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Interview with Pedro Pimentel, Senior Consultant at why innovation!

Alice Yu Yuebo 4 min
An Interview with Pedro Pimentel, Senior Consultant at why innovation!
"Looking back at my teenager years I’ve always had only two careers in mind: to become an airline pilot and be able to travel the world; or to work with technology, as I wanted to create the same games I used to play on my super Nintendo.  My first dream was shattered due to uncontrollable reasons; thankfully, at the same time, I got my first personal computer which fostered my fascination for all things software as well as hardware."

Explore the world of Pedro Pimentel, who wears several hats (like most of the whyers do) as an Agile Coach, a trainer, a techy guru, a blogger and a community evangelist. By the way, guess which country he comes from? ;-)
1. Walk us through the step-by-step process that you went through to get to where you are today.

Looking back at my teenager years I’ve always had only two careers in mind: to become an airline pilot and be able to travel the world; or to work with technology, as I wanted to create the same games I used to play on my super nintendo. Early on, when I was 13-14 years old, my dream of becoming an airline pilot was shattered as I was diagnosed with a genetic degenerative disease on my left eye which didn’t allow me to pursue aviation. Thankfully, at about the same time, I got my first personal computer which fostered my fascination for all things software as well as hardware.

Fast forward to up till 2008, while still in college, I took up on several internships and projects which helped define my career as a software developer. From internships at software giants such as SAP, to sponsored college projects such as OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) pilot in Brazil, I’ve tried a range of technologies, team sizes, methodologies and challenges. Still in the same year of 2008, I applied to work remotely for a hotel search and reservations engine company based in Spain.  I was invited for a face to face interview at their office in Madrid, and unexpectedly, I was extended an offer to work with their team in Madrid. At that time I’ve never actually considered living abroad before I was done with my studies but I didn’t think twice, I quit both the computer science degree and a technical degree in business management to take on this opportunity. During my time in Madrid, thankfully to the amazing leadership at the company, I got exposure to effectively work with Scrum, to learn (and love) pair-programming, to build up my passion for testing and many other habits/traits that defined my career as a great developer. From that moment onwards, I came to realize that being part of a Agile team, evolving together, solving hard problems and be able to craft high quality solutions was everything I wanted moving forward.
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Almost 7 years ago, I moved to Hong Kong, a city that I love, and my dream of travel the world was fulfilled even though I haven’t become a pilot. Obviously not everything was wonderful, and at my job as a software developer consultant I was becoming more and more upset with the lack of attention to quality from the teams I was working with, the constant lonely times working on my computer by myself as my colleagues/clients hadn’t the same desire for pair-programming as I had. I even considered leaving Hong Kong due to that constant frustration, so I’ve decided to hire a career coach to help me discover any other options. It wasn’t a sudden realization, but within months, I made my mind to become a full-time Agile coach. A role in which I could leverage all my software developer experience working in Agile teams/companies and my passion to put people together for a reason. Thankfully, Yann Hamon, the founder of why innovation!, believed in me and brought me on board. 
2. How do you structure your day as a consultant?

That’s a really difficult question! As an Agile coach, rarely any day is likely to be the same. There’s always a part of the of the day where I either attend daily Scrum or facilitate / coach daily scrum events on the spot. Whenever it’s possible, I try to spend healthy amounts of time with the product owner, casually checking on things such as the state of the product backlog and  helping out on user story writing. When the development team is on-site (or even remote), I tend to spend most of my time being available to serve the team on any topic, ranging from software development practices to mediate heated discussions within team members. All in all, I must say a common pattern I have in my routine is to allow plenty of time for observation on how the team communicate, for example I observe casual team meetings, as well as go and talk to different teams and different leaders within the organisation. 
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3. What do you like most about why innovation!?

​It has to be the sense of comradery every time I meet with my colleagues. In reality, I see it more like a company perk. We are a hugely diverse crowd, yet we are able instantly connect to each other as the working team values are similar and differences are respected. 
4. How do you keep track of what you have to do?

One of my most read articles in my personal blog is actually one about how I cope with keeping track of what I learn (https://pedropimentel.com/keeping-track-of-what-you-learn-79664b5cc6e6). I had trackers for my learning, for my news, tracker for my daily TODO items, tracker for my done items etc. I used to be extremely concerned about being productive, being on top of everything, always finding ways to squeeze more out of an already high performance workflow. After reading the transformational book “Getting Real” around 2010 I stopped being that strict. I realised, often, there was more value in NOT doing things than actually doing them, also, there were things I added to my list which my client (or even myself) wouldn’t even need later. Nowadays, to keep track on what needs to be done, I still rely in software trackers, but I don’t let my routine be dictated by them. Furthermore, quite often, I don’t add items on my TODO list just because I need to keep track of them or someone asked me to do something. If it’s really important (for me or the person requesting), certainly it will be brought up again. 
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5. Tell me about a day in your life—before and after the solution you chose.

I stopped caring so much about ticking all the check-boxes in my TODO list. I stopped feeling that I “wasted” my day when I finished everything or wasn’t being that productive. I also used to track my time spent on each application, such as development tools, browser tabs, email, and other tools so I could ensure I was spending my time the most productive way. It’s hard to measure how much my satisfaction factor increased after stopping all of my obsession with tracking my productivity. Added to that, my mental health improved tenfold, contributing to build my emotional intelligence which definitely helps to keep my sanity during the toughest times of an assignment.
7. What are three hard-to-spot pitfalls that are critical to avoid?

Firstly, when on a new assignment, definitely avoid applying everything you successfully did in previous clients. It rarely works! As an Agile coach, acting accordingly to the current context is paramount. The first month is all about listening, feeling the new environment, observing the interactions, understanding the hidden organisational connections and so on.  Essentially, gathering and analysing everything about the new project you are working on.

Secondly, in every single organisation I’ve worked, in a way or another, the employees at the client proudly like to say that they are a very complex organisation, therefore they need complex solutions, anticipating their needs for every possible case. The fact is, generally speaking, complex problems need simple solutions and the process to achieve such simple outcomes are usually arduous, based on several iterations of inspection and adaptation.
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Finally, a not so hard to spot pitfall that I still constantly observe in most clients is having remote/distributed teams for the only reason of cost saving. There’s a huge unmeasurable hidden cost in collaboration with remote team members which is way too often ignored. Furthermore, when the cost-saving focus is excessive, there’s a tendency to tolerate bad communication skills, lower quality on software delivery skills of the team members, and work on a fixed-price, fixed-budget contract.
8. What’s your best advice for starters?

Don’t rush to reach the end of your career. It’s rarely achieving the end that matters the most. Most of the time, the experience, the journey, the obstacles, the networking, the process, the practice, and going thru pain and come back, will bring you much more joy. Even though I quit my studies to effectively start my career, I still believe education is important and it shouldn’t be skipped. Instead, what I tell others who are still in college is to forget about getting the highest grades, invest your time in gaining experience by doing meaningful internships, being part of research labs, and bootstrap ideas with colleagues and friends. All of that practical experience plus the formal studies will turn you into a highly desirable employee by many organisations when you graduate and you won’t be faced with the challenge that many people nowadays face which is how to get a job without experience.
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9. What are three things you’ve told yourself that kept you going during your darkest hour?

Being a consultant for most of my career, the first thing I always remind myself (and others) is “it could be worse, I could not have a job nor family and friends”, in a way or another, it helps to set a perspective that most of us on earth are actually privileged just for the fact of being alive and healthy. Secondly, once I internally accept that I’m going thru a “dark situation”, I find ways to make it an opportunity to apply radical changes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of small and constant incremental changes but given the “dark” opportunity to revamp things completely, it’s definitely something which I will try. Finally, the third thing I tell myself is to resist the urge to react to something right away (unless is life threatening). That gives me the time to calm down and re-assess the facts with a fresher mind.
10. How do you recharge or take a break from work?

At the office I usually interact a lot with other people so when I’m home I tend to appreciate quietness and lonely moments as a way to recharge. The advantage of living on a small remote island is that I get to have plenty of opportunities to be left out alone, and as I appreciate being by the sea, listening to the waves crashing by the shore;  I get to do that quite often as the nearest beach is a short 10 minutes’ walk from my flat. Other than that, cooking is something that I absolutely love, I effortlessly spend hours in the kitchen preparing food, or even researching ingredients and cooking methods. 
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11. If you had a list of ‘best-kept secrets’ [websites, books, coaches] you’d recommend, which would you include and why?

“Getting Real” by Jason Fried and David H. Hansson as I mentioned earlier, it’s an amazing book. I describe it as an opinionated and prescriptive version of the Agile manifesto. In this book, they share, based on their own experience, on how to best run a product (software development) company. Their no-bullshit approach might not work in for 99.9% of the companies out there but I take it as the “nirvana” state that potentially everyone or a company can achieve.

Another author that I absolutely believe should be more well-known is Nassim Nicholas Taleb, he opposes many of the established economical theories with spot-on faultless books such as “The Black Swan” where he analyses the way we, humans, make sense of the unexpected. My favourite quote from him, which also reflects the way I approach things, is “You should study risk taking, not risk management”.
12. List down 3 take-aways for your readers.
  • Work hard, and make time to learn how to work smarter along the way. When we start our careers, few of us are privileged enough to start already working smart so pave your path with hard work driven by a continuous learning mindset.
  • Have a passion other than work. If your job is your only passion, it’s going to be hard to get your mental health under control when times are difficult at work. Therefore, having a passion outside work will help tremendously to balance things out.
  • Focus on your health, both body and mind. It’s the same thing as with savings/investments, if you don’t take care of it from an early stage, you will just grow regrets.
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This is just 69% of Pedro's story! More's coming up. Stay tuned for the next #WeAreWhyers interview!
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