I’m Gabriel Gambetta, a software engineer working at Improbable in London as a Tech Lead / Manager. I also write novels and screenplays, and do some acting.
Before coming to London I spent four years working at Google Zürich. My dark past also includes teaching Computer Graphics at the university in Uruguay where I got my degree, and running a somewhat successful game development company.
Born in 1980 in Uruguay, wrote stuff, made games, got married, moved to Switzerland, joined Google, published a novel, moved to London, joined Improbable, still alive as of 2017.
I was born in Uruguay in late 1980. Personal computers didn’t exist yet, but my parents had the vision of buying the early consumer ones - a ZX81 and later a ZX Spectrum+ (which I still have) when I was maybe 4 or 5.
My parents were architects, and by that age I was drawing plans and section cuts, but the Spectrum turned out to be far more seductive. My late dad taught me some BASIC as he was learning it, I continued learning on my own by tinkering and copying listings from Microhobby. By age 5 I knew I wanted to make computer games for a living, as I made clear in this 1986 school homework titled “what will I be when I grow up?”; my parents had to explain to the teacher WTF had I drawn:
I had grown up on Looney Tunes, Scooby Doo, Tom & Jerry and Top Cat (at the risk of showing my age, I have to say 80’s cartoons were so much better than the shit kids watch nowadays!), so it’s not surprising that my first proto-games were Top Cat and Bugs Bunny:
I’m not so sure where does my passion for writing comes from, except that my parents were avid readers and there were hundreds of books at home. My first finished work is a short story I wrote when I was 7, titled “The Cat Man”. I started reading “grown up stuff” at 8 or 9; at the time there was a cartoon based on Rambo. Since First Blood was laying around, I read it. Not much later I read the Foundation series, and then anything by Asimov I could get my hands on.
For whatever reason I focused more on computers than on writing; maybe it was the first PC that got home when I was 10 or 11. I quickly progressed from Spectrum BASIC to gwbasic to qbasic to Turbo Basic to QuickBasic. I soon outgrew them and heard the “real” programmers used this thing called C++, so armed with a book and a copy of Borland C++, I started dereferencing null pointers. I was 13 and I never looked back.
My first public things started happening in 1995 and 1996, when I was 14 or 15. I had a shitty joystick, so I wrote this little TSR that created a “dead zone” around the center to reduce noise, and uploaded it to SIMTEL. Amazingly enough, it’s still mirrored in a couple of places.
At that time my high school ran a writing contest. I wrote three short stories (some available here) and entered them under different pseudonyms, as per the rules. On the awards day, I was a little sad when the 3rd and 2nd place winners were announced and they weren’t my stories. Then the jury said three outstanding stories would share the first prize. They opened the first pseudonym envelope,… and you can guess what happened. By the third time I got up to the stage I was about to die of embarrassment. The following year I tried to pull the same trick by submitting three more stories, but this time only one won.
I got my first job in 1996, writing accounting software for a real estate development company. It was a couple of hours a week, after high school, but for the first time I realized I enjoyed programming in general, not just programming whatever I wanted (which was invariably games).
I was never very much into sports, except for practicing Tae Kwon Do since I was 6, but by my late teens I was playing a lot of football (the real one, played with your feet), doing weight training, and finally getting my black belt (then I spent the next decade becoming lazy and fat, and just now I’m getting back in shape. Don’t do that; it’s easier to stay fit than to recover from a lost decade).
When it was time to go to college, the choice was obvious. I went to the Universidad Católica to study Computer Science. I got a part time job at NetLabs but I soon had the opportunity to join the development team of ARTech, the most successful and prestigious software developer in Uruguay. I was ecstatic.
It looked like my childhood dream of making games for a living would remain a dream, but around 2002 I became friends with a classmate who was also into making games. We entered a positive feedback loop and decided to found our game development company, initially called Mr.io Software, soon renamed Mystery Studio (a bad pun - Mr.io, or Mister Io, sounds almost like Misterio, the spanish word for Mystery). That year we finally had Computer Graphics, and it was a huge disappointment, mostly because of the teacher; to the point that we were appointed as his TAs the following year, and he resigned a year later, leaving me as the teacher.
If you’re keeping track, in 2003 I was studying for my 5th year of college, writing my degree thesis, teaching Computer Graphics, working full time at ARTech, and working part time at Mystery Studio. No wonder I lost a lot of hair that year.
I graduated by the end of 2003, and one year later I quit ARTech to work full time at Mystery Studio. My childhood dream had finally come true!
I had a great time and some success running Mystery, but by 2008 it was not so fun anymore - I was spending more time on management and business development than on hacking. I needed some fresh air. I went on a 2-month trip to Asia that became a 6-month trip to Asia and Europe in very particular conditions; I’m working on a book about it.
By 2010 the social situation in Uruguay was deteriorating quickly. I had been growing increasingly uncomfortable with the situation for years, but a burglary at home was the straw that broke the camel’s back. - I decided to get the fuck out immediately. By late June I was living in Alicante (Spain).
Just a couple of months later I started interviewing at Google. I got a job offer, and less than a year after arriving in Alicante, I moved to Zürich in May 2011. Although leaving family and friends behind wasn’t easy, Switzerland provided much needed happiness and peace of mind. Switzerland is possibly the best country in the world, and Google is one of the best companies in the world, so I have no regrets.
During the downtime in Spain I had free time again, which after the previous decade studying and running a company was a new thing. I started reading everything I could about narrative structure, and planning my first novel. Almost three years later (with significant time off due to moving twice and working at Google) I finished the first draft of La Semilla Dorada in early 2013, at 72,000 words, and finally published it in January 2014; the English version (The Golden Legacy) came out in December. I’ve also written a few feature-length screenplays; my ideal outcome would be to sell at least one to Hollywood and have it produced.
In mid-2014 I was found by this small, unknown British tech startup called Improbable, thanks to my Client-Side Prediction articles. Once I understood what they were doing and the scope of their ambitions, I knew I had to move to London and join them, which I did in November.