The tech workforce in the US is not growing at an optimal pace. The number of schools offering computer science is not enough which is impacting the access of computer science to young women and students from marginalized communities.
This is because only 47% of public high schools in the US offer computer science which deeply impacts its access to young women and students from marginalized communities.
To address this pressing issue, we have launched #MyStartInTech, a campaign dedicated to drawing attention to this cause and in turn, help widen access to computer science in schools.
As part of this campaign, we present the #MyStartInTech interview series where some of the esteemed tech entrepreneurs and professionals in the industry share details about their journey in tech. With this, we hope to draw attention to the infinite opportunities that will lay open if young women and students are given the opportunity to study computer science.
In this interview, Juan Eduardo de Urraza, CEO, Posibillian.Tech, talks about how he got his start in the tech world.
Juan is a software engineer, science-fiction writer, university teacher, and radio announcer. He currently leads Posibillian Tech, a mobile game development studio, specialized in location-based games, multiplayer, and blockchain.
Let’s find out what he has to say!
When was your first interaction with Computer Science?
My very first contact with electronic devices were arcade machines, which was something amazing at their time (Space Invaders, Asteroids, Galaga, etc.), but that was only electronic entertainment.
I got true contact with computer science when I was 9 years old. As far as I remember.
That is quite old as per current standards, as kids today use tablets and phones since a very young age. But at that time (1984), the world was very different. And living in a third-world country (not even a developing country), it was rarer.
I learned to code in LOGO in a small institute, on the Commodore 64. I passed my days creating graphical “fractal” graphics with complex formulas, experimenting, and then printing them in a dot matrix printer.
I completely fell in love with computers, and then learned how to code in BASIC, on the same computer, in the same institute. After that my only goal in life, as a kid, was to get a computer and have it at home, but at that time it was something very rare, expensive, and my mother didn’t understand why should I have a computer or what I will be able to achieve with one, so I had to save money by myself during some years, to get mine. My school didn’t have any computers in primary.
What nudged you into taking up a career in technology?
I was a “gamer” before the term even existed. I always loved computers as they not only were useful for playing games but also to construct anything you want.
Software is one of the new wonders, or creations, of humankind, maybe the most important one of the past century. Software changed everything.
At a very young age, I discovered that and foresaw a future where software will be used for thousands of things that were manual or mechanical, and I wanted to be part of that, and create that world.
I always wanted to develop video games, but at that time it seemed impossible. There were no tools, nobody was able to teach me how to do it, Internet didn’t exist, there were no books to learn, so I studied engineering in computers, to be able to program and create software and software projects by myself.
Learning computer science also helped me to write hard science fiction stories, something that I have been doing for the past 28 years.
What are your earliest memories of using a computer in school?
We didn’t have computers in school. And I was unable to buy a computer for home, so I joined a computer club where I paid a fee and I was able to use their C=64 computers for 4 to 6 hours per week. I usually played video games on those machines and learned how to use them.
In 1986, as a 12-year-old, I managed to save money doing some errands and bought a C=128 by myself, with a disk drive, that I connected to a 14” CRT TV. It cost $500. On that, I learned to code a little more, did some music, small games copied from magazines, and the like.
Around 1991 I sold my loved C=128 and I was able to buy a Commodore Amiga, and a whole new world opened to me. I had a glimpse into the future of computing. I started to write science fiction at that time, about virtual reality (I continue to do that, with 10 books published in Spanish).
In my last years at high school, we had a computer club, where we used some Atari ST computers and learned to create databases and other stuff (but I never liked Atari computers). Then I got into university, where I got my grade in Engineering in Computers. Had to buy a PC to learn to code in C++, as everyone used PCs and Commodore went bankrupt.
I was also part of a demo group at that time, we created a diskmag, some minor demos, and other stuff. I was a writer for the diskmag and chief editor, and there I started to enjoy writing articles and short stories, that I published in the magazine.
All of that led me to become a writer in the end. I was also a swapper, exchanging by mail (post mail) floppy disks with demos, music, images, anything. Later I co-created the first “multimedia” magazine in my country. It was printed and came with a CD-ROM with a lot of cool stuff inside. We published 10,000 copies of each until we had to shut it down because we were not able to cover the high expenses.
What is the importance of technology to you now and how does it impact your day-to-day life?
Computing is everything to me. It is my profession, my hobby, what I use to write stories, and what I write about. I play games almost every day. I have a technology company where we develop location-based mobile games and other technologies.
I traveled the world showing our games, meeting other developers and investors, and sharing our experiences. I love the digital world. I teach at the university about trends, technologies, and the philosophy of technology.
I am glad to be born at this time in history. I cannot imagine a life without computers and technology.
How important is it to increase access to computer science and technology to underrepresented communities and young women today?
20 years ago we talked about the “digital divide”. I believe we have a “digital abyss” right now, separating wealthy countries and communities from underserved ones.
I created a program in Paraguay, with USAID funds, called “Oportunet”, and in 4 years we connected 130 communities to the Internet. I am talking about indigenous communities, rural schools, NGOs in protected forests.
Thanks to that program we had thousands of families in the whole country and in very remote areas, connected to the Internet, and we worked with them to create self-sustainable computer centers. Some of them were in districts with little power, using solar panels, some of their computers were nests of spiders when you opened them.
But I can definitely tell how access to computers and the Internet changed the life of every person in these communities. Some of them were able to get scholarships out of the country, or get jobs, or communicate with NGOs and work on new projects. It was amazing.
Now, 16 years later, with the high cell phone penetration and smartphones, we are in a different situation, as access is easier, at least in most countries. But at that time, we changed lots of lives. Some of our members became tech-savvy individuals, working in the field now, and teaching young people.
As part of this work, to use technology for good, I also became representative of WSA (World Summit Award) in Paraguay, a UN initiative to discover and help tech developments to grow and make them known all around the world. I also became a university teacher for the same reason.
Why do you think access to computer literacy in school is important?
In our current world, there is no work where technology or computing is absent. Anyone who is computer illiterate will face difficulty in finding good jobs.
We are in the knowledge era, and the digital abyss I talked about is getting bigger and bigger, and lots of opportunities are there in the open to people with the rights skills. But if you are not able to develop those skills, it will be harder to get a job, a stable life, and be competitive in this new world. And now, with the covid pandemic, it is more evident.
We, as game developers, have more work than ever, our company grew 500% in the last year, while traditional work was hit hard, and a lot of people lost their jobs. However, anyone with tech skills should have a job now, and it is even better for poor countries, where you can do contracts with developed countries and get paid way over the local salaries.
What do you think about .Tech Domains taking up this cause?
It is a great thing, and I hope all the stories shared, and any push we can do to help people to learn technical skills will have a huge impact on their futures.