In April 2020, we welcomed Nuno Antunes as Sqreen’s VP of Engineering. As a CTO, welcoming a VPE is something unique, and I’ll describe my experience in a later blog post. But for now, the spotlight’s on Nuno! Recently, I sat down with him to learn a bit more about his experience and what he’s excited to build at Sqreen.
You spent the early years of your career focused on building things as an individual contributor, and then followed the management path, up to being the VP of Engineering of a team of almost 200 people. Could you tell us more how this shaped you as an engineering leader, and why you chose that path?
I’ve been an individual contributor for most of my professional life. I was so often challenged to lead projects and teams, but I kept returning to my comfort zone as an individual contributor. Obviously I knew management was important, but it never felt right for me. Then one day, after many years as a Software Engineer, and later as a Project Manager, I was given the opportunity to lead a few engineering teams at my previous job, and decided it was time to give it a try.
The transition was not easy: after so many years “solving problems”and “building things”, at first I felt I could no longer get anything done because I spent all my time talking to people. Luckily for me that quickly changed as I started to realize the impact I could also have by guiding and helping others “solve problems” and “build things”. I soon realized that not only was I learning so much by leading others, but also that watching people grow and achieve their goals was rewarding, fun, and extremely inspiring.
The eight years you spent at OutSystems were dedicated to building a product that makes development simpler. Sqreen’s mission of democratizing security is very similar, though in a different space. What’s your relationship with security, and how does the challenge of democratizing security resonate with you?
I’ve always been passionate about computer security, and one of my favorite tech books of all times is “Secrets and Lies” by Bruce Schneier, but I’m not even close to being an expert on this subject. As software continues to eat the world, and attacks get more frequent and more sophisticated, security is now one of the most important areas of investment in our industry. Going out of business overnight due to a cyber attack is now a threat every company – not just the big brands – has to face. Large businesses have the resources to practice defense in depth, investing millions to defend their systems, but the vast majority of companies don’t have the budget to invest in such tools, the expertise to implement processes, and especially, the access to talent: security experts. That’s why democratizing security, making it accessible to all businesses, is so important for our industry and so appealing to me.
When you came aboard, we were looking for someone to structure and grow the team, and prepare Product Engineering for our next stage. How would you describe your biggest challenges during these first months?
I have to say the biggest challenge has been the pandemic and everything that changed with it. Soon after I joined we decided to temporarily slow down our growth plans due to the context of high uncertainty. Plans to open an Engineering office in Lisbon after the summer were also put on the backburner. Given the context, we decided to introduce a few team changes and bootstrap a new group focused on internal efficiency. Introducing team changes early in the game, while still learning team dynamics, was a challenge, but it’s now clear that this investment will pay off in solid foundations for growth later this year.
Another important challenge has been on the human side. At this stage I was supposed to be living in Paris, developing personal relationships and working in close proximity with the team. Instead, I had to onboard remotely from home under confinement. To be totally honest, I had an amazing onboarding experience despite the unexpected adjustments. Everyone was extremely friendly and helpful, but I still felt everything was moving slower than I had anticipated and, like most people I guess, it took me a while to adapt to the dynamics of the new normal. I get a lot of my energy from being around people, and connecting at a personal level. Zoom is a great tool, but (at least for me) a poor vehicle for human connection, so I can’t wait to be in the offices with the team.
You’re based in Lisbon. Sqreen’s main offices are based in San Francisco and Paris, with a bunch of Sqreeners distributed around the world as well. What opportunities does this bring, and how do you see this evolving in the near future?
First of all, it gives me an amazing opportunity to learn from such a diverse group of people. Companies at this early stage have the natural bias to hire people that look, act, and think like their first employees, but then you end up with a monoculture that only accepts one way to look at problems and work on solutions. Even though we still have a small team, we already have 14 countries represented, which wouldn’t be the case if we weren’t intentional about it. This range of backgrounds and experiences makes both our culture and product stronger, and I’m excited for this to continue in the future.
Diversity is a value that Sqreen put front and center from day one and I’m happy to work for a company that makes it a core value of its culture. Working in an environment where transparency and kindness are valued, where failure is accepted as a path to growth, where differences are a plus, and you feel safe sharing your opinions, allowed me to very quickly feel at home.
The first time we met was pretty unusual, as Pierre (Sqreen’s CEO and co-founder) and I flew together to Lisbon, where you invited us into your home – where we also met your dog and bird ;). I noticed a couple of books lying around. What books are you reading now?
I just finished ”The Manager’s Path” by Camille Fournier, and started to re-read “The Hard Things About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz. I remember enjoying this book the first time I read it, but the stories and advice seem even more relevant at this stage of my life. If I had to recommend a book I would say “Radical Candor” by Kim Scott. I read it a couple years ago and I keep going back to it every now and then. It shares amazing advice on a topic so many managers struggle with: how to provide effective guidance and feedback to your teams.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the whole team is working remotely, and most of our meetings are on Zoom. One day, I joined a meeting a few minutes late and you were playing guitar and singing. I loved it! Where did that come from :)?
I love music and singing. Everyone that spends some time with me can confirm that I’m always humming a tune, and every now and then I break into a song. I used to have a guitar in the office (I have one at home… my current office :p) that I picked up every now and then for a quick relaxing pause. Over time I realized it worked well as an effective ice breaker during meetings or 1:1s. Music is universal and a great way to level up with people and get to know each other a bit better. I’d say in this case it worked well 🙂
Last but not least, what do you anticipate your next three months at Sqreen will look like?
We just reviewed priorities at the executive level and we’re now working on the product roadmap for the next quarter. It’s an ambitious roadmap that will push us to evolve the Product Engineering group, aligning our product squads with our business goals. We will continue hiring for multiple positions – software engineers, quality and security engineers, product and engineering managers – primarily across Europe in Paris-friendly timezones, so I plan to invest a significant portion of my time on ensuring successful hiring and onboarding of new Sqreeners, and to pave the road for accelerated growth by the end of the year.
Last but not least, I hope traveling restrictions are removed soon so I can finally travel to Paris and San Francisco and meet everyone in person. We have many challenges ahead, but the foundations – culture, people and product – are extremely solid, so I anticipate that three months of very hard work and lots of fun are ahead of us.