Arta Team Spotlight

Q&A with Antonio Cansado—Software Engineer at Arta

Arta Team Spotlight

February 10, 2023

Meet Antonio

Antonio’s fascination with computers started in early childhood. While his friends were discovering video games, he was designing them. He went on to earn a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in computer science with maximum distinction from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and then a Ph.D. from INRIA Sophia-Antipolis, France.

Antonio has worked on far-reaching projects in his career, including Internet Metrology for the Chilean Government, Google Workplace, Next Billion Users, and Google Pay. Sure, he is a software expert, but his barista skills earn him the most kudos from his colleagues at Arta Finance.

The rumor is that you taught yourself how to program when you were a child. Can you tell us more about that? How did you become interested in computers at such a young age?

My relationship with computers started when I was born. My dad was always working with them, and we were fortunate to always have a computer in the house. This was back in the early 80s when having personal computers was uncommon.

My father was not a software developer per se; he was an engineer charged with building all kinds of things, like accounting systems, from scratch. He was a natural programmer.

Although he didn’t teach me directly, I saw him working on computers all the time. At age 6, I started practicing what I saw. At age 8, I built my first video game. Imagine a digital dart-throwing game - hours of fun for a kid my age. I drew, visualized, and programmed it by myself. So, I was already coding quite a bit as a child.

With all that experience, it must have been an easy decision to focus on computer science at university. How did you like studying in a structured setting after all those years of learning on your own?

When I went to college, I started with entry-level computer science classes because they were required. Thanks to those years of practice at home, it was extremely easy for me. I attended very few classes and got top honors. For the record, I don’t recommend this strategy to any current students reading this! Jokes aside, I knew how fortunate I was to be in that position and that I should get the most out of my education. So to challenge myself, I enrolled in electrical engineering and finance courses in addition to my computer science classes. Once I got into the advanced computer science courses, things really got interesting.

I love hearing that you valued your education and appreciated the opportunity to go to university. We hear many stories about programmers dropping out of school to start working or launch a startup. What kept you going?

Yes, there are stories about people in the U.S. quitting college to work as a programmer, but in Chile, that was not an option. When I was in college, the tech industry in Chile was getting underway. So, there were not many options available. You couldn’t rely solely on tech skills. You had to have a degree to get a job.

Most importantly, my parents greatly valued education. They always pushed when it came to school. My parents never told my siblings or me what to study, but they made it clear that we had to attend school. That was fine with me, and I found ways to keep things interesting. For example, I stacked my classes and created an accelerated timeline for graduation. As a result, I finished a 7.5-year combination program (bachelor's and master's degrees) in 6 years.

Electrical engineering, finance, and computer science at an accelerated pace. What kind of work did you get into after school?

Once I graduated, I took a role at a startup as the chief engineer designing software for air traffic control. It mixed data from GPS and traditional radars. I worked with four of my best friends from college and bootstrapped the project from scratch. It was our first job out of college, so we had to figure things out as we went. It was quite a learning experience!

I try to get into the users’ minds and advocate for them.

Since then, I've always looked for environments with great teams and seasoned engineers. I believe the best way to accelerate your learning is to work with people with more experience than you. It's a fantastic way to accelerate your career, especially when you are just starting.

You eventually landed a role at Google - lots of senior engineers there.

There were plenty of engineers with far more experience than me. I learned a lot - and quickly!

At Google, I did backend work for about three years. Then I changed teams and worked on front-end development for the first time. That’s when I met Caesar Sengupta and his team. I enjoyed Caesar’s work style and projects. Zelidrag Hornung eventually came on to manage the engineers, and I greatly respected his strong technical ability and management skills. It was an incredible group to work with and learn from. That’s just one of the reasons it was easy to take a role with Arta and reunite with this team.

Learning about financial management and wealth-building can feel challenging, opaque, and out of reach. Let’s change that - and let’s make it easy.

Your Arta colleagues say you are a champion for the user. Can you tell me more about that?

My strength is building infrastructure and spotting an app's usability issues. I ask what the user is trying to do - not what the engineer is trying to do. It’s common for developers to focus on solving the technical problem without stopping to think about it from the user’s perspective.

I try to get into the users’ minds and advocate for them.

Where did you get this passion for the user?

It all started when I became a mobile developer for the Next Billion Users project. The challenge was that the app we were building was extremely technical. To maximize usability and simplicity, we did user research every other week. We were constantly asking ourselves, “does this make sense?” and “will the user care about this?” That got me thinking about the user’s perspective; I’ve had that mindset ever since.

In addition, I’m deeply committed to issues around privacy and security. In fact, I can be pretty annoying to my colleagues about these issues! I will block features and projects if privacy is not strong enough. I firmly believe that unless you solve for the user above all else, issues around privacy will come back to bite you.

Thinking from the user perspective, what would you like to see from the finance industry in the future?

The U.S. is one of the world's most financially developed countries, yet many people here are not financially savvy.

Learning about financial management and wealth-building can feel challenging, opaque, and out of reach. Let’s change that - and let’s make it easy.


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