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Diego Pardo Blacutt
Diego Pardo Blacutt

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How did I land in the Software development world?

This story is about how I became a software systems engineer, my life when I was diagnosed with cancer, and how I built a platform that helps people with this condition. I was in my third year of University when I was diagnosed with cancer. Five years later, I presented my final project about that disease in front of a crowd.

Becoming a Cybercafe developer

Let's talk a little about how everything started. As a child, I was naughty like everyone else, curious about what that strange box called a computer does. "Don't put play dough inside the computer!", "Oh my god, Diego. Don't put candies in there!" These were some phrases I used to hear as a little boy. As many of us remember, we were born with a PC as a loyal fellow. When I was 10 years old, I stopped ruining my family's PC and built my first website. My dad was a professor, and he had a lot of Microsoft books. One of them was about designing web layouts using the 2002 MS Publisher. So yeah, my first frontend experience was in a cybercafe building aguysite.com as my first website layout. My dad still doesn't know that I "borrowed" his book many times.

When I was 17 years old, I decided I wanted to be a Software Systems Engineer, so I could go from being a cybercafe developer to building tech solutions. So I went to college and learned many things, but mainly I learned how to solve problems and carry out a project from start to finish. I learned about databases, algorithms, client-server, frontend, backend, routing, etc. In my third year, I was learning about agile methodologies when I received some unexpected news.

Impossible after all? I don't think so...

Doctors diagnosed me with skin cancer in 2017 with a disease called DFSP, a different type of cancer with a low death rate. This inflection point was the most challenging time when I dropped out of college and needed surgery. I traveled to Chile and lived there for about 6 months. I had surgery, underwent radiotherapy, and was finally cured. I remember being in bed for weeks, hoping to get better, and missing home! Yes, it was sad, but an experience that gave me so many life lessons!

I learned from cancer that although I was terrified about what could happen when I was in surgery, I had the guts to face my disease! Years later, I realized how brave that act was! Do you think that running a 10k race is hard? Oh yes! But impossible after what I did in Chile? Well, not really! And that's why I think people must recognize their victories. We all have our trip to Chile, and we should recognize it. For some, it is to have stopped smoking or to have distanced from toxic people! Do you think that deep learning is hard to learn? Yes, of course! But after what you have been through to quit smoking? Oh, hell no! You are everything good in life!

When I came back to college, it was tough to focus on studying after what had happened to me, but like everything in life, it takes time and a good sense of humor to get back in shape. Family and friends are powerful support! Time passed, and I finished all the college's remaining courses and just needed to present my final degree project.

Dreams and dedication are powerful combinations.

So I used the experience that I had as a cancer survivor patient to build something that can have the potential to help people to be diagnosed faster, especially people that have DFSP, which is the disease that I had and that is usually hard to detect. For example, doctors diagnosed me in 2017, but the tumor started when I was 4, approximately in 2001, so I got a correct diagnosis after 16 years. That's when I thought of building a project that could help doctors recognize this condition and other skin cancers, upload images to get a suggestion from the system earlier and faster and allow them to manage their patient diagnoses.

After a year of learning a ton of stuff, I finished the entire project; I struggled to research medical protocols, read a deep learning book, learned Python from zero, sweated with making my back-end work using cloud computing, and overcame all the obstacles I came across. When I looked at my finished project, I felt proud and capable of achieving anything professionally! The project is a full-stack skin cancer image recognition system, implementing great technologies like CNNs, AWS, Flask, and JavaScript, and being proudly the first project globally that implements a DFSP image dataset! For the presentation of my final project, I invited all the people that I love, my colleagues, my family, and my friends. It was an extraordinary moment! I don't think there's anything professionally that I can't do after that.

So yes! This is my story of how I got where I am now! Thank you for reading until the end. I want to share with you some lessons that I learned on this journey:

  • Try to use what you have done as fuel to achieve anything you want in life!
  • It's ok to pause and take your time to keep going!
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help from the people you love.
  • Remember why you started when you were about to quit.
  • There is no small problem. We all have different life situations.

I wish you the best. Remember, you are extraordinary!

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