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“I wouldn’t have believed you” How Brazilian Googler José Neto built his own path to tech with relentless learning and hustle

Editor’s Note: José Neto works in Google Cloud’s São Paulo office, assisting customers in both hybrid/on-prem cloud computing systems, and modernizing computer applications for the cloud. It’s appropriate work; a native of Salvador, Brazil, he’s spent decades harmonizing the past and the future, dealing with radical change, and staying comfortable amid uncertainty as he moves forward. 

What do you think defines how you work?

It’s the way I look at experience. When I work with a customer, I’m interested in helping them fix a problem or build a new service—it’s very personal for me.

I love working towards results. I always ask what the impact on people will be if we fix the problems. I can tell when people want to create a better experience for a customer, and it always makes me more eager to collaborate with them.

What is it about having an experience, and why is that idea so personal for you?

I believe a positive, new experience is also an experience of hope.

Education—the process of learning—is an experience that I’ve never grown tired of. I grew up so poor that we didn’t have food every day. When I was 13, I moved to my grandmother’s house, which gave me the opportunity to attend better schools and pursue education at a greater capacity. My grandmother put me on a path of relentless learning in many different ways.

Like what?

For example, if I wanted pocket money, she’d have me read a book and then she’d quiz me on it before she paid me. When I was 18, one of her friends gave me a job at a computer store where the employees had a lot more experience with the machines than I did, which meant they could take care of twice as many customers as I could. Because we worked on commission, I learned that I needed to hunt down the business so I could eat. Luckily, I was curious, so I learned more about the computers than the others knew, and eventually I was fixing things they missed, such as viruses that reinfected customers’ machines. That helped my reputation and put me on the path to getting a better job.

That’s still a long way from Enterprise cloud computing.

It was the start. I eventually got a job with an IT company where I learned about the Linux operating system, email servers, and Web servers. When I was 27,  I moved to Angola and worked to build Internet phone calling for an education company. While I was there, I learned about mission-critical systems, and worked for oil and gas companies. Eventually, a bank in Rio de Janeiro hired me to work on its systems, and a few years later I was moved to São Paulo—which is where I learned about cloud computing. After a couple of years at another big cloud company, I ended up at Google Cloud.

That’s a lot of work!

It’s a lot of experience. I haven’t even touched on what else was going on in my life at the time. I went to Angola not only because I wanted to marry my girlfriend and needed to save money, but I was interested in seeing Angola, because it’s a Portuguese-speaking place like Brazil. Because Black people are the dominant community in Angola, I learned a lot. There are many more experiences in my story that contribute to who I am today and how much I’m still learning.

José Neto living in Angola

Do you think much about how far your life has taken you?

Like everybody else, I am just living my life, seeking new experiences and opportunities. If you told 18 year-old me where I’d be right now in my life, I wouldn’t have believed you. At that point in my life, I was hunting every day to eat. I wouldn’t have believed that I have enough in life to not worry about eating for a year. I couldn’t have imagined the technology I’d be working with, or that I’d be educating myself not just with books, but by talking to people at Google Cloud who built big parts of cloud computing.

By the way, what books did your grandmother have you read? Science? Math?

Shakespeare! Oscar Wilde, “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment.” Raskolnikov is such a great character! Talk about a personal transformation. I still love “Wuthering Heights.”

We weren’t expecting that answer.

Those books didn’t prepare me for computers, but they did help me understand other people, and what they may be going through. Good stories grow your empathy. Empathy makes you better with customers, experience, and life.

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