At Scalable Path, we’ve been working with Latin American developers for over a decade, helping them secure positions with companies in the U.S. and around the world.
We didn’t set out to establish such a large network here; rather, it grew organically, and over time we realized there were many benefits of working with LatAm talent. The overlap in time zones makes it easy for U.S. companies to work with talent in this region. There are also a lot of cultural similarities. We’ve always found it easy to build authentic, effective relationships with LatAm developers.
Our U.S. clients benefit from and are excited about working with Scalable Path developers. And we’ve been fortunate to observe inspiring, uplifting personal stories from the developers we work with. For many, working with a U.S. company can be literally life changing. Differences in cost of living and exchange rate means that U.S. companies can pay higher wages than local ones. As well, remote work provides developers with flexibility, improving their work-life balance. They have more freedom to work the hours that make sense for their lifestyle, and have additional freedom in selecting where they live. What’s more, gaining international employment helps developers build their profile and resume, appealing to other companies within the global job market and helping them to build a secure, reliable career path.
In this series, we want to share the stories of developers from our talent network. In it, we interview developers working with clients from around the world, highlight some of the projects they’ve worked on, and share their insights for other developers looking to break into the U.S. software development market.
Watch our featured freelancer, Luiz here:
Luiz, we’re excited to feature you in our first-ever Developer Spotlight! Can you tell us a little bit about where you grew up and how you came to find software development?
I’ve lived my whole life in Rio de Janeiro. My family and I like to joke because I’ve moved around so much in this city. With my mother, I moved 12 times. Then, when I moved out at 18, I moved a couple more times. I love this city, though.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a paleontologist. I loved dinosaurs. I had this image of leaving Rio, going to the middle of the desert to be alone and dig up dinosaur bones. But that changed when I learned about software development.
You decided on a career path early in your life! How did you learn software development?
I started learning C when I was in high school. I found an online course, printed out the materials, and studied it everyday after school. When I first started learning to code, it was so tough. The abstractions were really hard for me. I think I failed the first four chapters. But I kept at it, and eventually it started making sense for me.
At the same time, I started to learn English. I didn’t learn it intentionally; instead, I learned it kind of like the way I learned to code. I love video games, and I played a lot of English games. Over time, I picked up the language. At the time, I don’t think I realized the impact learning English would have on my life. But it was because of my English skills I was able to get work as a freelancer working on coding projects.
So you taught yourself English and programming. Did you study coding academically?
Toward the end of high school, I got a scholarship to attend PUC-Rio, a university in my city. Of course, I wanted to study computer science. I didn’t have the money at the time – even with the scholarship – but I was able to get a job to pay for my living expenses, and I started my degree in the fall.
But I found structured learning in the university setting strange, to say the least. The problems we studied in class weren’t real – at least, not in the sense that solving them would help a person or company in real life. Sure, they were real in the sense that a professor would assign them as homework and grade me on them. But I struggled with how impractical it felt.
Even though I had good English skills, and I knew I was a fair programmer, I could feel myself falling behind because for me, the problems lacked motive.
Wow, that sounds like a lot to juggle. Can you tell me about your experience at college?
Honestly, I was working so hard to attend college. Yes, I had a full scholarship, but there were so many other expenses: groceries, textbooks, rent. As the months went by, I watched the students around me travel for holidays, coming back rested, being excited about school. Writing exams without life breathing down their necks.
I could feel all the pressure catching up to me. Not just mentally, but emotionally. Not having money…it was hard for me. I was eating Cup Noodles everyday. Waking up early to go to class, then going straight to work for the rest of the night. I know there are people who can do this, but for me, it just felt impossible.
Over time, my motivation fell to the point that I started going to class less and less. And even work, which had always been something I had enjoyed, was starting to feel tedious. I even stopped going to my job. One day, my boss came to me, and he said, “Luiz, I don’t think this is working anymore.” And he fired me. Before I left he told me that “sometimes you just have to do things in life, even if you don’t want to.”
I was infuriated. I didn’t say anything to him, but in my mind, I was thinking, “I don’t have to do anything else. I’m doing so much already. You have no idea.”
Shortly after that, I lost my scholarship. When that happened, I went to a bar near the university campus, sat down, and ordered a beer. I knew I had to think about what I was going to do next. What I would do for my career.
After you lost your job and scholarship, what did you do?
I decided to start freelancing as a web developer, because it was somewhere I knew I could make money. But I didn’t have the knowledge to run a business. I was selling my services for banana prices. But I needed money to eat, and I felt this sense of urgency. Actually, that urgency is something I’ve always had, something I was born with.
Then, a friend of mine asked if I wanted to start a company together. So, at the same time I was freelancing full time, I also started building a company, Sports Local. Which was good for me, I think. Our startup gave me stability, even if I was working a ton and the salary was low. It brought me a lot of joy, and I started to feel the disappointment from losing my job and scholarship fade.
Around this time, a friend of mine – another Brazilian who had moved to Amsterdam as a developer – told me about two websites to sign up for. One was Scalable Path and the other was AngelList. He pushed me to create a profile on both, saying that, even though it could take a long time for a match, at some point I might be the perfect candidate for someone.
A little while later, I got an email from someone at Scalable Path. They had an open position with a company and wanted me to interview. I was so nervous I completely botched the technical test. And I was frustrated because as soon as the test was over, I knew I could do it.
You “botched” your first technical test with Scalable Path! But clearly you ended up getting hired – how did you make that happen?
I reached back out to the Scalable Path team and asked if they would give me a second chance. They agreed, and the second test I wrote went much better. I ended up getting that job with the company. I guess this was another important lesson for me: that sometimes, even if you get refused or hear “no”, just be professional.
There are a lot of good programmers out there, but there’s a lot of bad ones, too. What’s rare are people that are good communicators, treat people well, and are also good programmers. You can be a genius, but if you don’t communicate well, you won’t get anywhere. Most of where I’ve gotten in my life is from building good relationships.
When the company reached out to make me an offer, I was so excited, I was jumping a lot. I did a weird dance. From that moment, everything changed.
What was your first role with a U.S. company like?
It was extremely fast-paced. The company itself was working on complex problems. The code was complex. And I felt a little shorthanded because, well, I didn’t have a college degree. I needed to research everything. In that first job, everything was harder. But I didn’t give up. I kept researching and testing everything.
It sounds like you learned a lot in that role. What was your next software position after that?
My next position was another role I found through Scalable Path. And then I just worked and worked. During this time, I barely took vacation, which is abnormal in Brazil, where we love our holidays. I just couldn’t bring myself to: I still felt that sense of urgency. I guess I’ve always been a little exaggerated about work. I’m trying to change this now, but it’s difficult.
How did your professional life change after beginning to work with Scalable Path?
Work liberated me, especially after finding Scalable Path and starting to work with international companies. Yes, working as a freelancer can bring in fair money. But it was difficult to work for myself, by myself. I think that developers are kind of like masons. If you change the building too many times, you make the mason’s life extremely hard. But clients don’t always realize that, and sometimes they request changes that mean going back to the foundation sometimes. As a freelancer working for yourself, that’s really tough. It’s hard to say no, or advise them not to, because you’re always worried about losing the contract.
After getting my first job with Scalable Path, I was working with companies I liked and team members I respected. I was making good money. And I was usually working for people who were programmers themselves, so they understood how software development worked. This was a huge relief, because it meant that recommending solutions other than what they proposed were usually considered fairly.
You’ve had quite the journey, Luiz. Was there anything you’d recommend other developers do to improve their chances of getting hired?
Looking back on it, there were a few things that I think helped me so much. Learning English was so important. Sure, my English isn’t perfect. But people can understand me. I see how all of these U.S. companies want programmers who have English skills. Freelancing, even though I was taken advantage of when I worked on my own, helped me learn to code and work with clients. And even going to college for a little while helped, as the structured learning helped me learn how to approach solving technical problems.
What do you think your life would be like if you hadn’t created a profile with Scalable Path?
I can’t really imagine where my life would be without Scalable Path. Before I got my first job with them, I was living in an unsafe neighborhood. My apartment wasn’t great, to say the least.
Then, seemingly overnight, I was working with an international company that was paying me well. I was able to move to a nice apartment in a safe neighborhood. And even the way I feel and think about things has changed. I don’t feel so stressed anymore. I’m starting to get excited about the possibility of starting my own business again one day. I’m enjoying helping other Brazilians with their programming career.
You’ve already had such an incredible professional journey. What’s next for you?
Mostly, I’m just…happy where I am right now. It’s strange for me, because I’ve never been able to do this. But I find myself getting excited for little things: what I’m going to do with my friends on the weekend. Being able to stay in bed all day on a Sunday. As much as I’m looking forward, I’m just enjoying the moment. I’m the biggest earner in my family by a big, big margin. And I have financial security. That’s huge for me.
If you could say anything to other LatAm developers, what would it be?
Don’t give up! You never know when you’ll get a second change or an opportunity. Simply by reaching out and asking if I could redo a technical test to show my abilities, I was given a second chance and got a job.
I’d also say that you don’t have to be a super experienced developer or have perfect English to work with U.S. companies. Being able to research solutions and communicate with your team is enough. And building strong relationships, in my opinion, is a far more important skill in getting hired and staying in a job.
Are you a LatAm developer looking to grow your career with international companies? Join Scalable Path’s network today.