In Germany and Winning Sapo Codebits

Going to Germany was a big step for me. Somehow it seems that while I was living in my own country, where all is familiar, I kind felt “safe” and was expecting a job and work my way from there. 

Once I moved and realised I was living abroad then suddenly it hit me that in that country I was just one more and that I couldn’t just call a friend, my family or even the state for support.

When you move into a new country there is rush that lasts for a while. After all, everything is new and you have the desire to see, explore, visit and get acquainted. 

The job I was doing was providing software support for the mission control system used by three satellite flying missions: Rosetta, Mars Express and Venus Express.

Meanwhile Ana got an interview on another contractor company for a similar position but working with satellite simulators and she gladly took it and packed to Germany as well. 

The main part of the job was providing support, like a helpdesk, to issues reported by the scientists operating the spacecrafts through the software we supported. They would upload commands to the spacecraft and download telemetry data from them. In this process some things would not go as expected and so one person on my team would investigate and report back. Occasionally we would also implement new features and improvements to the software.

Because of the nature of our job we would most days come into the premises and spend time there along side scientists, management and staff (most of them experienced contractors that had made the jump). Making the jump (getting hired as staff) seemed like the biggest dream along the contracts. With a staff position you get better benefits, a higher pay and the thought around it said you were pretty much set for life. 

For me it wasn’t that much of a deal. I had just recently joined anyway and the prospect of become staff was simply not interesting for me. Staff positions were mostly management positions and I was looking instead to get my hands dirty with exciting technologies and eating pizza with fellow hackers. 

After the initial rush of moving to Germany settled (probably after a year or so) it wasn’t long until I become quite bored with work as well and lost any sense of purpose/joy. I became angry, mostly at myself, and lashed out at people and at home after a day’s work. 

 I started dreading going to work and complaining about it to friends and Ana. Those were tuff days. 

I somehow stayed another few months before I turned in my resignation letter. In retrospective it was way longer than it should have been. I didn’t want to disappoint the people that had believed in me and I was afraid of what would be of my future career. 

Lucky enough Ana and I had meet a couple of friends that were very supportive of us and encouraging. I clearly remember discussing the possibility of quitting and doing something on my own and them replied “Yes, I think you would be very good at that!” – oh boy that really sparked the flame inside. Someone believed I could do it. Maybe she was right, maybe I could. 

I discussed this possibility heavily with Ana and I clearly remember us talking about it on a outdoor cafe one day.  The rational was something along the lines of “if we don’t do it know we’ll never do it” and also “we’re at a time where we can risk it, in a few years it won’t be so easy”. About us working together we were still afraid but we decided to make the plunge.

After I turned in my resignation letter some of my most enjoyable work days followed. I would sleep in, eat at the local University canteen and then work in the afternoon on stuff I liked and blog about it. I was in heaven! Although I wasn’t very productive. 

I was playing again with the idea of starting a business in my head. The idea had been there all along, even while working for ESA, I would drift off and think about what possible applications I could built and how to make money of of them. 

At that time I was also seeing a new movement starting in Portugal. When I had left in 2007 the job market wasn’t all that attractive and there was no tech scene. But now I was starting to see the rise of coworking spaces, hacker meetups, conferences and the sorts and started to think about moving back. After all I thought that the best way to meet people that are interested, smart and have initiative was to attend one of these many hacker events.

I visited Portugal in December 2009 for an event called Sapo Codebits that featured both conference talks and also a programming marathon/contest for people to come up with new apps.

I came in without any expectations and in fact I knew very few people there but eventually I became friends with another guy and we started hacking away on this crazy idea: what if you could go back one year and see exactly where you were, see pictures of it, see how you felt, what you saw, etc?

So we build this app that would navigate your social feeds in a time-machine like format that allowed you to navigate back and forth. It has pretty wild and due to popular vote we ended up winning the first prize – an iPod, a Macbook Pro and other goodies! 

Ana was seeing the event in livestream from Germany and almost feel off her chair when she saw me going up to stage to collect that first prize. 

At that time I was also attended a two-day event in Lisbon called “Kickstart Mini-MBA” with Mário Valente. During the event we discussed several topics, most of them for which I expect you get a full course while doing an MBA. Each topic was covered in a 1-hour round with plenty of time for questions and discussions, which was cool.

At night we had dinner with Paulo Laureano, which I’m a big fan (go Siteseed 3), with discussions around starting security startups, taking capital from the gov. vs from banks, etc.

On the second day it was a bit heavy with all the giants we had to cover (Finance, Accounting, etc). Lunch was at the beautiful restaurant at the top of the Tivoli Oriente Hotel, and the nice weather allowed for a terrific view to the sea (I felt like living the life of a rich person there).

The evening was full of very interesting material and the way Mário talks helped to chew, the sometimes otherwise dead boring topics.

In the end it made me realize a lot of things. Maybe the most important one: you really benefit from knowing business administration stuff. It is really useful. It is not like some people say: “what you don’t know you can learn on the way”. Or, let me rephrase that, you can learn on the way, but you will be learning from your own mistakes, and that’s not the easiest way of learning.