PayPal’s Brandon Tineo on Strong Work Ethic Creating Opportunity

May 19, 2017 10:15 AM ET
In his teens, while most of his peers were perfecting their video game skills, Brandon Tineo worked from 4-9 p.m. at his parents’ restaurant. Even with that dedication to the family business, he still killed it in the classroom, making grades that got him into college at Harvard. However, while an undergrad, misfortune visited the Tineo clan -- the family lost both their restaurant and their home.
Employing his natural tenacity, Brandon battled back and helped his folks regain both the house and the restaurant. His contributions came from tutoring 50 kids over the summer, scrubbing toilets in the dorms at college, helping his dad do janitorial work, and taking an internship that became a career, thanks to a chance encounter with a PayPal director. And, as you might expect, today he still helps at his family restaurant on weekends.
Tell us more about the chance encounter that led to your life-changing internship.
I was on a flight to Boston in 2014, working on a final project for a data visualization class, and the person next to me asks what I’m working on. At the time, she was a PayPal director of user experience design, and after five hours of chatting, she asked what I was doing that summer. Later, she reached out with an internship opportunity. I was ecstatic when I got an internship in San Jose, CA and ended up working on an internal nodeJS application that tracks analytics across various PayPal sectors.
Up to then, it had been a rough ride at Harvard, right?
My first year was a really big struggle. My mom had gotten sick and could hardly walk, which only got worse when she tried to fill in for what I had been doing (at the restaurant) before I left for college. Then came the housing crisis and recession, and all at once things started to fall apart.
My parents started closing the restaurant early to give my mom more time to rest, but business declined and we were foreclosed out of our home. Shortly after that, we had to close the restaurant. My dad went back to janitorial work, which is what they did when they first came here from Peru 27 years ago. It was a nightmare, and all I could do was work while in school to help earn money. The summer that we had to close the restaurant, I came back to the Bay Area to help my family move our things into a tiny house we shared with my grandparents.
How did you turn things around?
Once I started working at PayPal things started coming together since I could save money. Eventually, I re-bought the house. My brother and I sponsored our parents for U.S. residency, and my mom was able to have some needed surgeries, including a hip replacement. My parents also found a place to reopen their restaurant, and I’m proud to say that it’s now been open for just over a year.
You took an unusual route to PayPal, being mostly self-taught in programming. What’s that been like?
I find that people at PayPal value what you can do and how fast you can learn, rather than what your resume says you did in college. When I tell people that I majored in psychology they respond, “What? Are you joking?” Since I didn’t study computer science formally in college there are gaps in my knowledge. I learn quickly, but there are things I can only really learn if I’m thrown into it. And my job has been really good at that.
What work initiative are you most excited about?
I’m a senior software engineer on the Partner Engagement team, and we’re building out a portal for partners to see their data and understand what’s happening. Right now it’s about building the foundation -- how a partner’s merchants are doing, where there are areas for growth. It’s complicated because there’s a lot of data, and we’re trying to figure out how to present it in a coherent, easy-to-understand solution that is also highly customizable for every partner.
Do you ever make suggestions to help PayPal innovate?
I submit a lot of ideas through PayPal’s patent portal, and I have three patents pending -- using geolocation and past customer information to provide accurate checkout times for people using PayPal. If we can hone in on how many people are in a store right now, how long on average it takes to check out, how many products people buy, maybe we can aggregate all this and tell the customer how long checkout is.
Any unusual habits or rituals before you get to work?
Before I go to bed I’m usually working on something that I got stuck on during the day. And when I go to sleep I sometimes have dreams about it, I keep working on it, and when I wake up I know how to fix it. So I’ll open my laptop and I typically try to fix it before I go to work since it’s so fresh in my mind. And then I lose track of time so I have to rush to work and it looks like I’m late. I don’t know if it’s a blessing or a curse!
Content has been edited to fit the format and for clarity.

PayPal Stories Staff