Coding The Cars Of The Future

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“The last thing I wanted was a boot camp; I wanted a solid understanding of coding.”

Ten years before Groupon was even a thing, Chris Castro, a 17-year-old kid who lived in the suburbs of Los Angeles, had this idea. In his free time, he solicited batches of coupons from local businesses, stapled them all together, and went door-to-door selling the booklets. That worked well enough, but pretty quickly Castro started eyeing bigger sales. He took the model to sororities and fraternities at UCLA, USC, and Cal State. “If one fraternity kid raised his hand to buy it, they all raised their hands,” Castro says. “It was a thing of beauty.”

The entrepreneurial rush Castro got from selling coupon booklets was just the beginning. After a few years traveling overseas—Brazil, Europe, China—he came back to the “real world” and at 24 landed a job working on implementing Pizza Hut’s first online ordering system. After the Pizza Hut gig ended, Castro felt he was ready for more formal training. He enrolled in the MBA program at Ohio State University, one of the top business schools in the country. After graduation, he scored a corporate gig with IBM, chipped in on the business side of the Watson team and helped foster partnerships with big-name companies such as Apple.

By just about any measure, Castro had pieced together an impressive resume, and he was proud of the work he’d done in the business world. But it had been 15 years since he’d first felt that rush from hawking coupons to frat boys; increasingly, he’d experience these moments where he’d glance down at his iPhone and feel like he was missing out on something. “Everyone was making things,” he says. “I was starting to get a little bit frustrated being a user—I wanted to be more than that.”

What Castro realized was that he wanted to learn to code.

A colleague at IBM pointed him toward Jim Deters, another former IBMer, and a coding school Deters had started called Galvanize. Castro looked into it and was impressed by the depth of the training. Whereas similar schools ran three-month programs, the coursework at Galvanize lasted twice as long. “Six months felt more like a school than a boot camp,” Castro says. “The last thing I wanted was a boot camp; I wanted a solid understanding of coding.”

Castro says he was 90 percent set on enrolling when he went to an info session at Galvanize’s 2nd Street campus in downtown Austin, Texas. There, he met Cam Buckingham, who sold him on the last 10 percent. An alum of the program, Buckingham had been working as a java programmer at American Express, but after a while felt pulled back toward Galvanize and had returned to the school to work as an evangelist. “He was very positive and genuine and enthusiastic about the brand,” Castro says of Buckingham. “Not every brand is the same before the sale as they are after the sale. But looking back, my experience at Galvanize pretty much mirrors the expectations that Cam set forth very transparently and very genuinely.”

Buckingham remembers meeting Castro earlier this year. He says he quickly came to admire Castro’s drive: The fact that he had a wife and six kids and could have easily stuck with a comparatively cushy corporate gig, but wanted to push himself to learn a different skillset. “He was very eager to understand the technology side of things,” Buckingham says. “He wanted those extra chops.”

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In the spring of this year, Castro enrolled in the first web development cohort at the Austin campus. He felt comfortable right away. A few months in, Castro got a call from one of his old Ohio State business school buddies, Ryan McManus. McManus had big news: He’d landed a contract with Jaguar Land Rover to optimize the in-vehicle entertainment experience in the next generation of Jags. McManus explained he was in the process of moving to Portland, Oregon to work out of a tech incubator set up by Jaguar Land Rover. He wanted Castro to join him.

Castro recognized it was a big opportunity. But he eventually decided he wanted to see out the commitment he’d made to Galvanize and himself. A few months later, though, well into his third quarter of school, Castro had started to become confident in his ability to code. He called McManus and pitched him on the idea of coming out for a one-week internship while classes at Galvanize were on a break.

McManus happily flew Castro out for a test run—and was immediately impressed by what his fellow Buckeye had learned. “In a short period of time he’d developed a deep understanding of the entire stack,” says McManus of Castro’s ability to work with frontend and backend technologies. “That allowed him to come in and talk to everything we were doing.” By the end of the week they’d agreed Castro would come aboard full-time after graduation.

This September, Castro completed the Galvanize web development program and is now working as the Chief Technical Officer for McManus’ AVE AutoMedia Inc. The company’s first project is called Neptune, an app that features engaging and educational video content for kids. McManus is working on getting Neptune in Connected Cars—cars with wifi access—so that parents have an easy-to-use way to to keep the kids from going bananas on long car rides.

The app, still in beta testing, will soon debut in the app store. After years of looking down at his iPhone and wondering what it took to create the apps on his screen, Castro had finally pulled it off for himself. “It’s such a feeling of accomplishment,” he says. “To think that this coding journey started just seven months ago and I already have something in the app store—I have Galvanize to thank for that.”

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