Coding instaGIS at Silicon Valley

mountainview

A couple of months ago my employer (who was building a startup at a Silicon Valley accelerator) asked me to leave everything aside and join him at Mountain View, CA, to rebuild instaGIS, a geographic decision making software. Want to take a peek?

Now, I’m a big data hacker and a skilled developer, but I’m also a family guy. I read a story to my kid every night. I have dinner with my wife every night (or at least we hang out in the kitchen telling each other how was our day). I live 30 minutes from my job walking… I love not needing to drive. So there I was, presented with the best opportunity of my career and feeling goosebumps for having to leave everything aside.

One week later I was in Mountain View. A huge coworking facility in like the only 12 store building in town, so you get to see a beautiful view of the valley. And man, they do have like 500 windows to delight you with the sight.

The Bad Part

There were times I felt sad for being apart from my family. Some times I felt worried like when I was told my kid fell and had an injury (altough not a serious one). I feld enraged when my employer asked me to change the queue I had in mind for adding new features to the project. But he’s not only my employer, he’s also my friend and I can cope with anything he asks me. We’ve grown to know each other’s weaknesses and strengths.

The Good Part

This being said, I believe this 6 weeks have been the best experience of my life. I mean, I hold dear the moment in which my son was born. Or the day I got married, but those events lasted for a few hours, and in this case were speaking of weeks. It’s two orders of magnituve above.

I  met people from a lot of countries. Pakistan, India, China, Vietnam, Japan, Mexico, Jordan, Spain, Germany, Slovenia, Iran, Belgium, Siria, Dubai and probably a couple more. I spoke with anyone that was willing to strike a conversation and I got surprisingly and unexpected goot chit-chats. I’m fluent in english (altough I have a terrible spanish accent) and italian, but here I learnt a little bit more japanese and german. I tried to greet people in their native language. I learn’t a couple of bad words too.

I rented a room -for a few days- with the Sabourian, a Belgian-Irarian family. They had a little daughter, Delorï, and she was fluent in english, spanish, farsi and french. She was 4 years old and a little dictator on her own. They were very gentle, very reassuring people. For example, for father’s day they asked me to join them in a family brunch, with grandparents and uncles. The Iranian lady (she was younger than I actually), Layla, drove me to work a couple of times… extra nice. I hope I could stay I touch with them. If I ever went back to MV with my family, I believe my son would make good friends with Delorï.

 

When I came to 500 Startups I joined a team that was already assembled. Julian García, cofounder, Antonia Undurraga, Julian’s wife and designer, my employer and friend Ignacio Canals, her wife Teresita Pérez (designer and elite photographer) and Mauricio Lazcano, senior developer and cofounder too.

I got along surprisingly well with all of them. I was already a friend of Ignacio and Teresita, but I didn’t know Julian, Antonia or Mauricio. Now I feel I’ve gained 3 friends.

Mauricio got along quite well with a couple of mexican teams, so I became close with then too. Tavo Zambrano, Isaac Herrera and Ana Graciela Navarro where a nice bunch. Very gentle people, generous and open minded. In this bunch we also hanged out a lot with the Jordanian patch, Hussam and Hani. Hussam worked along with Heather Morgan, a charming and funny girl, so we hanged out with her too.

In this incubator you get to hang out with menthors and they are all superstars. If you weren’t here, you’ll have to pay like 5.000 the hour to even speak with them. In here, you got that for free. You get to pitch about your project, and they do make bold and sometimes cruel statements like: ‘this is shit’,’get rid of it’. But that was mostly Dave McClure, cofounder and leading menthor in 500 startups. Actually, having your pitch trashed out by Dave was the best thing that could happen to you and your project. We had also free sodas and snacks. And we were helped all the time from Melissa, an extra nice girl from 500 startups. But also you got to share knowledge with other startups, and sometimes that brings amazing ideas to the table.

Tavo introduced me to AppSocially guys. Yusuke sempai, Samurai sama and Shu sempai. Those three brains had more neurons  than the whole AT&T Park on a Giants match. Impressive skill. I really liked them, specially Yusuke. He’s even a PhD. How cool is that!

Heather Morgan was a case on her own. She worked in Honk Kong, South Korea, Japan, Egypt and more. She was fluent in like 7 languages.  She had a weakness for spicy food so she was always looking for places to experiment the new maximum hellfire experience.

His employer, Hussam, is a jordanian guy. I believe he’s like a prince in Jordan or something. He owns an audi TT. He hanged out a lot with Hani, also Jordanian but from another startup. These Jordanian guys were amazing. They laughed at my lame jokes, and were always reassuring. They are good at hearts, even to the extremes to be knaive. I really liked Hussam and Hani. I hope for them to be millionares. But I hope even more for them to be happy, and to hang out with me in the future.

One night Isaac (from the mexican patch) invited us to dinner in SF. It was his birthday and I went with Mauricio. We were 3 mexicans, 2 chileans, 1 dutch, 1 argentinian and 1 venezuelan. Nice crowd. We spent the night eating tasty food, drinking fancy wine, but above all comparing how bad words in each of our countries might have another meaning in the rest of  latin America. For example, “pendejo” is a terrible word in México. In Chile means “spoiled brat”. In Chile “chucha” means “damn!” while in Argentina means vagina. So there you go, add up the 120 bad words in mexican slang and we all analyzing them, dissecting horrible swearing into etymology. Ha,  like scientists.

 

Not only work

I’ve eaten enough garlic, jalapeño and seafood to declare myself full for like. I had lobster at fisherman’s wharf in SF, how cool is that!

It was not only about work. On weekends we tried to have a little outdoor experience. We rented bycicles in San Francisco and went across the Golden Gate all the way to Sausalito, and came back by ferry. We went to a Baseball match, Giants vs Marlins. We were at the ceremony of Stanford’s Graduation, cap ‘n gown an all that stuff. I went to the Gay Pride parade (I couldn’t convince anyone else to join me). I had a great time and it was a unique occation.

angelitos

 

But those things were on Weekends. On labour days I coded 14 or 16 hrs straight and I was amazed of how I resolved each challenge that came to our minds. I still can’t believe I recoded Mauricio’s work at instaGIS and actually preserved the whole logic and DB structure. I was supposed to start over and someway I managed to leap forward coding on top of Mauricio’s 1.5 years work, and nothing was wasted.

He’s a skilled developer but he has a long way ahead of him to sharpen his methodology. Now, I don’t really care about skill in my teams. I do care more about initiative. Skills are learnt with time, perhaps in a proper threshold. But I’m pretty sure anyone can learn to code. When it comes to initiative, you can’t teach it, you can’t instill it to people unless you get in their heads. And even in that case people won’t become real improvers or overachievers. Mauricio was a guy with initiative. Lots of ideas came out from his mind every day. Some of them could make a guy rich if he has the contacts and time to implement those ideas. Damn! A big company should hire Mauricio and have him just popping out ideas all day long.

I don’t know if this company will actually work. It’s a startup, it’s fragile. But if I had to put the money where my mouth is, I totally will. I believe this company can be a billionare asset. Wow, 6 weeks ago I was complaining about having to travel.

I became better at coding. Better at explaining and understanding. I don’t know how or why, but I became smarter here. Maybe they put smarteroids in the sink water or something. Most things started to seem really simple to me. Like It was drawn for a six year old kid to understrand.

Today is my last day at the office. I will miss this place. I’m happy to go back to my family, but I grew to love this place. And I’ll always be grateful with everyone I met for contributing to the whole tale. So here it is, briefly told in a blog post, just to avoid time from slowly erasing the details from my memory.

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