Get to know the people of Cloud City. In this regular (and sometimes irregular) series, we sit down with our designers, engineers and other team members to talk about development, consulting and life in general.
Today, we sat down with Gabriel Williams, Cloud City’s director of engineering, to talk about communication, the great outdoors and growing up in a place far, far away.
Director of Engineering
Currently reading: “In the Dream House” by Carmen Maria Machado
Currently binging: I don’t binge stuff, but I did finish “Severance” recently and it was really good.
Currently streaming: Citations Needed
How did you make your way to Cloud City?
I had been consulting for a while in San Francisco and, I have to admit, I had become a little jaded. I didn’t think much of the tech industry in the Bay area at the time. But when a friend of mine convinced me to meet with Kenzi, we instantly hit it off. We shared many of the same views on work, as well as on the universe, humanity, moral values — it was a great match. She was just as critical of the tech industry, but we both felt like we could make our corner of it a little better if we worked together with like-minded people.
Let’s go back a little further — you had a unique journey growing up. Why don’t you tell us about that?
Well, I was born in Chicago, which isn’t so unique. But when I was about 4, my dad got a job with the government and we moved to Africa for five years. A lot of my first memories aren’t in America but Swaziland, this tiny country right beside South Africa.
It was such an amazing opportunity — I wish that all young kids could have the chance to travel internationally during their formative years. Even though I was an American, I was growing up in African villages and getting an outsider’s perspective on my own country. As I got older, I understood that the world is a whole lot bigger than many Americans think — it doesn’t just end at our borders. I think growing up with that perspective gave me a lot of empathy too, because I learned that humans are humans no matter where in the world you go.
Do you think that this outsider’s perspective allows you to be more of an analytical person?
Absolutely. I’m an American, but my formative years were spent outside the country. So when I see things being done a certain way here, it’s not instinctive for me to just accept that it’s the way things are done (or must be done). I’ve always been a bit of a quiet person who watches and listens before contributing, so whenever I’m faced with a problem — whether professionally or politically or whatever — I would rather observe, learn and think before I act.
It’s given me an understanding of how important communication is. I feel like I can’t communicate unless I have the whole picture. I’ve got to educate myself about the other person’s perspective first before I can properly communicate with them. I feel like the basis of my entire work is about good communication, so it’s something I strive for.
What about engineering? How did you get into this field?
I can attribute a lot of that to my dad. He grew up dirt poor in Louisiana, but he always had this hunch that computer technology was going to be huge. He knew that educating himself, and me, about computers was important so he bought one of the first personal home computers available and made sure I knew how to use it. He used the computer to write his thesis when he went back to school, but I mostly used it to write code.
I started writing a lot of adventure games — those were my absolute favorites when I was little. Back then, computers could do so little. But you could create games where you presented the user with a scenario and a set of questions and their answers shaped how they moved forward.
I didn’t understand that computer science was something I could do for a living until I was in college. I started as a business major because I hadn’t figured out what I wanted to do, and my parents just told me to pick something and I could always change it later. In a weird twist of fate, I moved in next door to this incredibly brilliant guy who always had ambitious ideas, but he needed help executing them. One day we were talking about the business he had just started and he asked me if I knew how to create a website on the internet. Then we both quickly realized that people would pay us money to do it! I realized then that I could do this as a career and the rest is history. I changed my major to computer science and that was my first startup!
Where can we find you when you’re not in front of a computer screen?
I love in-person art consumption — live shows, theater, museums, stuff like that. Of course, it’s been a little more difficult and unsafe recently to do any of those, but I’m getting to do a little more of that recently.
One of my favorite events to go to is this festival called “Sasquatch!” It’s an outdoor music and art festival held at the Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington. It’s a natural outdoor theater that is perfect for concerts. It’s effectively on a hill overlooking miles and miles of canyons and the Columbia River, so you get these beautiful, sweeping vistas as you’re listening to live music.
With COVID, it’s been a couple of years since I’ve been up there. But I can’t wait to go back!