Aug 7, 2017

From Fine Arts to Programming: Interview with SwRI Programmer Analyst and UTSA Alumni Gabriela Boentges

For UTSA alumni and graduate student Gabriela Boentges, her educational journey epitomizes the phrase, “If at first you don’t succeed, try again.”


“When I first came to the university, I tried taking CS courses but thought it was too hard and time consuming,” Boentges said. “I was still interested in computers, so I went into graphic design and took drawing classes.”


After earning her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drawing and Graphic Design from the University of Texas at El Paso in 2008, Boentges moved to San Antonio working as an insurance agent. However, she was still interested in pursuing a more technical career field.

“I met several UTSA students and made the decision to go back to school to try computer science again,” Boentges said. “I was shocked at how much easier it was for me! From structured languages to operating system commands, I understood so much better than the first time I tried years ago.”


Boentges finished her degree in two years and attributes her success to her previous liberal arts education.


“Art requires a lot of analysis—what do I want to portray, what materials do I need, how am I going to present it, and so on,” Boentges said. “I approached computer science with that way of thinking and found it a lot easier to understand.”


Boentges is currently a Programmer Analyst for the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, Texas.  There, she utilizes both her liberal arts and science degrees to design and develop application projects for the institute.


“I use my Fine Arts degree skills when I work on user interface design,” Boentges explained. “A lot of programmers overlook that aspect of designing applications, but apps need to be pleasant, eye-catching, and easy for the user to understand.”


During her studies at UTSA, she met lecturer Richard Murphy and was encouraged to apply for positions at SWRI.


“Richard saw my potential and opened the door for an opportunity to interview with SWRI,” Boentges said. “I told SWRI during the interview that although I didn’t have experience working with the PHP language. I was a hard worker and willing to learn and they hired me! The rest is history.”


As a Programmer Analyst, Boentges works with a team to design and maintain program applications and databases driven by evaluating client needs. Additionally, her team analyzes programs for optimization, bugs, and security related updates and upgrades.

“One of the challenges to being a Programmer Analyst is that our projects span over many different divisions,” Boentges said. “You have to think of different ways to address diverse requirements while also keeping everyone happy.”


The most common programming Boentges and her team use include Perl, Oracle, CSS, and HTML. Depending on the scope of work, PHP, C, MySQL, and Java languages would be used for certain projects.


If Boentges could give one piece of advice to prospective or current computer science students, it would be “Try as many different courses as you can—psychology, dance, art, anything! If you are always in your comfort zone, you’ll establish a set of patterns that limit your creativity and problem solving skills.”