Monterrey to Microsoft

An intern's grit lays the groundwork for his career

Diego Garza Rodriguez grew up on the outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico, off the grid with a mixture of rural and urban amenities. Paved roads, no. Electricity, yes. City water, no. Wi-Fi, yes.

There weren’t many neighbors nearby, so as a kid Garza occupied himself with an obsession for technology. “Due to that isolation, I started learning about computers,” he said. YouTube taught him the basics of creating a website and helped him lay the foundation for his future, which would include sought-after internships with Microsoft and Carnegie Mellon University.

He wasn’t just solving boredom, however. Garza saw problems in his town, including hunger and poverty, up close, and he wanted to help fix them with digital engineering.

While in junior high, he read a newspaper story about a local university student who developed an app to help citizens in Monterrey find the fastest route to the hospital. The ingenuity of it spoke to Garza’s imagination and compassion. He knew he wanted to develop similar tools to help his community. His parents told him the student he read about attended the best engineering school in Mexico, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, otherwise known as Tec de Monterrey or the MIT of Mexico. Garza said, “I’ll find a way to go there.”

In many ways, Garza was up against the odds. Education is low and crime is high in Monterrey. In Mexico, 95 percent of students complete elementary school, but only 71 percent go on to secondary school. Only a quarter of students who begin school go on to attend university, and only 1 out of 10 university students graduate.

Garza had insider knowledge about learning opportunities in his town because his parents are teachers at Kumon, a tutoring center franchise they own. His mother was a chemist/systems engineer who started the business, and his dad, an accountant, followed her. They brought Garza and his two siblings in to tutor part time during junior high and taught the kids that “it’s okay to fail—it’s more important to be honest with who you are, so there’s nothing to hide from people.” Even with the resources available to him, Garza knew his educational goals were still a reach and that he would have to persevere through challenge.

“If I’m in a situation that’s not promising at that time, I try to pursue more to improve what I’m doing, and that way I continue toward that goal,” he said.

Demonstrating passion

As a student, Garza heard about an organization called Selider that offered 10 scholarships per year to students who earned high grades and showed leadership. That became his waking dream: a scholarship to Tec de Monterrey. “Work toward your goal—make it huge—and break down the goal into small pieces . . . don’t procrastinate, be persistent,” he said of his strategy. He took a leadership role in his Catholic church group, where he developed the skills to listen to people and consolidate efforts to solve problems.

He also started his own robotics team, which evolved into a robotics club he cofounded. “If you’re really passionate about developing software and robotics, you need to demonstrate that to yourself, not to someone else,” he said. All along he reminded himself, “Don’t focus on getting a good grade; focus on knowledge.”

When it was his time, Garza underwent months of Selider’s eligibility testing, which measured everything from intellectual capability to psychological disposition. He landed the scholarship. And he got in to the college of his dreams.

Christian Mancha, a friend of Garza’s at Tec de Monterrey, interned at Microsoft in 2015. At the end of the internship, Mancha was invited to refer someone for a future internship, and he had one person at the top of his list: Garza.

Garza was on a plane to China at the time for an international robotics competition—a seat he earned by first winning a national robotics competition. He had very little time to pull together his curriculum vitae (CV). He spent frantic moments in between flights prepping and sending his CV, and he got the internship. He interned during the summer of 2016 and loved it so much that he took the opportunity again this past summer.

Going for it

On the Office 365 team, Garza supported the service authentication team working on the interface between hardware modules and datacenters.

“Inside Microsoft, I found an environment where everyone tries to contribute not because it’s work, but because it’s a way to help achieve more things,” he said. “The most intelligent people in the world are trying to solve a problem, making technology easier for people in the most secure way.”

Garza said he experienced a sense of simpatico in his internship. “They encouraged me to pursue my ideas. When I had an idea that I wanted to develop something, they supported that. Go for it! Try new things! Try different approaches and see which one works better for the user.” This attitude of shoot-and-miss developing is exactly how Garza approaches his work. “If I fail because of something, I try to learn from that mistake.”

Garza is now spending a semester at Carnegie Mellon University, where he’s studying computer science and engineering. He said that in the long term he’d love to be back at Microsoft in Redmond to continue the comradery and collaboration he experienced.

The recent hurricane and earthquake in Mexico have Garza thinking about where this all started: an app to help the people of his community. He wants to put his research to use developing a robotics company, specifically autonomous robots designed for search and rescue. “A lot of disaster, a lot of people have died there, and all humanity is helping. That continues to encourage me to try to develop a robotics application that can send robots to help.”

Big undertakings like this often sound difficult, but persistence pays off, Garza said. “Looking at companies like Microsoft, sometimes people say ‘That’s only a dream.’ But that’s not true. Everyone is capable of solving these problems and learning how we use technology.”