Meet Adrian Estrada - VP of Engineering @ NodeSource


Title: VP of Engineering

Company: NodeSource

Languages and skills: Adrian has experience with many languages, frameworks and tools including: Visual Basic, C, C++, Java, ASP, PHP, GraphQL, Electron, React, Vue, .Net. Learning Rust, MySQL, Postgres, MongoDB, Firebase, InfluxDB. But he is strong in JavaScript, Node.js and PHP.

Languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese (intermediate), Japanese (beginner).

Years of experience: He started programming in 1997 fixing computers, and got his first paid programming job in 2000. He started using Node.js in 2012.

Contributions to the community: Adrian is widely recognized among colombian developers because of his work with communities, including leadership and organization al support he lends to the GNU Linux Group in Medellin, MedellinJS, JSConf Colombia, Colombia Dev, Pataconf, NodeConf and CampusJS. He has also contributed to Node.js Core.

Mentorship: He has mentored many people in Colombia’s developer community. His approach to mentoring focuses on helping his mentees solve practical problems.

List of talks:

Favorite customer issue to solve: A few years ago, a large company in the travel industry had a memory leak because of a login setup. It was quite a complex memory leak and he helped to detect it and solve it.

Favorite personal project: He likes the pomodoro technique, so he created a Pomodoro Timer for personal use. Is a web App built in Electron.

Favorite enterprise project: Recently NodeSource published ‘Try N|Solid’, a zero-config way for users to experience the power of the Node.js Enterprise Runtime (N|Solid). This simplifies the way users can get started with the N|Solid Console.

Favorite song: Innuendo by Queen

Hobbies: Yoga, diving, reading, spending time with the family and video games.


What did you wanted to be when you grew up as a kid?

I wanted to be Indiana Jones laughs. I liked the idea of being an archeologist who goes on exciting adventures. I wanted to travel, learn about different cultures and discover historical places.

So did you run around the forest pretending to be Indiana Jones when you were young?

Absolutely. When I was a kid I used to live close to the forest. My friends and I were definitely runningaround exploring, hunting for treasures and making our own adventures.

After that what did you want to be?

After that I wanted to be an astronomer. I was very interested in space, constellations and the universe.

Would you say that your interest in science and astronomy was different from your peers at that time; were you a ‘nerdy kid’?

I have always been the nerdy kid laughs, but it's a little different in Colombia. You don't get bullied for being smart or for getting good grades.

The concept of 'being nerdy' didn’t exist back then. As long as you weren’t shy and liked to play, kids would be able to make friends easily.

How did you go from wanting to be an astronomer to being a programmer?

I knew what I wanted to do from the moment I touched a computer for the first time when I was 12 years old. I became obsessed with the machine. I started studying the operating system: back then it was DOS 5.0, with Windows 3.0, I think.

It wasn’t my computer. My family didn’t have enough money so I was using my grandmother’s machine. Things got really bad when I started learning how to format and install new stuff, assemble and disassemble it. I broke and fixed that computer so many times! My uncles and aunts got mad at me because I was breaking it all the time.

Then our city got a local network. We had a dial up connection and I used the phone a lot. My family ended up being mad about that, too. laughs When I was 15, I started fixing computers for people and even made some money from it. Before graduating from high school, I was already working on fixing computers.

That’s how I started to get into programming. My first language was Visual Basic and I built basic windows programs like a calculator and things like that.

At university I started programming in C and C++. I also taught a bit, teaching about computers during my time there. Half-way through university I started programming full time, and got my first job coding in Java 1.4 coding desktop applications running on Windows and Linux.

Who was your first customer when you first started fixing computers?

My first customer was my uncle’s friend. I was 15 at the time. He had an old computer that was breaking all the time, so my uncle referred me and it was the first time I was paid to fix a computer.I got quite a bit of money for it and spent it all on computer games. laughs

Did you ever have people working for you while you were fixing computers?

Absolutely. At some point I joined a local company. They had 3 stores fixing computers, and they had a department for technical people. I joined the department as the most junior staff member but 2 years later I was given an opportunity to run that department. That said, I was only 19 years old and managing guys that were much older than me wasn’t easy. I learned a lot, most of it was trial and error.

What happened next?

After that I decided I didn’t want to focus on fixing computers anymore and I got a job as a programmer. It was part time, but it was already paying more than the one I was managing people in, because programming at that time was very well paid, especially Java. This part time job allowed me to keep studying and allowed me to focus on programming, only.

Did you end up finishing university?

No, I was somewhat disappointed with the program. Here in Colombia we don’t really have software engineering as a degree. There is a mix between development and computer science, math and network engineering. I wanted to focus on Software Engineering, but I was forced to take all those other classes, so I dropped out. At that time I was already working full time as a programmer and I was making good money.

Studying on top of that was tough. I had to put in a full day as a programmer and then go home to finish my work for school. I ended up realizing that I was learning more applying myself to my work and projects than what they were teaching me in the university. At that time, the industry moved a lot faster than the education system as well. For example, I learnt Java in my free time, because it wasn’t offered at university. I realized that what the industry needed is not what university was teaching me.

So you were a Java developer, how did you get into Node.js?

I did not only program in Java. I did web-development in ASP, .net, PHP which ultimately led me to using JavaScript. I did a lot of front end work. I started working with Node.js just as a hobby when it was just in version 0.8. That was like 8 year ago now.

Do you like working in the front-end?

I like them both, I consider myself a full stack developer, I don’t see a reason why one would hate one or the other. When I started this wasn’t a thing. You were just a developer and you had to do the whole system. So I just kept doing the same.

Even today, I happen to do a lot of front-end development. I work with React but I especially love Vue and some side projects I keep working on.

When did you start getting involved with tech communities?

When I was in University, I was part of the organizing team of the first Linux group in Medellin, where I met Julian Duque. We created a group that was promoting Linux in universities. We organized a lot of installation parties, where someone brings their computer and we install linux for them. That didn’t end well because the group lost its primary focus and at the end they were just meeting to party laughs.

After that I disconnected from communities for about 5 years and then Julian Duque and I connected again to organize MedellinJS. It is now the biggest JavaScript community in Colombia and possibly one of the biggest of Latin America with 6 thousand members.

Let’s talk more about your community involvement because you are quite the figure in tech in Colombia

After the Linux community and Medellin.js, I joined JSConf Colombia as an organizer for the conference’s second edition. To date, there have been 6 editions of the conference and I have organized 5 of them.

Julian moved to the U.S and I took over the leadership of Medellin.js for about 2.5 years. In that period I created something called CampusJS: we were teaching JavaScript in universities and doing special events for them. I also teached at the CodeRise initiative where we helped kids in vulnerable conditions to learn how to code in JavaScript. Helping children build projects in JS for the first time was absolutely amazing and very rewarding.

We also started to do more meetings at Medellin.js one with talks and another one with a practical workshop. I ended up having to pass the baton to someone else because I ended up being short on time. Right now Mafe Serna who also works at NodeSource, is the leader and she does a great job. After that Julian Duque, myself and other community members saw the need for a dedicated Node.js conference in Colombia, so we created NodeConf Colombia last year.

What about Pioneras Developers?

Julian and I created an event focused on helping women to learn JavaScript. We created a small group called NodeSchool which started with only 5 women. It later became Pioneras and they expanded to all software technologies. It is now the biggest community for women in Colombia with +1500 members across 6 different cities.

So you have been involved in creating many communities, events and education-opportunities. Do you have an underlying philosophy on the role that technology has in social change?

Yes, I’m always looking first to share knowledge to empower people, so people can learn and grow the ecosystem. I also enjoy teaching. It's really nice when you see someone starting out in a community to later go on and become leaders themselves with good jobs and interesting responsibilities.

You did all things while you were working full time?

Yeah, I have donated a lot of time to communities over the years.

And what motivated you to do this?

I just like it. I really enjoy teaching people, especially things I’m passionate about. My motivation was never job security. I already had my own company back then and I was working 12 hours a day like crazy.

I wanted to be involved in communities and I wanted to enjoy a more relaxed lifestyle so I quit the partnership that I had founded. I lost money there but I gained time, freedom, and I even started earning more money because I started working for an american company.

Going back to your childhood, you were given the opportunity because you had a computer near your household. Ultimately this ended up being the cornerstone of all the other opportunities you later managed to convert into successes. Did that influence you to maybe try and give opportunities to others as well?

It was definitely about creating opportunities for others. I know I can do something to help and provide opportunities to people so I do what I can to transform the city.

How is Medellin now compared to when you started out?

The city has completely changed. We used to be the most violent city in the world, but right now, we are an example for transformation. Different articles now talk about us as a hub for technology. It’s nice to have been part of this transformation. Medellin has turned into a real destination for tech and innovation. That makes us really proud.

Since you are part of the people that started this transformative movement, do people still recognize you?

I hate to say it but yees, people do recognize me. I don’t think I can ever get used to being recognized like that. laughs

Now, I understand you also had your own business. Is that right?

Yeah, and not just one. I had a few initiatives to create my own stuff. Then I was fixing computers and I created my own company. At the time I was too young and naive. I got bad deals and I didn’t make enough money but in the end it was successful because we had a lot of customers. I had 5 employees.

My second company was a little bigger. We were 12 people and we were doing software for big Colombian companies. I did not make a lot of profit, just enough to pay the salaries and after 3 years I realized that I have been working like crazy and it wasn’t growing. I ended up quitting and looked for a job in the U.S where I could easily make more money.

Is this how you started working for U.S companies?

I started out as a freelancer, then I got hired for a media company, wedding fashion, doing PHP and JavaScript, and after that NodeSource.

How did you end up working for NodeSource?

Joe McCan came to speak in the first edition of JSConf Colombia. He fell in love with the city and the community and he wanted to hire local talent and create a team. When Joe created the company he asked Julian Duque to work for NodeSource. Julian recommended me but I was very comfortable in my other job, so it was a hard decision. In the end I wanted to work in Node.js so I joined the company.

I started doing NSupport and I was the first member of the team. And then I ended up leading the team of 4 people. Now I am their VP of Engineering.

What do you enjoy the most working at NodeSource?

The culture. The culture of being involved with the community, highly technical work focused on Node.js. I love the runtime and we focus on that.

What would you say to a 15 year old person that wants to start learning programming? How could you inspire them?

You can become whatever you want to, if you are willing to put in the effort and be committed. You can definitely achieve your goals. This has been true for me and many people I know.

How did you deal with the impostor syndrome? We are all learning to overcome it but sometimes it is holding us back. How did you learn how to trust yourself and your skills?

It is an everyday thing. At least for me and for a lot of people I know. Sometimes you start comparing yourself to other people and it can be overwhelming.

One thing that helps me is to remind myself that they might know things that I don’t, but I definitely know other stuff that they don’t know about. I have done a lot. I experienced a lot. There is value in my perspective, my experience as well as my skills.Everything can be learned. Its about how you use your experience to make decisions on what to learn next. The rest is just curiosity and a willingness to learn more.

Thank you Adrian, I’m inspired just talking to you. After this talk I will register a new company, start a meetup and transform a city. laughs

Liz Parody

Head of Developer Relations at @NodeSource, organizer of @jsconfco and @pionerasdev.@lizparody23