Cities like New York City, San Francisco and Seattle have long been considered the top tech hubs of the nation. Though Miami’s major industries continue to be tourism and finance, the city is emerging as an international tech hub. Talent cultivated locally sees this as an opportunity to spotlight the long-established successes of FIU students and alumni.
The recent $10 million gift from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to FIU’s School of Computing and Information Sciences further acknowledges the tech expertise at FIU ready to take the tech movement in Miami to the next level.
Recent grad Cesar Villa Garcia is a software engineer at JPMorgan Chase in New York. He credits his professors for preparing him for success in the workforce. While on campus, he helped build a community by founding in 2014 FIU’s chapter of Upsilon Pi Epsilon (UPE), the international honor society for the computing and information disciplines. Its members are on the frontlines of tech throughout the country and are excited to see growth locally.
Today, UPE has more than 2,500 members, making it FIU’s largest tech organization. Top companies like Twitter, Google, and Microsoft actively recruit from the organization.
“I never thought UPE would grow at the rate it has. It’s helped elevate FIU students, allowing them to be seen by companies and local startups that are looking for talent,” said Villa Garcia.
He adds: “Recruiters now know to visit Miami to recruit talent. The Knight Foundation gift … recognizes the talent and sees the potential for students to reach new heights.”
Raul Faife—a lover of VR and game development and current vice president of UPE—got involved with the honor society immediately after starting at FIU. As part of an outreach component of the organization, he taught kids how to make their very own video games, and helped coordinate ShellHacks, an annual hackathon hosted at FIU that brings more than 1,000 tech enthusiasts together.
“The demand for tech talent is growing exponentially,” Faife says. “With this investment, I’m excited to see even more world-class faculty getting hired by FIU, giving students that personalized education they need as a foundation for success.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of computer and information technology occupations is projected to grow 11 percent from 2019 to 2029, at a faster rate compared to other occupations. This will create approximately 531,000 new jobs.
This summer, Faife, who is now vice president of UPE is interning remotely at Microsoft, learning project management, software engineering and android development.
Sabina Cartacio grew up in Miami and was raised by a single mother. All the women in her family received their degrees from FIU. Cartacio, the co-founder of UPE’s Alumni Association, knew she wanted to follow in their footsteps. In high school, she considered joining tech groups, but couldn’t bring herself past the initial imposter syndrome.
“All the students in these tech sessions were males, and I felt intimidated,” Cartacio says. “I chose something easier and regretted it every day. When the time came to start college, I told myself I would not repeat that same mistake. I applied to be a computer science major at FIU and got in.”
At FIU, Cartacio took advantage of every office hour to get advice from professors, who she found extremely supportive on how to make the most out of a career in tech.
UPE also played a significant role in her success. “My gender didn’t matter. My interest was always appreciated. It was a non-judgment community,” says Cartacio, who also founded UPE’s mentorship program and helped organize the first ShellHacks event.
Cartacio now works at Microsoft as a program manager for the Azure Machine Learning platform. In her role, she’s responsible for getting customer and business requirements and translating those to technical documents for engineers to execute. She generates roadmaps to inform customers of planned features and collaborates with marketing to ensure the visibility of their products.
“The Knight Foundation’s generous gift makes me so proud,” she says. “As alumni, we work hard so that the next generation of students could get recognized a little easier, and this confirms it.”
Most recently, UPE launched a tech alumni association, where members support each other, share employment opportunities and host a series of events to help FIU tech alumni continue to influence the tech industry.