From Day Job to Entrepreneur: Interview with Giselle Zeno


It’s not everyday someone thinks to themselves “Fuck it, I’m doing this”, quits their job, risks everything and starts working on something they truly believe in, embracing failure every step of the way. Since Startup of Puerto Rico and events like Startup After Hours, Founder Institute, Startup Weekend, and others started I’ve slowly but surely seen it happening. The most recent person I know that decided to do this is Giselle Zeno. I’ve known her for a while and was very intrigued to know what finally triggered that mindset in her. Hopefully this is the first of a series of interviews to awesome people that have recently reached that mindset switch or are almost there.

Q: Tell me about yourself.

My name is Giselle Zeno and I am a software developer. I enjoy coding because it’s like solving puzzles (Who doesn’t love a good puzzle?!).

I studied computer science for my undergrad while working part-time. I even went to Google to do an internship. After I graduated, I went on to pursue graduate studies and got mesmerized by all the neat things you can do with data mining.

I am figuring out what I love to do most. Right now I have some ideas and recently decided to stop only daydreaming and get to work on them. I honestly don’t know how it will work out but I feel like I need to do this and give it my best. (Let’s hope it will!)

Q: Any fun fact(s) you’d like to share?

  • I did an internship at Google after only my second year of undergrad. It was a dream come true for me and I learnt a lot while there.
  • I know three natural languages (Spanish, English, French). I need to practice ASL again and then I’ll be able to say I’m a polyglot.
  • I enjoy biking and weight lifting. After finishing my undergrad I realized that I should be more active. The bonus is that it helps me unwind!

Q: What is your skill set?

Programming (various languages), data mining, machine learning, databases, web development…

Check out my LinkedIn profile and my website for more specifics.

Q: What was your role at your last job?

I was a Senior Programmer in the group that develops and supports Banco Popular’s Online Banking. In the time I was there, I worked on fixing defects (bugs), implementing new features, and integrating other services. I analyzed the best way to do the task at hand and went about it. I also mentored the junior programmers and helped them when they were stuck on something.

Q: Why did you leave?

I realized that I could not picture myself doing pretty much the same thing day after day; no matter how hard I tried to visualize it. I did not see myself there in five, three, and not even one year. I knew I wanted something different, a new challenge.

Having that in mind, I thought about my options and I knew that I would not find anything much different here in Puerto Rico; so I was originally unsure of what I should or could do. After attending local meetings of Startup After Hours and prPIG (Puerto Rico Python Interest Group), I was inspired by the things others were working on. I instinctively knew that I would like better the challenge of working on a startup.

I’ve had a couple of ideas for a while, but haven’t done much with them unfortunately. I attempted to work on them on my free time but a full-time job and graduate studies at night did not leave me much free time. I figured that I would have to quit my job (a very difficult decision) so that I would have more time to actually get working on my idea.

Q: What inspires you?

Knowing that I have not reached my full potential and that there are always ways to improve. That might sound kind of cliché, but it really helps me keep going. Something else that inspires me is other people and the things they are doing and working on. I personally know people that are just beginning their startups. I know others that have already gotten funding for theirs. I have friends that are pursuing their PhD’s or have gotten them already. They are all an inspiration to me to keep going and figure out what my end goal is.

Q: What are you working on now?

Right now I am dividing my time between working as a consultant/freelancer and working on my idea. The plan behind this is to get funds so that I can work on my idea 100% for a while and then do it again. I am also looking at different options for funding my startup.

In regards to the idea that I am currently working on, I have only talked about it to like three people. I have gotten good feedback about it and I think it could really grow. All I can hint at this stage is that it will be a product that will change its users’ personal shopping experience by making it easier, less time-consuming and personalized.

Q: What do you need to keep going?

Well, to keep working on this I need resources like developers, servers, and learning resources (or people who already have the skills I need). Some funding would be nice so that I don’t have to juggle my time.

What I feel like I need most right now are skills and knowledge that I currently don’t have and I’m trying to learn as I go, which is time consuming; Thankfully, there are sites like Coursera and Udacity that help fill the gap. I need help from others; whether it is coding or helping me learn something I need or even encouragement.

Q: What is your vision of success?

For me, it is trying new things and learning from them. I think the moment we stop doing that, we get stuck where we are. Success for me is finding what you love doing and going for it. In order to do that, we might need to try a few different things. If we have to work (which usually is a large chunk of time in our lives), wouldn’t it be best if it were on something we enjoy doing?

Q: What advice do you have for others?

Don’t just do what others say you should. Don’t define your life or work according to what our society is used to. Figure it out for yourself. If you are unhappy with what you are doing, do something different. Don’t be afraid of change; Change can be liberating and good for you even if it’s terrifying at the same time.

Q: What do you think of SoPR and what would you like to see from it?

I think it’s great that there are communities SoPR forming in Puerto Rico. I find it can be inspiring for others and promotes collaboration. I would like to see it grow to the point where it attracts enough attention to become a sort of Silicon Valley in the Caribbean (A silicon island? We could/should come up with a catchy name…).

You should reach out to Giselle and at least say hi!