José Castro, Engineering Manager and Magician

Hi, my name is José Castro, and I currently hold the title of Engineering Hiring Ambassador at Talkdesk, meaning that I connect Engineering with HR. I have always enjoyed coding, but I began to notice that I could be even more useful within management. Before I realised it, I was in charge of technical recruitment, training, putting together conferences for +1,000 people, and much more for my company.

I moved to Lisbon back in 2005 because it was where most of the IT jobs were located in Portugal. It is now an easy task to get cool IT jobs in other locations in Portugal, and Lisbon is booming with technology, but back then it was something I just had to do. Now I love living here, as there is always something fun to do.

Outside of my job I perform magic. About 6 years ago, I picked up a book on memory that happened to have been written by a magician (none other than Derren Brown; I have had the opportunity to meet him and tell him this). Right at the beginning, the author describes a card trick, and does so several times, changing tiny bits and explaining how those tiny changes impact the memory that the spectator takes from the experience. The goal was to explain how memory works, but the magic part made so much sense to me that I immediately got hooked. I never read the whole book on memory, because I devoted all of my time to reading books on magic.

I initially enrolled in a 1-year program with Michael Vincent, which turned out to be one of the best decisions in my life. We had a 2-hour class each month where we would go through the exercises he had given me the class before, and then we would discuss lots of things such as plot, technique, magic theory, economy of movement, rhythm, and repertoire. Finally, I would be given additional exercises, routines, and assignments for the following month, including what to read. We also met a couple of other times during that year, and he was always very committed (still is) to answering any questions I might have. He instilled in me the joy for hard work (and its rewards), the pursuit for impeccable technique, and, more importantly, how to be myself, instead of just a copy of another magician.

Now I practice every single day. I have a couple of mats and several decks of cards around the house, so that I can just sit (or stand) and practice whenever I want without the hassle of having to set things up. I rehearse routines and I practice techniques over and over again, both from the world of magic and the world of card cheating. As for performing, it varies, but I always have a deck of cards on me and I tend not to miss an opportunity to entertain.

The first real (paid) gig I got was as part of a 4-magician team, performing table to table for 300  people at an open bar dinner. I stopped at some distance from my first table, took a deep breath, gathered all of my will, and walked confidently towards the table… And, just as confidently, I made a U-turn as I was about to approach the table. That is how nervous I was! What if they did not want to see magic? What if they were in the middle of an important conversation? What if I was not good enough? One of my colleagues – a friend who had gotten me the gig – saw this and came to my support. He offered to approach one of my tables so I could see how he did it. I saw how easy it was for him and thought, “I just have to do this”. I walked to the table again and confidently (on the outside) interrupted the conversation: “Good evening! I am terribly sorry to interrupt you, but I am a magician and I was asked to come here and share a couple of miracles with you. It that OK?” The response was amazing. They really wanted to see something, but one of them, right next to me, and visibly drunk, uttered “Hey, do you know the trick from Dynamo, with the bucket and the fish?” I had no idea what he was talking about, but I showed him one of my routines, and the moment the magic happened the guy was completely astounded and said, “Forget Dynamo…” It was quite a compliment. As it turns out, hard work does pay off. I had been practicing really hard for several years, I was already very good, and I had no reason to fear approaching strangers. From then on, everything got easier.

There are several different kinds of magic. The “world championships”, so to speak, consider 8 different categories, but more could be added to the mix. The main split is between close-up magic and stage magic, of which I prefer the former. Within close-up magic, I am a strong adept at card magic, although I do practice and hold a bit of repertoire with a few other items, such as coins, and a bit of mentalism. Aside from card magic, I also spend considerable time practicing card cheating moves, and I do perform my share of gambling demonstrations, which is not really magic (although sometimes it looks like it), but rather a feat of skill.

I keep track of everything related to magic: how much time I have practiced, which routines I perform for whom, what I have read, and what I have watched. I also have a few scripts that parse all of this information, and that allows me to check which routines I do favour (and it also allows me to know which routines each person has not seen yet). Based on that information, I can tell you that I do tend to perform classic effects and the works of Darwin Ortiz. These usually require considerably advanced technique, but again, that allows me to stand out from the other magicians, as we usually tend to have different material. My signature piece is a time-travel plot with just two cards, based on another routine by Roy Walton.

Magic does have a huge benefit not only to my technology career, but also to my whole life. However, I actually think that it is more the other way around. My technical (and mathematical) background allows me to go further in an easier way: I have good ways of storing and processing data. For example, I always take notes of everything and some scripts create individual files for each of my spectators; if I am going to someone’s birthday party, I know in advance what material I have not yet shown them. I can make use of advanced mathematical concepts in my magic, which is not a large part of my repertoire, but it is one of the bits that allow me to stand out.

Magic changed everything for me. I used to be very shy and quiet. Now, wherever I go, I just put down a deck of cards on the table. Someone is bound to ask about the cards, and suddenly the whole thing unravels and I end up performing. It is an amazing icebreaker because people really enjoy it, they want to know more about me, and they always have stories to share pertaining magic.

José Castro is also a Science Fiction writer, check out his stories here.

All pictures were taken by Paulo Abrantes, see more of his work at

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