Jose Garcia-Balius on video games, overcoming failure, and a self-taught career in coding

September marks the beginning of Latinx Heritage Month. We’re honoring our teammates with a series of interviews to highlight their experiences.

History has shown us that design, products, and employment have not been equally accessible to people of all backgrounds. Abstract is committed to challenging the past by bringing in people with a diversity of lived experiences that help us build a stronger product and a more open and connected world.

As we drift into fall, we are celebrating Latinx Heritage Month at Abstract. This is our first post in a series dedicated to our esteemed Latinx colleagues. Jose Garcia-Balius shares what sparked his interest in coding and led him to pursue software engineering as a self-taught career path.

What personal passions bring you to Abstract?

I’m passionate about design, programming, and tackling challenging problems. For me, working at Abstract brings those interests together. In that way, work doesn’t feel like work.

What are you most proud of in your life or career?

I’m proud that I was able to teach myself to code. As a kid, I pursued programming as a hobby. After I immigrated to the United States from Cuba, a friend of mine introduced me to wrestling video games like WWE. After each video game release, I’d spend my time scouring the web for information or leaks to try and learn everything I could.

A few years later, when I was 12 years old, I decided I wanted to have my own website and release my own exclusive content to share with other wrestling fans. Through Google, I found tutorials and online forums that helped me learn how to build and design my own website. Within a few years, my site had as many as 5,000 visitors. I was even able to build relationships with video game producers who would share information with me leading up to new releases.

For six or seven years after that, I kept looking for more challenging projects to fuel my interest. I didn’t know that I could make a career as a software engineer until my senior year of high school.

Who have been the biggest champions in your life?

My mother and my wife have been the most supportive people in my life. They have both been encouraging and supportive, even when the future felt uncertain. For example, I dropped out of college in my junior year to start a company with my friends. My mother was there for me the whole time and helped me as I experienced the challenges that come with running a business.

After moving on from the startup and joining another company, I was working for a company where the culture wasn’t right for me. When it came time to make difficult decisions that affected our income, my wife encouraged the change and we were able to get by, together.

I will always be thankful for their contributions to my life.

Which dicho (Spanish proverb) best describes you and why?

“No hay mal que por bien no venga,” which translates to: There is no bad or evil that comes without any good.

No matter what we experience in life, there’s always a bright side. This saying has helped me get through the toughest moments of my life. When life is challenging, you have to get back up, learn how you can do better, and remember that it will pass. Something good can come out of anything.

You get to have dinner with one person—famous or not. Who do you choose and what would you ask them?

I’d want to have dinner with my grandmother, who passed away about eight years ago. I have so many questions for her about the choices she made in her life that ultimately impacted mine. I am here because of her.

She was the first in our family to immigrate to the United States. Once she became a citizen, she returned to Cuba to bring more of our family over to the States. I have often wanted to learn more about her experiences and what drove her to pursue this journey for our family.

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