In the Spotlight: Emmanuel Ulloa

In the Spotlight: Emmanuel Ulloa

Name: Emmanuel Ulloa
Title: Production Lead
Location: Vasquez de Coronado, Costa Rica
Favorite Quote: “Any day without laughter is a day wasted.” – Charlie Chaplin  

What does a usual day of work look like for you?
I have two main “hats:” coder and strategic manager. If it’s a really busy week, I’d say 80% of the time, I am working on code for emails and banners, and the other 20% of my time is spent communicating and arranging the logistics around it; what elements we need to prepare, when it needs to go out, what developers have the right skills to complete the tasks.

If it’s a lighter week, I have some opportunity to sharpen my tools. I’ll really dive into the code line-by-line to look for patterns that could potentially reveal ways to improve the process. I really appreciate this down time because it allows me to challenge myself and create systems to help everyone on the team implement code faster to better serve our clients. The way I see it, if you’re walking the same road and keep hitting the same road block, you can either go around it, or you can get rid of it. I’ll always  choose the latter. 

What are some of the skills you’re known for on the Assemble team?Whenever a client has an out-of-the-box request, the joke is that I probably have a solution up my sleeve. Our developers will come to me and say “Hey, I have to make this animation, and I don’t know the best approach. Do you have any code that could help?” I love that my team relies on me to have the most effective approach to meet our clients’ needs. 

For example, we had one client with existing banner ads that used a typewriter-style animation, and they wanted us to update the text to say something else. Since we didn’t have the original design, they initially thought we would need to create the animation all over again. But I was determined to find a better way. So after some research and testing, we were able to create a tool that generates new images of the copy as you type it versus building each one from scratch, saving our designers a lot of time.

Once we have these new tools created, our team is able to use them moving forward, so our processes are constantly improving. I’ve always worked better under tough restrictions, and it’s so rewarding for me to earn my clients’ trust to the point where all I have to say is I’ll find a way to do it, and they know I will. 

How would you describe your job to a bunch of kindergarteners?
I tell my 9-year old that I spend the whole day creating animations in very small spaces. I compare it to the portable video games that he loves to play. You see the games make changes, such as switching over from day to night and birds to crickets, and while those adjustments seem minor and the screen is so small, they require a lot of work to actually happen! Instead of those hand-held games where the animations are meant for fun, I’m creating them for phones and computers that are meant for business. 

What are your previous experiences working in the industry?
I started working in web technologies back in 1998 as a web designer. I got my hands on a very old Mac and found a tutorial on HTML, which helped me get my very first job. At the time, I was creating websites without any coding editors, so I was going line-by-line looking for missing commas, incorrect spellings, and other errors, which was very challenging. 

After a couple of years, my boss had an opportunity for me to go work on Flash technology in Switzerland, and I was so excited, that as soon as we hung up, I dove into learning all about it, reading two instruction books in one weekend. The position never came to fruition, but now I had this new skill set that helped me advance my career. I got contracted by a company doing website work for Ford and Chevrolet, so I was exposed to international agencies.

Then the iPhone came along which wasn’t permitted to use Flash so I went back to learning new updates in HTML and CSS. This was before you could just “Google” anything you didn’t know, so it was a lot of trial and error. I think that having to take this approach to learning has helped me become so self-driven and continues to fuel my desire to seek new solutions. 

What do you love about working for Assemble? 
It’s a simple answer for me: I’m working with my friends. I’ve had the opportunity to work with Assemble’s CTO in several positions over the last 12+ years and have worked with just about everyone on the development team at some point in my career. It takes time to build trust in one another, and we’re fortunate to all have that at Assemble.

When I was younger, it was all about finding the biggest company with the coolest perks, but now, I know how important that trust is in a workplace. When my team tells me that they came to me for help because they know my abilities and how I can improve our processes, that’s the most rewarding part of my work. 

What motivates you professionally?
If it’s not already obvious, I love a challenge. I believe creativity’s main enemy is time. You can achieve anything without a deadline. When a client comes to us with a request and they aren’t sure it can be done, we can always offer alternate solutions. But it’s much more gratifying for me to go with my gut and trust my knowledge to study the problem and find a better approach. Having the ability to go back to the client with a solution they never expected that makes the project easier for everyone is the best feeling. 

What are your favorite things to do in your free time?
With two young kids at home who are being taught virtually, I don’t have a lot of free time! But when I do, I like gardening and working around the house. It’s our first home, so we’ve been doing a lot with decorating and getting ready for the holiday season. But I also love going to the movies and reading. The films and books I enjoy always allow me to think outside the box; they’re about how great minds solved problems throughout history. I love learning about their ‘eureka’ moments. 

For example, the one book I read was about ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, and how researchers were able to translate a language that had no letters. It got me thinking about how emojis have become the modern day hieroglyphics, so I started wondering how these representations could possibly replace writing long pieces of code. We are now able to use various emojis to relay long variable names and functions in a much simpler way. 

Who is someone you really admire? Why?
Growing up, I would have told you all the big names in computers; Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, or motivational speakers like Dale Carnegie. But now that I’m a dad, I have to say my father. As a young kid, you look up to the people that you want to be, but as you age, you appreciate the people that shaped you into who you are. 

My dad was the only teacher at a school in a rural area far from home, so I didn’t see him much during the week. I think of all the sacrifices he made to help us have a better life and how different those sacrifices are from today. With all the technology we’ve been fortunate to grow up with, it’s important to me that I teach my kids to appreciate the things they have. 

My 9-year old son, Juan Manuel, is very much into games, but he’s not just playing mindlessly. He’s actually teaching himself how to build the games as he plays. He’s learning the code and problem-solving, just like his dad. And then there’s my 3 year old daughter, Amelia, who loves to dance and sing. She is the most active child you will ever meet, and while she forces me to mute a lot of my Zoom calls as she impersonates her favorite Disney princesses, she’ll definitely be a star in her own way one day. 

If you won a million dollars, what is the first thing you would buy?
I would take the kids to Disneyland!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years, I’ll probably be at least a decade or more away from retirement, so I hope to still be at Assemble! And that point, I am hoping we have grown so much that thanks to all the awesome team members we have, I’m given the opportunity to focus more on the little things that go into creating new workflows that help everyone do their work faster and better. 

But no matter how my role progresses, I never want to lose sight of the day-to-day. I would love to still be working on smaller projects that keep me in touch with the work and the people who are now doing it — plus, hearing that I made someone’s life a lot easier because of a tool I created is always the best feeling when they tell you directly. 🙂 

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