(Sept. 27, 2017) -- Meet Federico Balbi ’00, ’03, ’07. This three-time UTSA alumnus has developed a free website that allows people to learn new languages.
Born and raised in Venice, Italy, Balbi grew up wanting to travel abroad, immerse himself in diverse cultures and obtain an advanced education. His parents never had the opportunity to finish school. They encouraged him to work hard and get the education they couldn’t so he could do more with his life.
As a teenager, Balbi enjoyed computer science and took took tech courses throughout high school. After completing high school in Italy, he became a systems administrator at the University of Padua in Italy. While he cherished his hometown, he knew that if he stayed there working full-time, he would never have time to get a degree.
Using his savings, he began his journey alone and came to the U.S. in 1996, eventually finding his way to UTSA.
“At that time, it was exciting because everything was new,” said Balbi. “It took me about three months to familiarize myself with the southern accents.”
While attending UTSA as an undergraduate, Balbi worked in the library and even received an internship through the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) program. He was introduced to opportunities to collaborate with a variety of research facilities.
“I had so much fun and was actually coding for the National Library of Medicine using a programming language developed and enhanced at the UTSA Department of Computer Science,” he said.
The Roadrunner earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science in 2000.
He loved the academics at UTSA so much, he dug even deeper and, in 2003, earned his master’s degree in computer science while working full-time.
“Graduate school was very rewarding because I really got to do the things I like such as independent studies and my own research,” he said. “I also enjoyed having many international friends.”
Using the knowledge he gained from his professors, Balbi decided to apply to the Management of Technology (MOT) master’s program and later earned his third degree from UTSA, a launching pad to his own company.
“This program was great because it was geared toward managing technological innovation and technology entrepreneurship,” said Balbi. “It was a combination of business and engineering, which plays a huge role in how I manage my business today.”
Balbi and two other friends from Venice developed Conversation Exchange, a free website for people who are interested in learning foreign languages.
“Conversation Exchange is a tool for cultural exchange,” he said. “We match people so they can write, chat online or actually meet face to face to practice and learn. It’s a hub where people help each other and get the opportunity to practice new languages and approach new cultures in a fun way. Because of my experiences, I speak Italian, English and Spanish.”
So far, Conversation Exchange features users from 180 countries, speaking 140 different languages.
Balbi said all three of his UTSA degrees have shaped his career goals and opportunities. He said his computer science degrees helped him succeed in software development while his management of technology degree gave him a better understanding of high-tech startups and entrepreneurship.
“UTSA taught me discipline,” said Balbi. “I focused on team building, high performance and quality computing, with access to huge computers and great instruments. I would love to eventually come back to UTSA and go for my fourth degree.”
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