Who knew tech and journalism had so much in common? Both fields involve questions, fed by curiosity, that take you on a neverending quest for answers. It’s almost poetic that a job in journalism led to Miguel Zakharia’s first job in tech. But the software engineer and First State .NET organizer’s desire to work in tech started with colors — video game colors.
Zakharia was a just a kid when video games intrigued him and a college student when he began second-guessing his aspirations for tech career. We continue our First State First Start series by learning how Zakharia got his start in tech.
How’d you get interested in tech? How old were you?
I don’t remember my exact age, but I was less than 10 years old when Dad bought the first family computer. It was an Apple IIe. I remember him being excited about it, but I didn’t understand why. I really didn’t like using it to type up homework assignments because of all the keyboard shortcuts the editor required. I would call him at the office repeatedly to ask how to save a file or copy/paste text. I really got interested in computers when we bought our first PC. I was older at that point, and I remember marveling at how beautiful the colors and graphics were for my then favorite game, Prince of Persia. Sadly, I was never able to beat it. From there, I started learning about MS DOS because I needed to format disks to make copies of my games. I was hooked.
What was the first thing you built or coded?
One of the first projects I built after graduating from the University of Delaware was an application that allowed school administrators to manage student lists and contributions. I remember being so proud of myself for landing the project. I was really nervous at the beginning, but I took small steps until I accomplished my goal.
What did you think about programming when you first started in tech? Can you recount any early challenges you had?
In my freshman year of college, I almost had a change of heart. My father really wanted me to become a civil engineer so that one day I could inherit his business. At that point, I had started in computer engineering and was having a hard time with the classes. They were not really interesting to me and it was difficult to pay attention. I talked with family and friends and came to the decision to switch my major to computer science. It was still difficult, but I was much more interested in my classes. I knew I wanted to focus on building web applications/sites at that point.
Did you have any early mentors or teachers?
A friend of mine that I met at the gym became an influential teacher. He was a genius. He could read a book, memorize it, and fully understand all of the concepts from cover to cover. He helped me gain traction by explaining foundational concepts in an easy to comprehend manner. The one regret I do have is not finding more mentors back then.
How did you land your first job in tech?
I didn’t really know how to focus my job search, so I pretty much applied to every opening I found in my area. At the time, I was doing some data entry work for a local newspaper and took the opportunity to teach myself about databases. It came in handy for the job I landed soon after.
Why have you stayed in the tech world?
Tech is beautiful to me because of the impact it has on the world. Most advancements in tech are life-changing and mostly positive. I also love the challenge of having to continuously learn to stay relevant. The industry moves so fast, it never gets dull. I admit, it can be overwhelming sometimes.
Any advice for someone just starting out?
Follow your passion, find a good mentor and don’t chase the money. It’s cliché, I know, but I believe it wholeheartedly. If you are not passionate about what you are doing, you will be miserable. Having a good mentor is really important to helping you keep focused and heading in the right direction. It doesn’t have to be one person, either. Finding a company you respect and admire will usually put you in a position to grow and learn from your peers. As for chasing money, well, that usually leads to constantly being unsatisfied with the job you currently have and a missed opportunity to learn as much as possible before moving on.