THIS IS ME.
Playing in the streets.
Hi, I’m Jorge Contreras and I love to create things. It all started back in the 90’s when growing up in Mexico. I would go to school in the morning and after school I had all the afternoon to play. Some days I would play soccer on the streets with the other kids in the block. The game was paused when a car was passing by and nobody was allowed to move until the car had completely passed the goal line. Playing on the streets sometimes caused undesired side effects like breaking a window or a car mirror. Other days we would play hide and seek, changais and so many more group games. I had a lot of fun.
My father had a woodwork business with my uncles. They would design and build kitchens, closets and other furniture. Sometimes I would go to the exhibition room with him but I used to get bored. He taught me how to create figures with color paper to keep me entertained. I would create cubes, cylinders and other 3D figures. I drew windows and doors on them and arranged them in blocks, like a mini-city. There were schools, fire stations, hospitals, hotels, homes, parks, everything made on paper! I didn’t have the luxury of owning something like a Lego, so building my own cities from paper was the perfect entertainment. Creating those paper cities gave me a lot of joy and pleasure. I kept doing it as a pastime for a few years.
Soon, I realized that creating my own stuff was more fun than buying something already made. Sure, it was fun to play with a wooden rifle from the flea market, but the real fun was building one! I took whatever pieces I found and put them together to make my own toys. One of my most exciting creations was a bow and an arrow. The bow was made from a tree branch and rubber bands. The arrow was from thinner tree branches and a soda cap on one edge. Some of my friends liked it and created their own. If you chose the branches wisely, the arrows could reach long distances and high speeds (at least for a 10 year old)
Don’t get me wrong, of course I loved to play with purchased things also. I spent hours playing on the Atari. Pac-man, Donkey kong, Solaris, Pole position and Asteroids were among my favorite. My dad, being a computer engineer, always brought cool computers to the home, and he let us play with them. The first one he got was a Tandy TRS-80 color computer. He wrote some programs and games for us. I remember a math game that asked for the result of an arithmetic operation. Then he got a Lanix 486. I played some games like Challenge of the Ancient Empires, Alley Kat, and of course all the games included in the Windows OS. One day he installed a game that I absolutely loved. I played it so many times and never got bored of it. I used to call it “Mundo World”, but I just recently discovered that the actual name was Another World. I loved everything about the game. The entire scenario, the gameplay, my weapon, the intimidating enemies, the beasts, having a friend in a hostile world, solving the puzzles to get out of there, the animations, sounds, and … the ending! It left me wandering for days. “Another World” is my favorite game of all time.
Jump into programming
When I was 13, with the guidance of my father, I started to write programs too. I used Visual Basic to create some programs for fun. I decided I liked this so when I was 14 I went to study Electronics and Communications in the Centro de Enseñanza Tecnica Industrial (CETI). (Technical and Industrial Learning Center) My favorite courses there were digital electronics and programming. I programmed Atmel and Motorola micro controllers in assembly language for school projects.
I was 18 when I finished the Electronics Program and my final project was an automatic drill for printed circuit boards. I disassembled two old printers, put some step motors and even pieces of a sewer machine (to move the drill bit up and down). I wrote a program in visual basic and the firmware in assembly language for the hardware. It took me 6 months to complete. When it was finished, you would use it like this: starting from an existing circuit design in a commercial software called OrCAD, you exported the data into the program I wrote in Visual Basic. This program would interpret the data and send it to the micro controller of the drill. Then the drill would start making the perforations on the board. It remained a prototype, but the accomplishment in itself was my biggest reward. The process of giving life to something that is only in your mind and put it in the real world is a unique experience that I can’t explain. Creating, designing and implementing a complex project from start to finish with limited resources was very fun and challenging.
The web and more code
With the rapid development of the Internet, many software applications started to migrate to an online platform, including the system that my father had created for a local credit union. He needed help to migrate the system from Clipper/DOS to an online system in PHP (LAMP). I joined, not knowing much about the complexity of this kind of systems. I learned along the way by doing. I learned from existing PHP frameworks like Symfony and other projects like Drupal. It was very challenging. I had so many gaps and it was a vast world of ever changing information. I had to google many terms that I found, from “CORS” to “dependency injection” to “Database normalization”. I spent hours debugging code, trying to understand how everything worked. With time, patience, a lot of reading, making mistakes and perseverance, pieces started to come together. After several years of hard work, a new system was released! Now employees didn’t need to have the software installed on every workstation. All they needed was a web browser and an internet connection!
What if I get new projects?
The credit union project did not pay well but I learned a lot. I felt confident enough to land a job on a software company and get a salary according to my age and experience. I got interviews by some companies but I was rejected at first. After some failed attempts, I was hired by an agency that worked with a customer in California. They created websites in PHP and MySQL and I had experience with that. I worked remotely from Mexico during almost a year. I was able to help and I created a profile on LinkedIn. Then, I got an offer from a company in New York. I accepted and moved in 2013.
It’s been 7 years since I moved to New York. Technology has evolved a lot these years and I have new skills in my belt. I’m now leading a team of developers in the USA and India. The company sponsored my graduate education and got a Masters in Information Systems with specialization in Web Development in Aspen University (online program). We have created websites and mobile apps for entertainment and chance to win. There are new apps in the pipeline. As a new year is starting, I’m looking back and seeing where I am and how I have got here. Hard work, mistakes, self- motivation, my father’s guidance and inspiration, skills that I have cultivated, decisions. Now it’s a time to learn new skills. It’s time to dream again and look for new challenges. It’s time to be a kid again and believe that anything is possible.