We met with one of our alumni, Jairo Guzman, to learn more about his journey from biomedical engineering into the tech field. After joining and completing the program at Qwasar alongside his friend, Mammadu Diallo, he got employed at Microsoft (while Mammadu got employed at LinkedIn, a Microsoft company!) The goal of this interview is to give you an idea of who is in our learning community. This interview is a part of ongoing interviews of our Qwasar students and alumni.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, Jairo.
I am originally from Venezuela, and I left in 2001 due to political turmoil. I’m currently living in Athens, Georgia, near the University of Georgia. I live in a nice location where I have everything I need and more. My office is in Atlanta - I work remotely, but I go to the office once or twice per week.
I originally studied biomedical engineering, and I spent most of my career working in the medical device industry. All of the companies that I have worked for are Fortune 500 companies. When I was in my career in the biomedical engineering field, I first got in contact with coding. I haven’t stopped learning by myself since I was a kid, but before Qwasar, I never had clear guidance on what to learn, and how to grow my skills in coding.
What is your current position and how did Qwasar prepare you for doing the job?
My current position is as a software engineer with Microsoft. Qwasar prepared me to feel comfortable with being able to tackle difficult problems filled with uncertainty. Most of the projects in Qwasar introduce you to how to deal with uncertainty, that’s how Qwasar helped me the most. I find those uncertain problems occur in my day-to-day job.
Tell us a little bit about your journey to Qwasar.
I was a self-taught student since I got my Bachelor’s degree. While self-learning, I never really got the consistency that a program can offer. I actually wanted to attend 42, but since they closed with the pandemic, it didn’t work out. Instead, I was referred to Qwasar by a friend and originally, that wasn’t enough encouragement for me. However, when they told me who was behind the projects (referring to Kwame, Jennifer, Josh, and Gaëtan), that’s when I realized it was a good opportunity for me to join.
Tell us a little bit about your journey within the Qwasar program.
My journey within Qwasar was just what I needed at the time. I practiced a lot with my friend Mammadu. We worked at the same company, so we would work together during the day and then do the Qwasar program during the evening. It really helped me to have Mammadu and have that close relationship where we kept each other accountable. If I had technical challenges on my projects, I would reach out to someone within the Qwasar community, or even outside the community. Rather than saying, “I’m stuck here and I can’t progress," I would seek out help. The process of software engineering is always the same. The biggest challenge was having to put in the hours and keeping each other accountable. When I was working full time, it was difficult to find the time to put into the program; accountability helped.
How did your experience at Qwasar help you get into your first software job?
I learned to think as a software engineer while at Qwasar. It became really easy for me to communicate with hiring managers and my future colleagues, in a way that they would engage with me. I was aware of what the job was about and what they were expecting from me. The key was to be able to think as a software engineer and communicate so that both parties understood each other.
Qwasar also helped me with writing my resume and interview prep. At the end of the day, everyone has to find their own approach to the job market. There are so many different individuals out there, and they need to feel comfortable with how they’re going to find a job. Some jobs in this career are way more demanding than others in obtaining them. I do believe Qwasar prepared me to see the big picture but it was up to me to find my own path. I had to decide where I wanted to go.
What skills did you learn throughout the program that you find most useful in your position?
Dealing with uncertainty. It’s such an important thing! There is not going to be a problem that is 100% like the next. You need to be prepared to solve and figure out issues with no preparation at all. The way that Qwasar helped me was because they got me comfortable with dealing with those uncertain problems. Right now, I am dealing with an issue that is so specific to my project that I haven’t seen it before. Ultimately, you just have to be able to deal with uncertainty. That’s the key to success for a software engineer.
What was your favorite project at Qwasar?
My_bc project was my favorite - you have to build a basic calculator, in C. It was like the perfect project for me. It had a fair amount of history attached: I learned where it came from, what it was trying to solve, and best of all, it’s an open-ended solution. There is not one way of doing it. It resulted in the way that I designed it, and the way that I proposed a solution was very interesting. This project had a little bit of everything. It had history, the context of what you’re trying to solve, and deep computer science concepts (difficult to understand at the beginning but once you do, it’s so cool). It was a challenging project on many levels and when I finished it, I felt that I became more of an engineer. Not only because of the technical challenge but because of having the opportunity to put all those things together and create a solution.
Tell us about one of your biggest successes while learning to code.
Honestly, getting to know myself better. Being able to get a well-defined problem that seems so abstract and putting it into a logical set of instructions that will put a solution into place and solve that problem. The cycle of getting an abstract problem, going to find a solution, and implementing it, that process really gave me the feeling that I’m able, I’m capable. I began to understand that by changing the way I think, instead of getting frustrated, I would need to get a more calm perspective on the situation. I also gained more introspection and had a different approach to problems. That different approach to problems required a lot of work on myself. I realized, there is nothing wrong with me! I am smart enough. That discipline was healing in a way. Now I’m able to have more faith in myself. This relates to the Qwasar philosophy in general, “I gave you the tools, whatever you want to do with those tools, go for it!” If you aren’t even able to believe in yourself, how will you get there?
We are thankful for Jairo's time in developing this interview and sharing his insights and journey. We are looking forward to sharing more student and alumni interviews in the coming months.