Sergio Pereira, CTO at Bulk MRO Industrial Supply, is the youngest CTO we’ve interviewed. Find out why he thinks the remote work paradigm is the biggest societal shift of our generation and which technology he sees pushing worldwide innovation to a new level.
Ulyana Zilbermints: I’m in Lisbon today with Sergio Pereira, the youngest CTO I’ve ever interviewed! Sergio, tell us more about yourself and how you became a CTO at such a young age!
Sergio Pereira: It’s an honor to be here with you! I’ve been working in tech for twelve years. I became a CTO at age twenty-six after working in tech for three years as a software engineer and then an engineering manager. My path to becoming a CTO is very fun because it isn’t what I intended to do! I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I partnered with a friend to create products for media and advertising clients. Since my friend was the business guy and I was the tech guy, startup rules dictated that he was the CEO and I was the CTO.
My first CTO title was just a business with the two of us, but from there, my career evolved rapidly. Our business gained early investors and early clients, some of which were among the biggest media outlets in Europe, which meant I got to build large teams in multiple countries. From there, I’ve held the CTO title at several companies.
UZ: Which company are you at today?
SP: I recently joined Bulk MRO, which is a later-stage startup enabling international trade for companies buying or selling any product in very high volumes. We provide both logistical and financial support for these transactions.
I’ve worked in FinTechs for five years now, but my experience is primarily in B2C, where there’s tons of room for innovation. What I’m doing now is B2B, and the international trade finance space as a whole is lagging behind because it relies on age-old processes with lots of paperwork and bureaucracy.
So I’ve signed up for a big challenge: building the next wave of innovative products in international trade finance; to enable this, I’m building a global team of fully-remote engineers. We just started a few months ago, and so far we’re in five countries, but we will continue building a team across the world.
UZ: When I read your profile, I was interested to see that you’re a remote work advocate and that you were sold on this movement before the pandemic. Tell me why you came to believe in this paradigm and what you see as the future of this model.
SP: I embraced remote work in a very organic way; there wasn’t really a before and after. When I began my career, I was in Portugal working with clients in the U.S. and managing teams in India and the Philippines. As I began owning my own companies and hiring my own teams, I didn't see a reason why those teams needed to be in the same office in the same city.
Since 2018, I’ve been hiring talent globally. Sometimes I have boundaries around time zones when there are overlapping processes that require people to work simultaneously, but I am a big believer that talent is anywhere in the world and we just need to find it.
I’ve also found that remote work is the highest standard of productivity for most people who need to do deep, focused work. These people are most productive in an environment that they can control. Some people like to code to heavy metal, some like their pet to be nearby, some like to cook in the middle of the day, and some like to travel and work from anywhere. Remote work accommodates all of these differences.
I believe the acceptance of remote work is the biggest societal shift of our generation. The fact that I can find talent anywhere in the world opens the doors. The software engineer in India can work for an American company; the designer in Portugal can work for a social media company in San Francisco; and the data scientist in Brazil can work for a startup in Berlin.
Our parents’ generation had to immigrate and leave their family and friends to take high paying jobs and achieve fulfilling careers at top companies. Fortunately, we don’t. I think this will have a massive impact on communities in rural areas and developing countries, which can, in turn, develop those communities as more money is brought in and talent stays local.
UZ: I can’t agree more, but there are challenges in terms of linguistic and cultural differences, especially when teams need to solve problems. How do you break those barriers between people who were born and raised in completely different cultures, some of which even interpret body language differently?
SP: I recently started a project called Remote Work Academy that offers courses on best practices, tools, hiring tips, and more for the remote model. Remote teams tend to be more diverse, so having a diverse and inclusive work culture is essential. It’s particularly vital to be strict around diversity statements and zero tolerance policies for commenting on things like ethnicity, religion, and politics.
Regarding social bonding, it’s certainly a challenge, but everyone has a different experience. I’ve seen people become best friends without ever having met in person. That said, I do think face-to-face connections are important and that a best practice for remote teams is to have retreats, more for social bonding than for work productivity.
UZ: In your opinion, which countries are up-and-coming in their enthusiasm for embracing remote work and joining a global network?
SP: Countries that lead this model have certain traits like high populations of working age people, good internet connection, and access to good education. Some of these countries, like India and Pakistan, are obvious to us since they were already winning in the outsourcing game. This is true of Latin America too, but the challenge there is typically language.
An unexpected and very promising continent for the next couple of decades is Africa, especially Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, etc. These countries were historically regarded as developing countries, but about five years ago, huge investments were made in tech schools in Africa, and now the talent pool is incredible. The only caveat is that the most senior people there have just five years of experience, but in another five years, this won’t be an issue.
UZ: I’ve certainly seen seniority changing from ten to fifteen years of experience to three to five for employees who are very smart.
SP: There’s an overall trend known as the skills gap, which is the gap between the number of positions posted and the number of people who are actually qualified to take those roles. This gap is widening because more and more companies need tech talent, and though the talent pool is increasing, it’s increasing at a slower pace than the demand is growing. Some companies deal with this by increasing budgets, others by lowering their requirements.
UZ: My favorite paradigm is when there’s a junior team member eager to learn and a senior team member eager to coach.
SP: A team composed only of senior employees will leave because they’re bored.
UZ: Yes! Let’s talk more about technology. What do you see as a technology that could really revolutionize the world and change people’s lives?
SP: I’m very passionate about blockchain and decentralization. I believe blockchain can create value relative to the value the internet brought some twenty years ago. We are just scratching the surface with cryptocurrency and NFTs. The world is evolving in a direction where individuals are massively empowered. In certain scenarios where you used to use institutions as a middle man, you can now accomplish the same things peer-to-peer. For example, I came here in someone else’s car. If I travel, I stay in someone else’s home. Back in the day I would need to arrange these services through a trusted institution.
Blockchain has the potential to continue this trend in a way that has financial value embedded in the transaction protocol. I’ve worked in this space for five years, and there’s already been a lot of change. The companies that are quietly working behind the scenes to advance this technology will be the Amazons and Googles of tomorrow. There will be massive pushback at first, but that’s how innovation works.
UZ: You’re very active about knowledge sharing, particularly on Twitter. What motivates you to do this, and how can people follow you?
SP: I used to be an introverted nerd who preferred to stay behind the scenes, but a few years ago, I began promoting my company’s services and myself as a consultant, so I created a lot of content and became a public speaker. Surprisingly, I discovered I loved speaking in front of thousands of people and sharing my knowledge!
The pandemic stopped that trajectory, but I still feel the need to share knowledge, because this also comes with pushback, questions, and different perspectives, which allows me to learn. This drove me to become active on Twitter under the handle @sergiorocks.
UZ: Which accounts do you enjoy following?
SP: Naval Ravikant, the founder of AngelList, who intertwines philosophy with entrepreneurship. I love the guys from Y Combinator, especially Paul Graham, whose essays were foundational to my first startup. I also follow people from engineering backgrounds who share specific knowledge like how to do code reviews or how to lead 1:1s. I’m learning a lot about engineering from people from a diversity of backgrounds and experiences.
UZ: We’ll have to check out your account, Sergio! Thanks so much for your time today and for sharing your insights on the new world of work, as well as up-and-coming technologies.
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Ulyana Zilbermints is the Chief Revenue Officer at Avenue Code.