Episode 35 – David Rodriguez
Lead Mobile Developer at LegalShield
What made you decide to work in tech?
I’ve always been drawn to programming, ever since I was 13. I remember I used to spend all my time reading as many programming books as I could to build my own games and simulations. This idea of being able to manipulate and create new experiences fascinated me. So I knew I would pursue some sort of engineering education.
In high school, one of my teachers, Mr. Tom Guarino, always persuaded me to create all the tech ideas I had, such as assembling a robot controlled from a hacked Gameboy, creating a skateboarding video game, or just learning more through the various electronics kits he used to buy. That, coupled with my parents instilling the idea that to get anywhere in life I must pursue a college education, encouraged me to further my knowledge of programming and electronics and attend the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
It was while pursuing my Computer Engineering degree that I knew I would decide to work in tech eventually. I tried to be really involved in projects outside of class. In one such project, following in my colleague Shamoon Siddiqui’s footsteps, I led a team to automate a Chevy Blazer to drive by itself to compete in the DARPA Grand and Urban Challenges, whose missions were to make self-driving cars a reality. I learned so much about new technologies, software, and team management than ever before during that competition, and I knew that I wanted to work on something that had the potential to influence as many lives as this.
After working for a couple of engineering companies, I found a passion for learning all I could about mobile technology. I saw a huge potential emerging to make iPhone apps and I thought I could possibly make a career out of it. It had the same capacity to reach so many people and it revolutionized the way we use our phones so I wanted to be part of that.
What was an obstacle you faced and how did you overcome that obstacle?
To make money from mobile apps you either had to create something spectacular and by chance have it climb the App Store charts or you had to find people that wanted apps made for them. The latter was a safer bet although I was still very new in the mobile industry. When I started, I didn’t have enough products to show to someone how deeply I understood the mobile SDKs. I had many sample apps and a published one but that wasn’t enough to get hired yet. So even though I had many years of experience coding, I had to learn more about business if I was going to get anywhere fast with this. To better position ourselves, my friend Raphael Intrieri and I started an app development business together called Forge42. With his brother Maurizio’s help, we were able to sign our first app contract, and that helped us kick-start our app development business. The biggest obstacle I think I’ve overcome is that business is a completely different hurdle that you must understand as well as knowing how to code in the tech world. It’s no longer good enough to just know how to code. You must know how to market yourself and how to deal with the entire product life cycle if you are to compete with the top players in the tech space.
What is your experience being a POC in Tech?
My family is from Ecuador and we moved here when I was still around 5 years old. Being first-generation here in the U.S. hasn’t always been easy for my family. It took quite a while for me to get my residency, so long that I almost didn’t get to go to college. It was by my parents’ hard work, determination, and a little bit of luck that I was able to get it in time for me to attend. I believe their struggle has always led me to work very hard to study and constantly be attracted to the most difficult things I could master. So at a young age picking up coding was essential for me to be where I am today. I couldn’t influence how politics work to allow me to study here but I did know that hard work was something that could influence our lives. The main thing I’ve noticed is that working in tech can definitely help you overcome some challenges that POC are faced with. In the coding industry almost all of it is merit-based, so as long as you’re good and can back your words up with efficient code, you can pretty much make it anywhere. I’ve seen students nowadays come straight out of high school and get amazing opportunities just because they are amazing coders. It’s definitely a great way to get ahead in life. So I am still shocked at the lack of POC in the tech industry. At least for immigrants, most of it also depends on politics changing, but for many other POC, I’m amazed at how there aren’t more resources to get ahead. I can understand that 14 years ago when I started, all I could find were one or two books to get started and access to my library’s computer, but these days almost everyone has access to all the resources to do amazing things. I wish that there were a bigger push for POC to understand that they can definitely make it in the tech industry and that it’s a life-changing event.
What was your perception of the tech industry before entering it? What is your perception now?
When I started developing mobile apps, I was just graduating college and it felt weird saying I wanted to be an “iOS Developer.” The technology was brand new and I went to an engineering school so all my friends were obviously becoming engineering professionals in their field while I was playing around with mobile phones. I really wasn’t sure if I was going to make anything out of it but I was never one to give up on what I was passionate about. The main thing I’ve learned about technology is that it changes so quickly that you can’t settle and must always keep innovating if you are to keep up. The industry now is still moving at ever-faster speeds including new technologies, innovative startups, and crazy new ideas that the world has never seen before. All of this means that you have to be passionate about the field if you want to keep up with it. Just going to college and believing that’s all you need doesn’t cut it anymore. You have you to be passionate about constantly learning if you want to move forward with the field. That said, I believe this has opened so many opportunities in tech if you really want to be part of it.
What are three tips you can give to high school/college students who want to enter tech?
1) Get a head start and learn how to code. Choose any language, using any free online course or take classes at your school if they’re available. It’s easy to start and if you can stick to it, you will have acquired an immensely valuable skill.
2) Think of a small app, website, or project that you have always wanted to create, and start planning how you’re going to build it. Or, join an existing project with one of your friends. This one project should be done outside of regular school work and it will help keep you motivated to keep learning about tech.
3) Find a mentor in tech. I’ve had a few mentors throughout my time in tech and they have definitely helped steer me in the right direction. Some of the best mentors can be your professors or colleagues that have already taken the courses you’re going to take. You can also visit a lot of tech meetups and find a mentor there.
Any personal plugs? (i.e. projects you are doing, collaborations, etc.)
Personally, I’m working on an exciting new version of my nightlife app called Nightwaves. This new release will focus on amazing nightlife rewards at bars and nightclubs, so keep an eye out for that this coming February. Also at my current company, I’m collaborating on an app called Shake. This is an awesome app that lets you instantly create, sign, and send legally binding agreements with ease. You should check it out if you need a contract, or are doing business on the go.