How I became the first Latina remote engineer

Cindy Soares Written by Cindy Soares, April 21, 2020

It’s been 2 years working remotely as a Software Engineer at NextRoll, a tech company in Silicon Valley. When I started the journey to find a new job, I’ve never aimed to be working in the U.S. center of innovative technology companies. I didn’t think I could be the first Latina working remotely in one of these companies either. I was simply motivated to be open to new challenges.

25 minute read


“What if?”

Since the beginning of my career, I’ve always worked for people that knew me before, or I’ve applied to positions that a friend was recommending. I never said to myself “now it’s time to get the job you want”. Since then, the perfect job to me is one where I can consider the team members as my family, too. After all, we spend hours in the office. I had the luck to have many families in my professional life.

Once in the past, a friend told me he would start to work from home for a company in the U.S., and that story sounded pretty crazy to me. We live in Brazil, why someone would have interests to contract people so far away? What about the language? You have to convince interviewers you are good enough for some position speaking another language. That wasn’t for me. I had barely traveled abroad at that time to try my English skills that I’ve learned in a classroom. Even though my skeptical ideas, I felt like that was the wonderland of jobs that I would never be part of, a completely new and wonderful world. That was my first “What if?” moment.

Years later, a second friend asked me if I would like to go to Ireland. He and his wife had applied to jobs there and she was accepted. He would finish his last interviews after moving. I answered back immediately: “Why not?”. What if I try the same? I was working for the same company for 8 years, the contracts were ending, the new contracts were paying lower salaries and the remaining people would have to fit the way of work of the new contracts. As an Agilist, I knew that I wouldn’t fit that job anymore, all the agile culture our team had built before wouldn’t be a priority in the new era. From that moment on, I decided to look for the job I really wanted.

When we start to ask questions, things begin to happen. Combined “What if?” and “Why not?” questions are the trigger to make us overcome periods of inertia in our lives and achieve our goals. You start to change the way you think and many possibilities present themselves when you keep your mind open.

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Making things happen

After the popularization of the Web, the way people look for a job has changed a lot. I remember when I needed an internship to get my data processing certificate. My father had to drive me to a place that use to concentrate all the open internship positions in the town, a wall full of papers describing these positions. I was 16 years old, all the options I’ve seen on that wall were requiring men. I’ve never forgotten my father’s face realizing that his daughter wouldn’t have a chance in that place. Anyway, I’ve never had to look at a wall like that anymore.

The motivation to keep going in this journey was coming from a requirement list I’ve made based on what I wanted for my future:

  1. I wanted to have an international experience, to work with people from different countries and to live abroad for a while.
  2. I’ve been working with agile methodologies since ever, a company with an agile culture suited me well.
  3. I couldn’t wait for new challenges, I wanted to try new programming languages, cloud solutions and microservices.
  4. I wanted to improve my English skills.

Virtual life came to make things much easier, but more competitive too. The first step was creating my online CV. I reviewed the description of my professional experiences countless times. It’s not forbidden to spy other online profiles to have some ideas. I’ve learned that it’s important to be specific describing your experiences, it cannot be too short. I used to write on my CV only some topics and technologies I’ve used and that is not enough if you want to find an international opportunity. The first call I’ve answered was a recruiter asking me to be more detailed, that 5 minutes call helped me a lot. These are some things I learned on how to use the Web in your favor:

  • Emphasize those aspects that will help you to get the job you want and hide those to avoid what you don’t want.
  • There are many tools and social networks available aiming the professional life and it’s a good practice to keep your personal life out of this. Connect to recruiters in these networks.
  • Post and share those articles you get interested in, it helps to understand and know you better.
  • Try some online courses or study to get a certification.
  • Keep an online portfolio. It can be a simple code you’ve done as a test, a course exercise or an open-source contribution.
  • Practice your algorithm skills to be prepared for practical tests, there are tools online to do that too.

Dealing with rejection

In the beginning, I was focusing on getting a job in Ireland, so I was applying only to positions there. Soon after, I realized that many companies don’t contract people outside Europe, it’s expensive. And then I started to think that I could check in any place in Europe to expand my chances. As I had made my online work right, recruiters began to find me. That’s why it is so important to give as much information as you can in your profile. I’ve attended some interviews and it helped me to improve my English skills during the process.

After repeating the story about your experiences, you feel more confident for a while. Each time you tell the story again, it’s a chance to make it better. However, after hearing some No’s, your confidence changes. You start to feel like a fraud. Your mind begins playing tricks with yourself, making you doubt your competence. I’ve repeated so many times the same story that I wasn’t sure what was real anymore. I’ve found out then that this phenomenon has a name, it’s the Impostor syndrome. Indeed, I was feeling like an impostor. Was I expecting too much of a job? Was I prepared for that?

While I was in those circumstances, my contract had ended. I was unemployed and I’ve got pregnant. I felt like I was 18 years old and my future was compromised. I was not willing to remove any item from my requirement list. So I changed the perspective: I could keep the international experience without living abroad. I added a fifth item: to work remotely. I even convinced another friend, another woman in tech, that she should start to search for remote jobs. Six months later, she was working from home. I was thrilled that I could plant that “What if?” in her mind.

My situation had changed, I needed a break. I was full of concerns on how to become a mom, how to start a new job being pregnant, how to work having a newborn besides some existential crises. I’ve seen in this period dozens of work colleagues going to live abroad after a few interviews. And I had to prepare myself for the most challenging task in my life. The job search was put on standby.

When I returned to my job search, and I started to attend some interviews again, I had a gap of 2 years in my professional life. I’ve been working for 15 years in software development, but the interviewers were worried about those last 2 years. It wasn’t enough to them saying that I was studying during that time, I was updating myself trying new technologies, I became an undesirable candidate. I even heard the question “Who will take care of your baby while you are at work?”. It sounded like it would be impossible to work again after all I had done. That requirement list of the perfect job didn’t matter anymore, I had to concentrate my efforts to get a job.

I still don’t have a tip for people in the same situation of having an empty lapse of time on their CVs. I’ve always told the truth and I had to live with the consequences. Fortunately, some interviewers evaluate your capacity for growth in the company. In all of the following experiences I describe in the next section, I didn’t hear the question “What were you doing in the last 2 years?”.

Point of seeing the results

Looking for remote jobs, I found out that most offers come from the U.S. and most of them only accept applications from U.S. citizens. I was doing well in a selection process and I couldn’t go ahead because of the bureaucracy of contracting a foreigner. Each country has its labor laws and it can be complicated to deal with it for many companies.

I applied to a position at a company in the south of Brazil, but it would require relocation to another city. It was an amazing opportunity, after many steps in the selection process they offered me the job. What they were offering me, in terms of the culture of the company and technologies, totally fit my ideas for my new job except for not being an international experience. It was really hard to say “no” to them, after many calls and texts messages, I realized that my family wasn’t prepared for that relocation. I’m grateful for that offer, I stopped feeling like an impostor.

In the meantime, I was referred to a position in a DevOps team. The company didn’t have an agile culture, but it was starting to put in place some agile techniques. It was a huge challenge, they needed to apply automation in all main company systems and I had the required experience to work on that. I was happy to start working again, but I felt like I had failed with my initial goals. That was a really important opportunity in many ways, I had my confidence again.

One month after I accepted that regular job, I answered an unexpected call. People say that we don’t find the best opportunities in job lists. Usually, they find you. After some interviews with the DC team in NextRoll, they offered me a remote job. I didn’t know too much about the company at that time and I didn’t know what to expect, but this was the international experience I was pursuing so long. I was afraid to quit my regular job, I was afraid of an unknown field, I almost said “no”, but I didn’t. On my first day in the company, I found out that it suited all 5 requirements on my list: NextRoll has an amazing agile and diverse culture and it’s committed to the best solutions.

I’ve taken some time to realize the importance of my achievements. I was in the center of technology in the U.S. and I was the first Latina working remotely as a Software Engineer at NextRoll, a Silicon Valley company. If I wanted new challenges I was in the right place, not because the office was in San Franciso, but the complexity of the solutions I was facing was impressive. Until now, I had the opportunity to write code in Java, Python, Javascript, Ruby, Golang, and Erlang. I also have to read data from SQL and NoSQL databases. The systems deal with a high volume of data in the cloud, I could explore many AWS services. All of these systems are part of a service architecture that depends on different teams to be maintained. It means that we always have to be in contact with different people in the company, in a different part of the world and from a different culture. Every day is a day to learn something new and that’s why I’ve chosen this profession, you never get bored.

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Conclusion

I wanted to share this experience to motivate people to chase their goals and to put into words some difficulties that stood in my way. Usually, we share the successful results we had, but we forget the bad moments and hard decisions we’ve made that guide us there. I believe it can help someone else that is facing some setbacks and need that extra push to keep going.

Finally, I’d like to inspire other women in tech and to remind us again of the importance of our stories.