Manuel Plaza

AGE: 24
INTERESTS: Wine, video games, reading, and traveling

Tell us more about where you are from and what you were doing before 42:

Originally I am from Uvalde, Texas which had very agrarian vibes. It’s a small town 70 miles outside of San Antonio. I was born the son of a rancher and a Christian school teacher.

My uncle showed me video games when I was very young.  I didn’t know that computer programming was a career choice until I was 12 or 13 years old. Since our school was so small, it was more about self-learning.

 I looked up to the founder of Digg, Kevin Rose. He was a significant influence on me and gave me a glimpse into what it means to be an entrepreneur. He had a podcast, and a lot of it was about tech. So it was my first taste of the tech world. I started reading books about tech, and I got hooked. 

Before I came to 42, I went to the University of Texas at San Antonio. I was studying computer science and working as a server at a restaurant.

Did you have any programming experience before 42?

Yes, since I was studying CS at university, I knew C. I was also learning Java and was learning through some other online tutorials. 

How did you hear about 42?

My cousin Robyn and I were both born in the same hometown. I was taking a gap year, really getting into wine and figuring out my passions. She told me she was leaving Texas to go to a school outside of San Francisco called 42. I told her I was trying to brush up on my C skills before going back to university, and I ended up going to 42 Silicon Valley as well.

What did your friends and family think about your decision to attend 42?

I would say there was a healthy amount of hesitation and caution. My family is supportive when it comes to career ventures. They didn’t know a whole lot about tech, so they don’t know what is going on in this sector. Since I have been at 42, I have been explaining the different opportunities. I have pretty good folks, my friends are upset that I moved away, but they think this opportunity is excellent. 

What was the piscine like?

I walked in a little cocky because it seemed like no one knew what they were doing. There was still a lot of work, and I still had to put things together. It was a lot harder than it seemed; I was working a minimum of 12 hours a day. I knew I could accomplish it, but I still had to spend a lot of time in the lab. 

Another cool thing was being able to help other students. A lot were scared and had never done any programming before. I didn’t have to show them the exact details, just gave them some direction and they got it. It was an enriching experience.

What was it like when you received your post-piscine decision email?

I wasn’t sure because the admissions process and requirements are secret, and I have no idea. I knew what the material was but wasn’t sure if I was the right fit. At the time, I thought of the piscine as just practice before I went back to university.  I got that email and felt while I was young and had no roots I should do it.

How does the cadet program differ from the piscine?

It is a lot more self-care and self-maintenance, to be honest. Everything is going so fast in the piscine you don’t have time to breathe. But once you get into the cadet program, the fire behind your butt fizzles out, and you have to make sure you are learning instead of going for a grade. You have to make sure you know the subject material of what you are trying to learn. It is a different goal. In the piscine, I focused on passing, in the cadet program, I need to make sure I understand what I am doing to get stuff done. It is a different approach to how you go about your projects.

How do you find help with your projects?

For my projects, I look everywhere honestly. Textbooks are helpful, but Google is my best friend. The most effective method is finding someone who has done it before to give you direction. Finding people through Slack or in person, it is rare not to find people who can help you. People are your most excellent resource at this institution. 

What are some cool tech events you have been able to participate in?

I have been to a few. The most notable was the Samsung Developer Conference, that was a cool event to be able to attend. You got to see a little more of the tech industry itself in Silicon Valley and meet other developers who work for different companies. I got a chance to see it in action for myself instead of just through articles and word of mouth.

What do you like best about 42?

I got to say 42 is unique. It is easy to say there is a great community here, but this is different. At 42, I am surrounded by people who are doing projects they always wanted to. It is something I haven’t seen in previous communities I have been involved in before. 

What is the most challenging aspect?

As I mentioned before, making sure to be organized, self-disciplined, and motivated. Motivation can be fleeting; all the maintenance that goes behind the coding is the hard part about 42. At 42 there are so many resources and people that help you succeed here. I don’t think I am a fantastic coder yet, but they are giving me the strategies to become a great one, not just a good one. 

What do you like to do in the Bay Area?

Because I am involved in wine, I like to step away from the fast pace of tech. I find a vineyard and have a glass and think about all the effort that went into it. It gives you time to reflect on what you are doing. Wine slows down time a little bit when tech is just too fast.

What is your dream job?

Possibly owning my own company someday, or working as a software engineer for a wine company. I want to combine both my passions for wine and tech. There are a lot of ways that winemaking can be improved, and tech can be implemented to produce a better product. Also, to make wine more approachable to consumers, it is complicated and can be intimidating. I have some ideas I am working on, but I’ll see how it ends up. 

Do you have a quote or saying that inspires you?

“All goes back to the earth,

and so I do not desire

pride of excess or power,

but the contentments made

by men who have had little:

the fisherman’s silence

receiving the river’s grace,

the gardener’s musing on rows.” 

 – ‘The Want of Peace‘ by Wendell Berry

Sometimes I feel like I am never taking a break and can feel exhausted, always striving for the next thing. The line from this poem reminds me to stop and smell the roses and have a glass of wine. The belief that there can’t be higher recreation than contentment is something I appreciate.

Connect with Manuel on LinkedIn

Photos by 42’s in-house photographer, Priscilla Vongdara

Interview by: Stacey Faucett