Interview with Rafael Gonzalez

January 25, 2023
Yasmina Ibsen

Rafael is a valued member of our engineering team.

Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school?    

I grew up in Mission, TX, which is about the furthest south you can go in Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley close to the Mexican border. I originally went to school for Pre-Med to the University of Texas-Pan American, now called University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, until I moved to Austin, TX where I went to Austin Community College as UT was too expensive. Around the time I moved to Austin I decided to change careers to Computer Science after reflecting on the many years of school and training it would take to be a doctor as well as the hours worked and being on call. Being around computers was always a passion of mine anyway so it was a good fit.

What sparked your interest in computers and engineering?

From as far back as I can remember I had always had an interest in computers, my dad likes to remind me how I would take apart the computers he bought to see how they worked. My interest only grew further as I assembled my own computers with water cooling rigs for gaming.

My interest in engineering began around the time smart phones, particularly the Android operation system, came out. I was fascinated by the possibilities of creating an application from scratch. My passion for gaming and finding out how things work played a part as well as later, during the time I was studying Computer Science in school, I started reverse engineering proprietary game files for a famous MMORPG in order to create a Windows application to view, export, modify, and re-import 2D and 3D game assets to create mods for the game. It took me several years, but I did complete it, made it open-source, and to this day it is used worldwide by over 200,000 players of the game.

Did you have any specific role models? If so, who were they?

I didn’t have any specific person that I saw as a role model, it was more of a group of people who I strived to be a part of. Those who innovate, worked with cutting-edge technology, and were helping humanity reach new heights through technology. I always aspired to be a part of those working in robotics, artificial intelligence, medical technology, and space exploration.

What would you say to a young person considering a career working with computers?

If you are undecided, and you can do this with any career, research the daily work life of the job you are aiming for, then picture yourself in that position to see if you are comfortable going through that flow daily. Find a passionate project to do outside of schoolwork, if you are interested in robotics, get a 3D printer and try building and programming your own small robot. If you’re into games, get free or student licensed software to try creating your own. If there is software you always wish existed but doesn’t, try making it. As hard and scary as starting from a blank slate may seem, there are so many resources and tools freely available to get you started, and you will learn so much from the research and your own successes and failures creating something from scratch that you will be ready for anything any job in that field can throw your way.

What is important to you personally? I.e.what things do you value most in life?

Getting to experience as many locations and cultures around the world as possible. The world is such a vast and wonderful place. It’s an ongoing effort for me to visit other country’s natural wonders as well as experience, appreciate, and learn about their culture, history, traditions, music and media. I find it very important to always keep learning and not stay stagnant in this ever-changing world.  

What are some of the challenges you have faced either in your career or personally that you feel have helped you become the successful person you are?  

Getting to where I am today has been full of challenges, starting with trying to stick with school curriculum. This was partly because of one my other life challenges which is living with ADD, but also because I always found computer science classes were too slow paced, in a short period of time I would already be far ahead of the current material and quickly lost interest in classes. This is when I began my passion project in which I created an application from scratch, at which point I was far exceeding the pace of learning of the school curriculum. The next challenge came in the form of starting my career without having graduated. Challenging myself to create this complex application from scratch is what I believe helped me the most in starting my career as I not only had real world knowledge of software engineering but also had something to showcase as a proof of my skills.

What do you enjoy about being part of the Studylog team?

I enjoy being part of a team where everyone in the company is passionate about their work and the product we deliver. I also enjoy being part in building a product that helps in medical and overall scientific advancement.

What do you do for fun outside of work?

Aside from traveling, which is very enjoyable, I like to tinker with things. I own filament and resin 3D printers which I use to make all kinds of useful and artistic objects. I’ve also always been a gamer, so I enjoy playing video games and still get excited about new releases. I like to take time away from technology sometimes and read fantasy and adventure comics and novels. I always enjoy learning new things, most recently trying to learn Japanese, which is challenging but fun.