Culture

Dear future colleague, let me share some lessons from my father

Laura by the canal
August 3, 2022

Read time 7 min

My dad is an amazing man.

I’m still at a fairly early part of my career—and life in general—but looking back, even now, I can see how much I’ve learned from him and how my decisions have been affected by him. So let me tell you a little about him, dear future colleague. And who knows? Maybe his wisdom can help you, too.

Laura sitting
Photos by Miriam Brunke

 

My dad was 17 years old when he joined the Brazilian navy. As you would expect, he entered as one of the lowest ranks. But he knew that enlisting in the military was one of the best ways to secure his family some financial stability. It took a lot of sacrifice. He would go on missions and stay away for months at a time. This wasn’t so bad when he was single, but once he got married and then after my brother and I were born, those assignments came at a greater and greater cost. Thankfully, he had a very supportive partner—my mom—who raised us alone during those stints and never complained. Her resilience is remarkable to me and gave me a wonderful example for what a strong woman is.

Beyond the time away from home, military life also required my dad to make multiple transfers. During my childhood, our family lived in three Brazilian states because of my father’s relocation to different naval bases. That was tough on me and my brother, because we were constantly changing schools. 

When I was nearing the end of elementary school, my dad had a choice to make. He could stay in the navy and raise his rank to lieutenant—but that would require moving our family back to Rio de Janeiro, which would be a huge interruption to my education and my brother’s. Or, he could retire, since he’d just earned enough time to qualify. He chose the latter.

But retirement for my dad didn’t mean endless days of doing nothing. In fact, while he was still in the navy, he earned a degree in geography, and as soon as he left his post, he started his new life as a teacher in public schools.

Okay. So that’s my dad. Now onto me.

No, I’ve never served in the military. And no, I’m not a teacher. I’m actually a developer at Reaktor Amsterdam. But here are some lessons from my dad that have shaped who I am today.

Explore the world.

Lots of people join the military because it’s their ticket away from home. It’s an ideal way to see new places and meet new people. I love Brazil. But after living there my whole life, I started to get an itch for something more. I think that’s my father’s explorer mentality coming out in me. Because of that, when I was looking to change jobs in 2021, I sought out a company that would let me live abroad and get to know a different culture. Thankfully, I found Reaktor. With their help, I got on a plane, travelled more than 10,000 km and joined the team in Amsterdam. Broadening my perspective, sharpening my language skills and trying new things has really helped me grow as a person. I love it. And I want to keep this wanderlust alive.

Laura talking
Photos by Miriam Brunke

 

Start young and work hard.

As I mentioned, my father left home for the navy when he was 17. That’s the same age I was when I got my first job as a developer—fresh out of secondary school and less than a year after I wrote my first line of code. It took a ton of hard work to land that position. And when I did, I felt like that was a huge achievement on its own. But the toughest part about starting your career so young is you constantly feel like you have to prove yourself. That can get exhausting. And if you’re in the wrong place, it can be discouraging, especially if you don’t have mentors to take you under their wings. I learned a lot at that first company, as well as the two that followed. But I did feel like I was always considered the newbie, which brings us to my last two points.

See hierarchy for what it is.

You can’t get much more hierarchical than the military. My dad literally had to work his way up the chain of command, rank by rank. I understand there’s a good reason for that. No one wants to be on a battlefield not knowing who’s in charge. But that doesn’t mean it’s a structure that’s easy to follow. And it certainly shouldn’t be applied to every profession. I knew from seeing what my dad’s career path was like and from my three years at software companies that hierarchy can sometimes be a barrier to people reaching their potential. 

When I interviewed with Reaktor, they talked a lot about their flat hierarchy. And they’re not exagerrating. I mean, there’s not even an organizational chart. It was pretty novel to me. I wondered if a company like that would be just pure chaos. Instead, it’s a group of people who are very thoughtful and responsible, because instead of asking permission and blaming it on their superior when things go wrong, they own their decisions. While that kind of accountability can be scary, it really frees you to grow.

Share what you know.

Family obligations were what really steered my dad into the navy. After fulfilling those dutifully for more than 30 years, he was able to leave the military to follow his passion. And of all the careers he could have chosen, I’m so proud that he became a teacher. I think deep down that’s what he always wanted to be. 

For a long time, I’ve known that the best way for me to learn is by teaching. That’s why I enjoy meetup presentations so much. The first time I talked about technology on a big stage was at a GDG event. I was 18 years old. Even though I was admittedly nervous getting up there, it was thrilling to receive feedback from the audience. And who was there staring up at me with all the pride in the world? My dad. At that point, I realized I wanted to continue creating content for meetups and conferences and if I ever left the world of actual development, it would probably be to go into a relations position like that where I could focus more on talking about software.

Laura by the window
Photos by Miriam Brunke

 

To fill that desire to teach now, I just wrapped up an awesome side project at Reaktor. Over the past year, I developed the GraphQL Academy. It’s a series of workshops that covers the query language from basic to advanced topics. I put together the curriculum and presented it every few weeks to my coworkers. The initial idea sprang from the project I was assigned to when I came to Reaktor. It was using GraphQL and not many on my team had much experience with it. Over the nine sessions I hosted, the attendees grew from my project teammates to Reaktorians all around the world. I don’t think in many other environments someone at my age and career level would have been given the chance to sit in an instructor position—especially with so many that are more “senior” sitting in as learners. But Reaktor is all about sharing your knowledge. And because I’ve had the opportunity to teach this subject, I’ve gotten way more proficient at it myself. It seems like a win/win.

 

Dear Future Colleague, inspiration and life lessons can come from many different places. Embrace it. Let it guide you. It will probably make you happier and feel more whole, and it may even point you to a job at Reaktor.

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