"All my life, I've set a goal, and then I get there."
"This is Rrrrrrraybel!" Most staff members at the Dugoni School of Dentistry have at some time or other picked up their telephone to hear this cheery greeting. No question: Raybel Ramos is probably the most upbeat and friendly IT director most people will ever encounter. He loves what he does, and it shows.
Born in Cuba to a Communist family, Raybel grew up with his two sisters. His father was a colonel in the army and a lawyer. "He was one of the bearded guys in the revolution." His mother was a kindergarten teacher.
He went to the University of Havana, where at first he wanted to study to be an actor, but ended going in a more pragmatic direction, earning a degree in informatics. Fortunately, he realized that he really enjoyed programming. His first job out of college was at a large plastics firm in Cuba, where he wrote a payroll program for the HR department. Even though it was a decent job, "I realized that the system was not what I wanted."
By 1989, Raybel knew he would leave Cuba, but he wasn't able to put his plan into motion until 1995. A circuitous, arduous six-month journey eventually led him to Miami. He had family members already there who had emigrated when Fidel Castro came to power. They wanted him to stay, but he wanted to start over somewhere fresh.
Thanks to a $200 grant that covered the cost of his airplane ticket, he moved to Portland, arriving with "just $5 or $10 and a pair of jeans."
At first, he lived in an apartment shared with seven other Cuban immigrants. A local church organization helped them by paying their expenses for the first month. He had to find a job, and quickly. "I did everything. Everything you can imagine. Cleaning cars, day labor... I knew I wanted to be independent. That's been the big thing in my life."
He soon found a job at an electronics firm which hired him to solder batteries on an assembly line. To get the job, he had to take a multiple choice test. At this point, he still knew almost no English, but still managed to score 100% on the test through the same logical thinking processes he used when programming.
By the end of the first day, he knew the job was not a good fit for him. However, he had noticed that the company didn't have any kind of reporting system or processes. "I started giving ideas to people there. And right away, it started getting to the management that I was a programmer, that I had these ideas, even without having any English and my skills in computers were all Cuban!" His managers pulled him off the production line and put him to work "to see what I could do." After hours, he'd head to the library to study English. "I will never forget this guy, this big manager said to me, 'You have to write an email to me every day telling me what you did.'... He forced me to think in English... thanks to him, my writing and English are much better... that was the best way for me to learn." In less than six months, Raybel was managing the TAC (Test Analysis and Calibration) department.
After four years, Raybel knew it was time to journey on. He wanted to live in an area with more opportunities for programmers. He had met his partner Paul, who was planning to relocate to the San Francisco Bay Area. Soon, the pair made their move.
Their timing could have been better. It was the late summer of 2000, the first dot-com boom had ended with a crash and companies were laying off workers. Raybel found himself competing for work against seasoned programmers with 20 years of experience. Nonetheless, he received two job offers the same day. One was from a bank, the other was from University of the Pacific. Sensing that the latter job would offer more opportunities to grow in his career, Raybel accepted the offer from Pacific and never looked back.
During his time at the dental school, Raybel has done just about everything — managing the website, writing web applications and creating databases for a variety of departments including HR. After a few years, he moved into management, launching the programming group within the IT department and later on becoming the Director of the Information Technology and Telecommunications departments. More recently, he led the implementations of a new clinic information system axiUm and the digital signage system throughout the building.
When he is not working, Raybel can be found bicycling all around the Bay. He participates in the AIDS LifeCycle Ride every year, covering 600 miles in a week to raise money in the fight against AIDS. (And he hasn't given up his love of theater.)
"I love to work here. I really like the people," says Raybel. The feeling is mutual!