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The Art of Making an Impact as an Individual Contributor - A Q&A with Roberto Nunes, Staff Engineer


Roberto Nunes started his career in R&D, working on the digital transition of banks and fintech to the cloud, and is now a Staff engineer at Dojo. His focus is on helping Dojo's engineering teams step up their maturity levels, enhancing the developer experience and promoting cross-collaboration towards building the best payment products possible for our customers. As an individual Contributor, Roberto has to stay organised and well rounded - but how does he do it? Read on as he tells us how to make a big impact as an IC and lets us in on some of the secrets to his success. 


Give us the elevator pitch for your job. What do you do every day? 

Much of my job is focused on tackling shared engineering challenges. These challenges aren’t unique to Dojo - but we’ve done a particularly good job of communicating and onboarding people into our reusable products and streamlining our work towards making everyone’s life easier. 

As an individual contributor, the idea that you don’t need to deal with “people” is a myth. Collaboration, relationship building, and influencing is key to my success. Time management and organisation is pivotal to my role - knowing how to prioritise and how to delegate. It’s key to know the difference between what is “important” and what is “urgent”. 


What skills are essential to being an effective IC?

There are basic things, like how you impose yourself - Dojo is not a dictatorship and no one likes to be told repeatedly on what to do. Collaboration is key. Throughout my past,I have been in lots of meetings where people talk over each other, and that doesn’t earn you many friends. Respecting people for their ideas, not telling people bluntly “you're wrong”. Practise active listening - this is one of the hardest ones. Patience. Give everyone the proper time to participate and have a voice. 

I see a lot of people that still struggle to ask for professional feedback. People just don’t do it! We should be more proactive about asking for feedback and advice. Senior ICs can play a big role here as they educate ICs on other levels to be more open and set the example.

There are so many styles and personalities of staff engineers. The main thing is to have the ambition to have a broad impact, regardless of what it is. So long as you have that desire to go deeper and learn more, you’re good - the rest you can build with the guidance of your peers. Also, you can’t be afraid of taking risks and being wrong. 


As a staff engineer, how important are soft skills as opposed to technical skills?

At my current level, I believe that soft skills outweigh your hard skills. Tech skills play a big role at Dojo but the soft skills are the most important bit. Fintechs are often very similar, and need similar tech skills - companies are differentiated when the culture and the teams work well together. When I’ve worked at a bank before, the people there weren’t close and soft skills weren’t emphasised, so building relationships there was really hard.


When learning new skills, how have you balanced depth and breadth of knowledge?

That’s a hard one! Depending on your company, there might be different demands. At my previous company, its emphasis could go really deep technically, so learning the details would make the most sense to create an impact and add value. This wouldn’t make as much sense at Dojo, because we are faced with different sets of technically spread challenges. So it’s important to adapt to what is required from your company. Pick what you love the most and recognize there will be knowledge transfer opportunities in the industry. If you bring something that’s really niche you’ll be extra valuable. 


Can you describe any moments in your career that shifted or shaped who you are as an IC?

Back in the days of banking, I recall a point where we had a huge ambition to work on trendy tech and architecture. We wanted to work on cool things, but we didn't have the experience to back it up. So every new assigned project, we attempted to pitch our transformational tech ideas. Rejected, learned, rejected, learned... but then we managed to seize one opportunity. It's how I learned about persistence and how a well prepared demo can get you it. Its follow-up success on tech, delivery and methodology, made us one of the technical elite squads at the bank. We even got called out for emergency build'n'deliver for the critical COVID-19 Payment Holiday support! This taught me how to fail and learn fast, create opportunities and "quit" shouldn't be part of my vocabulary.


What advice would you give to ICs to maximise impact and growth, especially in times of transition or ambiguity?

ICs need to find space to do what they actually want to do - but the only way forward isn’t just “up the ladder”. Organisational restructures are a great opportunity to reposition yourself and grab the projects you want to work on. Always keep communication lines open to see what’s going on around you. 

Opportunities are always out there, and the roles you have nowadays probably didn’t exist a few years back. Don’t be afraid to research in your own time and bring something new to the table, and create your own opportunity or role. It’s on you to find them and to demonstrate the ROI of your role and how you’ll be valuable. Innovation and diversity should never be shut down, we’ll always have different skill sets and there’s space for everyone!


Want to join the Engineering team at Dojo? Find more information and open roles here.