I applied to jobs outside of New Orleans, but I felt I was always one step behind and competing against 50+ other applicants. Then, in 2018, a big tech company opened its offices on Poydras St, Downtown New Orleans. I used to drive down that street every day to go to my day job and I noticed the name of the company, researched it and I determined that one day I would work there. Every day I drove past the building, I chanted Nam Myoho Renge Kyo three times (Part of my Buddhist Practice) and said, I am going to work there! A year later, I started my first full-time job in Tech at that company as a UX Designer. Covid-19 hit a year later, and I became very sick with Covid towards the end of 2020. After recovering, I had a deep sense of how unpredictable life is and started to deeply reflect on how I could live my best life each day. Thus far, I had been practicing Nichiren Buddhism for about 9 years, and I was encouraged by seniors in faith and my mentor to have a vision for my life towards the next 10 years. It was then that I decided to pursue my childhood dreams of making my own video game someday and I determined that I would work for a top gaming company by November 2021. I wanted to achieve this not just for myself, but also, I wanted to inspire other Latinx youth to also pursue their dreams despite whatever they may be facing. I want to open the way for them, and I want to show them what is possible and what we, Latinos and Latinas, are capable of. And here I am, working at PlayStation.
3. As a User Experience Designer at PlayStation Visual Arts, what have been some of the most memorable and impactful projects you’ve worked on so far?
As a Senior User Experience Designer at PlayStation Visual Arts, I am still a little bit new. I am currently working on two big projects and I am doing my best to support the engineering team by providing information about user needs, wants, and pain points. Moreover, I am supporting them with the architecture of solutions which we are designing. Towards the end of the project, I hope my efforts will significantly reduce the amount of bug correction and re-work for engineers and ensure smooth adoption of the solution by end-users.
Because these are my first two projects at PlayStation, they will be very memorable to me, and I am doing my best to make sure that they are impactful.
4. How has your culture (and/or other identity marker) shaped you as a leader?
I think that being a Buddhist woman of Latin descent makes me a fearless, honest, and empathic leader. After overcoming my own lack of self-worth through my Buddhist Practice, I am able to fully embrace my Latina Fire and put it to good use. I feel Latina women can be pretty bold and fearless because they do what it takes in order to support their families – at least, this is what I have learned from my mother and my grandmother. Also, being the daughter of an immigrant and growing up in a third-world country gives me a unique perspective on things. This also has made me more empathetic, which is a great quality to have not just for being a User Experience Designer, but a leader. I work hard and do what it takes to achieve success, and I do my best to also support others around me achieve their goals.
5. Whether it’s grappling with cultural expectations or navigating workplace biases, we fight through many challenges as Latinx women. What’s one you’re working through currently?
For me currently, the most important thing is to increase the number of Latinx Women in design and in the gaming industry. I believe representation in the industry is important, especially among designers because we are the ones crafting the vision for products. We need every perspective at the table so that products can truly be inclusive. Take “Encanto” for instance, it had one of the first Latina Women co-directors at Disney, and I have to say, watching that movie was the first time that I felt truly represented in a character because my hair is just like Mirabel’s hair. That is the power of diversity. Personally, it can sometimes be lonely to be the only woman on a team, but that is multiplied times 3 when you are the only Latina woman designer on a team. I truly want to be able to see more of us in the industry and I want to be able to connect with more Latinx women designers so that we can support and encourage each other and speak Spanish from time to time.
6. Looking to the future, what inspires you and what initiatives are you most excited about right now?
I am inspired by all of the Latinx Women who are emerging in almost every industry as successful entrepreneurs and leaders. Their stories are incredibly encouraging and I want to become one of them. I am very excited about the initiatives of Women@PlayStation Sorrento Valley Chapter and Unidos@PlayStation, our Employee Networks at Sony Interactive Entertainment. They have several things in the works, and I am excited to be able to support them by getting involved and actively engaged.
7. What’s one piece of career advice you’ll NEVER EVER forget?
“Believe in yourself! Don’t sell yourself short! Devaluing yourself is contrary to Buddhism because it denigrates the Buddha state of being within you.” Just as my mentor Dr. Ikeda shares, I am always reminding myself to believe in my own potential, to believe in myself, even when others don’t, I need to just believe in myself. I would encourage everyone to develop a support system, but also, to find a mentor in life because a mentor reminds you of what is truly essential and holds you accountable.
8. How do you reset when you’re in a funk? (ex: What song do you play? Do you go for a walk? Do you take a nap? Do you call a friend?)
Honestly, I am a homebody. I like to refresh myself by playing a video game or by watching anime, a good movie, or a Korean Drama, while eating good food. And the next day, I make sure to chant my heart out before work so that I am ready to face the day and win.
9. Any podcasts or blog recommendations?
For inspiration: TED Radio Hour, TED Talks Daily, Hidden Brain, Buddhability, and Buddhist Solutions (For Life’s Problems)
For UX Designers: Design Better and Design Matters
10. Is there anyone you’d like to shout out for their support along your career journey?
Yes, I want to truly express my appreciation to the entire NOLA Game Camp team, especially to: Chris Douglas, Peter Zetterberg, Fiona Cherbak, Beth Arnold, and Melissa Boone. Thank you so much for all your encouragement and support. Additionally, thank you very much for starting the Game Camp program. It was through this program that my eyes were opened to the fact that someone like me, a Latina woman from a third-world country, can work in the gaming industry, and that my childhood dream is no longer a dream, but a possibility.