Sep 27, 2022 - World

Duolingo founder on his Guatemala roots and recipe for success

Photo collage of Duolingo founder, Luis Von Ahn, with abstract shapes.

Photo illustration: Allie Carl/Axios. Photo: ITU Pictures/Flickr/CC BY 2.0/Collaged

The Guatemala-born founder of Duolingo, one of the biggest language education companies in the world, hopes his business can help more Latinos see themselves in tech and create a more inclusive industry.

Why it matters: Luis Von Ahn is one of few Latinos at the highest levels of a major U.S.-based corporation.

  • Latinos make up around a fourth of the total U.S. workforce, but only 8% of workers in STEM fields.

What they’re saying: “It’s not just about seeing more diversity in C-level positions, it’s about representation at all levels,” Von Ahn tells Axios Latino through email. He added that Duolingo has worked hard to build an inclusive culture and that some of its most senior leaders are Hispanic.

  • His company, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, has also had a near 50-50 gender ratio in engineering hires in the past few years.
  • “I hope this kind of representation helps younger people imagine a future for themselves in the tech industry,” Von Ahn adds.

Von Ahn credits part of his success to his mother enrolling him in private school and English classes.

  • He says that motivated him to build Duolingo, “so money will never be a barrier” because “teaching languages for free has the power to change people’s lives.”
  • “I will never forget where I’m from and I’m proud to be able to give back to Guatemalan society now,” Von Ahn says.

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