Written by Irene Ferradaz
Originally published December 12, 2022, on news.fiu.edu.
Jose Maldonado is living a life most gamers can only dream of, working for tech giant Microsoft on the future of video gaming with the xCloud Team.
“My days consist of tinkering with the latest gaming technology to enhance the experience for our users,” says Maldonado, who earned his bachelor’s in computer science degree in 2017. “I get to play around with prototypes and see how a game is created from initial idea to final consumer product.”
Maldonado says he was able to prepare for and get his dream job because he fully immersed himself in the Panther community and took advantage of many of the university’s resources. During his time as an undergrad, he worked as a research assistant at the College of Engineering and Computing’s Discover Lab, joined StartUP FIU and eventually co-founded founded one of the largest student organizations at FIU – Upsilon Pi Epsilon or UPE.
“I always knew I wanted to make the most of my college experience and participate in organizations that were helping students bring tech to life,” says Maldonado, who found his passion was creating experiential technology, like the virtual reality (VR) prototype he built in one of his classes.
During his junior year, Maldonado met Robert Hacker, director and co-founder of StartUP FIU, and saw the opportunity to learn more about entrepreneurship and how to commercialize his creation within a community of similarly-minded students.
“From the moment I met him, I knew Jose had a bright future ahead,” Hacker says. “His drive to create exciting and immersive technology made him a great fit for StartUP FIU, which attracts our most creative and innovative students.”
Maldonado participated in the first cohort of the Empower Accelerator, a 14-week program aimed at helping early-stage startups launch or grow. It taught him the basics of entrepreneurship, such as how to invent a product, pitch his ideas and think clearly about what it means to build a technology that people want to buy. “It helped me tremendously throughout my year of interviews with Microsoft,” he says, “I mean I had to pitch to a panel of investors as a college student so nothing was more terrifying than that!”
While learning about advanced computing concepts, machine learning and other technology of the future, Maldonado realized a need to create a pipeline for students who were just starting to learn about these fields. It was then that Maldonado, Cesar Villa-Garcia and a team of friends created UPE during late nights in the offices of StartUP FIU, a space dedicated to fostering the innovative mindset necessary to conceive and design the world’s next great startup venture.
“The goal of UPE was to empower students and connect them with opportunities in the realm of tech, which is always growing,” says Maldonado, who also graduated from FIU’s Honors College. “StartUP FIU provided UPE with the ideal space to foster a super-charged intellectual environment geared towards those who want to succeed in tech.”
Maldonado just started a master’s program in learning sciences and human development at the University of Washington. He is hoping to use the skills he learned during his undergraduate years to get more involved with educational tech, possibly in the VR space is he so passionate about.
“My training as an engineer meant I had a specific framework embedded in my mind,” Maldonado says. “At StartUP FIU, we learned it takes a whole other set of equally important skills to build something and bring it to market.”