Don't let schooling interfere with your education

A few weeks ago I was invited to represent Imaginary Cloud at SINFO. In the aftermath of the adventure I was challenged to write about the whole experience.

I'm going on an adventure

Just in case you haven’t noticed I'm kind of new around here. My name is André Santos and I have recently joined Imaginary Cloud as a developer, after a couple interviews which derailed into complete geek out about software development.

What is SINFO

SINFO is one of the biggest tech conferences in Portugal and this year was celebrating its twenty-third edition. It’s organised by the students attending the Information Systems and Computer Engineering course, at Instituto Superior Técnico. The conference happens in the middle of the first quarter of the year and caters mostly to Information Technology students, due to the nature of the talks and the strong presence of IT companies in the event to promote their work and scout future talent to join their teams.

Instituto Superior Técnico (IST) is my alma mater and I had the pleasure to attend several talks in previous editions of SINFO, which have left a mark in my way thinking. It’s not uncommon to recall the words of Richard Stallman, Rickard Falkvinge or Peter Sunde. They had a defining role in shaping my way of thinking about copyright, open-source and digital liberties.

Back from the Future

This time I was back at SINFO accompanying Eva, our lovely HR Manager, as ambassadors for Imaginary Cloud. Our goal was clear: branch out, introduce the company and capture the students’ attention towards Imaginary Cloud as their future workplace.

However, capturing their attention is not an easy task! We are a rather small company and our business is mostly done outside of Portugal. We are not that well known, so our name doesn’t carry the same weight as some of the bigger players, such as consulting and outsourcing (body shopping?!) companies, which soak up most of the graduates from IST.

May I have your attention?

These kinds of companies are quite attractive for new graduates. IST encourages students to be ambitious, think big, make a difference, strive to be best, reach the top, and big corporations tend to be automatically associated with these values, while smaller companies tend to be looked down and even seen as less ambitious workplaces. Nevertheless we managed to allure quite a few students and our booth was never empty, which was a great accomplishment by itself.

Since Imaginary Cloud is mostly unknown, it was rather rewarding to see their genuine interest in knowing the company, how we work, what we do and what technologies we deal with on a regular basis. I tend to monopolize most of my speech on the technical side of Imaginary Cloud, mostly because it’s both my comfort zone and value the most. Our core technologies for the web - Ruby on Rails and Node.js - as well as anything related to mobile development, are completely overlooked during the course. However these are popular subjects that spark the curiosity of many IT students, who dive into them, researching and learning on their own.

Looking back into a mirror

I feel like the technology and scope of the projects carry a huge weight when considering a job offer. Therefore I did my best to provide a technical view of Imaginary Cloud’s projects. But they are a tough crowd, carrying the know-it-all judgment that tickles the line between arrogance and confidence, prevalent and expected among newly graduates from a college, which claims to be one of the most demanding of the country.

I understand where they are coming from and I can relate to their position. I’m not sure they were that judgmental or if I was just projecting, because that’s exactly how I felt three years ago when I last attended SINFO a student. And that made me think a bit about myself in that period of time...

I had finished most of my school assignments, but didn't have a clear picture about what I wanted to do after graduating. I ended up playing safe and taking a job offer in a well-established consulting company. The work I was doing there was more focused on the business side of IT, in the insurance field, where there wasn't much room for technical work and most of it was in technologies which I had no interest whatsoever. I quickly got bored and felt the need to look somewhere else for a career.

In the meantime I took the time to explore and work in a web development project as well taking some time to chase a mobile project opportunity that came up. I became quite fond of those fields and the technology I used in both projects. For those experiences I was able to trace a technological profile about what I wanted to deal with in my professional life and that's why I ended up applying to Imaginary Cloud.

He gets it

The underlying point was my lack of direction about what I wanted to do after graduating made me take the safest plan, which didn't work out. If I could leave a piece of advice for myself I would push myself into chasing one of the of the ideas I had at the time and find a clear picture of what I would to pursue in my professional life, but... who am I kidding? Back then I was too stubborn and know-it-all to take this kind of advice!