Breaking Cultural Barriers with Marcello Bonatto | DistantJob - Remote Recruitment Agency

Breaking Cultural Barriers with Marcello Bonatto

Luis Magalhaes

Todays’ guest, Marcello Bonatto, leads Re:Coded, a non-profit that helps people from war-torn countries learn the craft of IT and work remotely with Western enterprises, bringing value into their lives and communities.

Marcello Bonatto

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Luis Magalhaes: Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the DistantJob podcast. I am, as usual, your host Luis and with me is Marcello Bonatto.

Luis Magalhaes: Marcello, welcome to the DistantJob podcast.

Marcello: Thank you so much Luis, it’s a pleasure to be with you.

Luis Magalhaes: So thank you for coming. And the DistantJob podcast, as you already know, is about how to build and lead teams, remote teams specifically.

Luis Magalhaes: You are a big part in making sure that some very talented young people get to work in remote teams, and I’ve seen a TED Talk from you where you give an emphasis in leadership, actually, so I want to talk to you later but before that, why don’t you present yourself to our audience. Tell our audience who you are and what you’re doing.

Marcello: Sure. So I am originally from Brazil. I was born in Sao Paulo but raised in Rio, and that’s where I spent most of my life. But after I graduated from university, I started to really pursue an international career, so I lived in Japan, Egypt, then I went back to Brazil before I decided to do my Masters in New York. And since then, I’ve just been working in countries that have been affected by conflict. So I did a little bit of work in West Africa, and currently I am working in the Middle East. I’m based in Istanbul but working in different countries in the region.

Luis Magalhaes: Alright, so you’re currently based in Istanbul but working in different countries, in different regions, so give me some examples. What’s going on in Marcello Bonatto’s life right now? You know, at the beginning of 2019.

Marcello: Sure. So I’m one of the founders of Re:Coded and have the opportunity to explore a little bit of the work we do, but we started the organization a couple of years ago, and since then, I’ve been working primarily in Turkey and Iraq, so this is the work we’ve been doing since 2017. It has been an incredible experience to work with refugees, and also youth that have been affected by conflict.

Marcello: And 2019 for us is going to be a very exciting year because after doing this for a little while, we’re growing. We’re growing operations in the countries where we operate, and we’re also expanding to potentially two different locations in 2019, so even from the perspective of remote work, it’s going to be a huge challenge to take the model that we have today, the way we work today, and make the organization grow in the next year without a lot of hassle on our end. So we expect it’s going to be a very exciting year for us.

Luis Magalhaes: Okay, so I actually want to go back to that a little bit further, but first of all, tell me and my listeners a bit more about Re:Coded, and specifically, why did this cause become [interested 00:03:21] to you? When did you start thinking about this?

Marcello: Yeah, so we started thinking about this, my co-founder and I, back when we were doing our Masters in New York. As I mentioned before, our focus had been on conflict affected countries with a specific focus on education. We realized that in countries like Iraq, because of the displacement of people from Syria and within Iraq, they were not getting access to education and employment opportunities, and the humanitarian sector was just replicating a lot of the traditional livelihood models from the past, meaning teaching someone how to be a cook, or how to be mechanics, or handcraft. There is nothing wrong with those skills, but the issue is a lot of the people who have been displaced have higher education degrees, they are seeking for meaningful employment and when the only employment they can find is something that they were not trained to do or are not aligned with their career objectives, then that becomes a problem because you end up seeking negative coping strategies. For women is early marriage. For men, it could be radicalization or job exploitation.

Marcello: So we really thought that, at that point, there was an opportunity to deliver a different kind of training and, at the same time, being very aware of the skills gap in the tech sector globally. There are a lot of vacancies to be filled in Europe, in the US and, in the Middle East, it’s something that has not been fully explored. So we decided to put those two pieces of the puzzle together. Let’s come up with a model that we can teach very advanced technical skills in countries like Iraq and Turkey, and help place those students in jobs, remotely or locally when the economy is able to provide opportunities. In some countries, that is not the case. Like in Iraq, it’s a little bit more difficult to find companies who are willing to hire locally, so we give more focus on remote employment, but in a city like Istanbul, where we also have programs, it’s easier to find big companies or startups who are willing to hire locally.

Marcello: So that’s why we started, that’s the nature of our programs, and we basically, when I say we teach advanced technical skills, we really focused on programing, so teaching them how to develop mobile applications, web applications. But it’s not only the technical skills, so our programs are quite robust, and we also offer what some people call soft skills, I like to call core skills, [or power 00:06:18] skills because there’s nothing soft about them. Like communication skills, teamwork, project management, time management, leadership. Those things are extremely important. And we also try to give them a little bit of what I like to call the mindful leadership, because it’s not only having the skills to be a good leader, but having self-reflection, self-awareness, being present. I think those things are extremely important.

Marcello: So yeah, so that’s a little bit of our story so far.

Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. So [why 00:06:51] I love [here 00:06:51] is that you found a model that really is a win-win. Because what most non-profits do is, to some extent, I don’t want to make this overly negative, but they kind of play the guilt game where the approach of most non-profits is A: We know that giving sucks because you’re giving something away, but it’s the right thing to do.

Luis Magalhaes: Where you’re saying, no no no. Your organization is you’re giving, and in return you get these awesome qualified people, so …

Marcello: Correct.

Luis Magalhaes: That’s a pretty good evergreen model.

Marcello: Yeah, and it is really about not giving them a hand out, but really give them a hand. Teaching them skills that they can actually use it and be independent. We know that we don’t want them to be dependent on our help to find employment or to learn new skills.

Marcello: So I think your point is really important because we really put a lot of emphasis on self-learning. When they join our program, which is about five months long, we’ll give them as many tools as they need to be successful as a developer, internationally or locally. But we also teach them how to learn. I think that growth mindset is extremely important for someone who is working remotely, someone who is working as a developer, because things are constantly moving, things are constantly changing. If they do not have the ability to look for opportunities themselves, to learn new programming languages, learn new soft skills, then it doesn’t matter that they went through our program, they are not going to progress professionally.

Marcello: So that’s why we really try to work with a growth mindset, so that once they graduate, they’re able to pursue opportunities themselves.

Luis Magalhaes: Absolutely. So, tell me, is there anyone else thinking about this? Or are you guys the only ones?

Marcello: No, there are more people doing similar work, which is really great to see. I think you were right when you were mentioning before that unfortunately a lot of non-profits are risk-averse, and they try to adopt the same model and be more conservative. But, as we see more and more technology being part of our lives, I think it’s almost unavoidable that you’re thinking okay, how can I use technology to solve some of the problems we face, or how can I run my organization differently?

Marcello: So other organizations have been doing different things with technology, particularly the kind of work we do, there are a number of organizations working with refugees, teaching them how to code in Europe. There are organizations doing this in Lebanon, in Afghanistan, in Jordan, in Egypt, so it’s really something … In South America, also, you have organizations doing the same with disadvantaged groups or specifically for women. So, I think that the non-profit model is changing with the advance of technologies, but I think more than teaching technology, what I would like to see is non-profits changing the way they work as an organization, right?

Marcello: Because a lot of non-profits get stuck in bureaucracy and that sometimes is a little bit unavoidable because they have to deal with big donors, but I would encourage non-profit leaders to really think how we can be more efficient, how can I have a different leadership approach, how can I have a different organizational chart that people have a little more autonomy to deliver their work?

Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, I agree absolutely. One of my biggest gripes with non-profits is … the concept of non-profit is a bit disingenuous because, look, if a non-profit has a profit, then they don’t need donors. They’re not dependent on donors, they can reinvest that profit in the work that will allow them to improve the world. So I realize that non-profit is a technical term, but I prefer non-profits that generate business but then just instead of that profit going to investors, it goes back into the mission. So that I think is really the best thing to do.

Marcello: Absolutely, which is basically a social enterprise, right?

Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, exactly, social enterprises.

Marcello: So you do make –

Luis Magalhaes: Like that name much better than non-profit, really.

Marcello: Yeah, you make a profit and I think at the core of a social enterprise is that your mission is not to maximize profit, your mission is, at the core, a social mission. And even though we at Re:Coded, we are a non-profit, registered in the United States, we are starting to have different revenue streams because we don’t want to be relying only on donations, so we’re creating new products and we are trying to become a little bit more sustainable and eventually, I think that’s the path that we’re going to take because we want to be able to say, hey, yes we have a social [mission 00:12:17] at heart, we are not doing this for profit, but we are having a profit and that money is going back into our mission.

Marcello: So, just to give you an example, we started implementing an idea that is really something that we are excited about, which is a digital agency, and I think this is pretty much a win-win model for us because we are training the talents, right? So we are training refugees and conflict affected youth to be mobile developers, web developers, and we really can vouch for them because we know the kind of education we’re giving them. Then, we are also sourcing clients who want a website or an application developed, so we’re putting these two elements together. We’re accepting clients who want a product developed, we are hiring some of our graduates to work with us, and every profit that we make from those contracts go back to our mission.

Marcello: We had three clients last year, and we’re seeking to expand this this year, and perhaps making this as one of our main activities.

Luis Magalhaes: Nice. But I know that you also place people, fully, within other companies. Meaning not working as an agency, but actually finding them a job outside of your company and in a North American company, correct?

Marcello: Correct.

Luis Magalhaes: Is this something that you plan to drop with the digital agency thing? Or do you see those things working in parallel?

Marcello: Yeah, they will definitely work in parallel. We graduate around, at the stage that we are at today, we graduate around 100 people per year, and we’re planning to really grow this in 2019 to 200, 250, so there are a lot of people that we’re training and putting out in the market. Our numbers so far are around 85% employment rate within six months of graduation for those seeking employment.

Luis Magalhaes: Wow, that’s pretty good.

Marcello: Yeah, so if you finish successfully our program, and you are actively seeking employment, it’s a very high chance that you’ll find employment within six months, right?

Luis Magalhaes: So tell me something … Sorry. Go on, go on. I didn’t mean to interrupt.

Marcello: No, no. Please.

Marcello: Just to finish what I was saying, I was just going to say we will continue to do this because I think there’s a lot of potential for us to find employment for our graduates, and in the digital agency, at least in the beginning, I think it will depend on the number of projects that we are able to source and we can only hire a small percentage of those graduates to work with us, so we’ll still do both things in parallel.

Luis Magalhaes: So this is especially interesting to me, because we also run a recruitment business, but most of our clients, what they come after is experience. They want to talk with us to get people that have like three to five years of experience, minimum. And you’re saying that you’re placing people who have just graduated, so I’m really wondering, what is that conversation like? When you’re pitching those people to companies, what’s the kind of conversation that you have with those North American companies?

Marcello: Yes. So there a couple of ways that we do this and employment can mean different things depending on what the students want. So we take a very individual approach. Some of our graduates are a little bit younger and they just want an internship so they can learn more, and we are able to secure internships for a lot of those who are trying to pursue that kind of first step into the technology industry. Some of them want full time employment, some of them just want to start a career as a freelancer, and some people want to be entrepreneurs. So for placement in companies, what we usually do is a two-fold approach.

Marcello: One is that, as I mentioned before, our bootcamp is five months long. The first three months is only focusing on training and the technical skills and also the soft skills. And then the last two months is an apprenticeship, which means that we source clients internationally, clients in the US, in Europe, and if those clients want an [MVP 00:16:52] developed, a prototype developed, we will do it for them during those two months with our students. So we divide the students in groups of three or four, and then we link them to that employment, and they have to work with that client for two months.

Marcello: And it’s a really unique opportunity for them because they can apply all the skills that they’ve learned in the previous three months. They can put a real project in their portfolio, they can say that they have worked with a client, and then the client has the option to hire one, or the whole team if they want, after the project. And what we’ve noticed is that we have a 35% conversion rate. So 35% of these projects, the client ends up hiring one or more of the students to continue the prototype.

Marcello: So this is one way we can facilitate direct employment with companies. The second one is really business development and outreach. Going to the companies and say, hey, if you’re looking for Android developers or web developers, we have talents coming out of our program, this is what they know, would you be willing to give it a try? Sometimes they hire for three months and see how it goes.

Marcello: And then there’s another way that I didn’t mention, which is the students themselves looking for employment. And I think this is very important to emphasize. We tell them, hey, it’s a 50/50 effort relationship. We’re going to give you training, we’re going to vouch for you, we’re going to look for opportunities and make sure that you’re able to apply for jobs, and you’re ready to apply for jobs, but you have to look for the opportunities yourself, you know? You have to be able to do it yourself because if we’re not there in the future, you have to be independent.

Marcello: And a lot of them do it. Here in Istanbul, we have a handful of graduates who end up finding employment by themselves.

Luis Magalhaes: Okay. So that’s very interesting but I want to touch a bit more about … because, specifically when it comes to remote work, but I guess you could also talk about the fact that the people are just graduate from your program, what are the main objections you face when you pitch those people to the companies?

Marcello: Yeah, so there are multiple things but –

Luis Magalhaes: Let’s go with the top three.

Marcello: Yeah, number one, working with someone remotely, as you know, it’s a challenge especially when they’re unfamiliar to you, right? So, you pitch to an organization in the US. You know, I have these developers from Iraq, are you willing to hire them remotely? Because they cannot go to the US, just [crosstalk 00:19:47] –

Luis Magalhaes: And that was never especially easy. That was …

Marcello: No, that has never been easy, especially for an Iraqi citizen.

Marcello: But the things that come to mind is, first they will say, is there a language issue?

Marcello: And everyone who goes through our program, they need to know English, so usually they’re quite good in English but even when you’re able to communicate in English, doing this remotely on a call or communication by email, it’s never easy. I’m not a native English speaker and it’s still for me sometimes, jumping on a call with someone in the US –

Luis Magalhaes: You’re great, man. You’re great.

Marcello: Thank you. Well, we try.

Marcello: But even then, it’s not your native language, so just imagine someone who has not been exposed to the English language that much and then having to work with a client remotely.

Marcello: So I think clients sometimes, they get a little bit worried about that reason, and the other one is infrastructure. You know, am I going to hire someone from Iraq? And then the perspective, like the way you think about the country is. You know, war, there’s no infrastructure, these people will not be able to do the work that I ask them to do because they simply will not have a laptop or internet connection, and all that kind of stuff.

Marcello: So there is obviously some truth to that. I think there is a misconception, I think Iraq is not only war, I think there is much more to the country. It’s a beautiful country.

Luis Magalhaes: Of course. The war is what you see on the TV, of course.

Marcello: Exactly. But it’s a beautiful country, nice people. But there are some problems. There are power outages all the time, so we have a problem with reliable electricity but what we’re trying to do to minimize this as well is we’re launching in March a co-working space in Erbil, in the north of Iraq, which also gives a little bit of reassurance for clients, because we can say, hey, if you’re going to hire this person remotely, they can work from our co-working space where they have a desk, they have a chair, they have a community, they have reliable electricity, they have wifi, and they have an opportunity to keep learning, because they’re in the same space as us.

Marcello: So this is some ways you can mitigate a little bit these things like language, infrastructure and, I would say also, the work ethics, which is something that sometimes clients get a little bit worried, right? I’m not going to hire someone from a country that I don’t know because what if they don’t reply to my emails, what if they don’t deliver the product on time? So we try to minimize those things by saying, hey, this is our curriculum, this is what we taught them, we vouch for them, and give it a try.

Luis Magalhaes: So you [assure 00:22:48] that language and infrastructure is in place, and this is very important because this is one of the major reasons that remote candidates are usually rejected because A: English isn’t good enough, and B: their internet isn’t stable enough. And it’s impressive that you manage to ensure that that works like in Iraq, because I’ve lost count of the amount of European people that I’ve seen with terrible internet connections, sometimes.

Marcello: Yeah.

Luis Magalhaes: When you depend on it for your work, you realize just how fragile most countries’ internet infrastructure is.

Marcello: Right.

Luis Magalhaes: And then you handle the culture through your curriculum, which is super impressive.

Luis Magalhaes: So you’ve worked mostly with African and Middle East, am I correct?

Marcello: Yeah, so we work with Iraqis, Syrians, Turks. We also have a small program in Yemen. We have had, in our programs, Afghanis, Egyptians, Azerbaijanis. So our main focus is Syrians, Iraqis, because they have been the most affected by conflict in the last few years, but we also believe that the work we do has a social cohesion element, so for instance, we run classes in Istanbul where 60% are Syrians and 40% are Turks. And that gives them the opportunity to work together, get to know each other a little bit better. A lot of them come out of our programs not only as friends, but also as business partners, starting their own companies together.

Marcello: And I think it’s important to mention as well that part of our mission is really to bridge the gender divide in technology, so we try to have between 35 and 40% female participation in our programs, and it’s been quite successful so far in having more women in our programs, and more women pursuing careers in technology.

Luis Magalhaes: Cool. So, I want to go back a bit, and you were talking a while back about the work ethics, I think that’s how you put it. So really what’s the major cultural clash that you see between the people in these countries and the usual North American way of doing things? And you know, what are the pros and cons, essentially?

Marcello: Yeah, I would say there are three things.

Marcello: Number one is ownership and accountability. So the idea of accountability, sometimes, is not quite there just because the education system does not really prepare them for that. There is little accountability in school, university. So if you don’t do your assignments, in the end you’re going to get your diploma anyways, and the job sector is not really looking at those things and so having a sense of ownership is something that is lacking and we try to work on quite a lot, which means that if it’s yours, you own it, be responsible, no excuses. We also like to call it extreme ownership, so if you –

Luis Magalhaes: Oh, that’s from the … there was a book …

Marcello: There is a book, yeah. There is a book about that. And I did read a little bit of the book and it’s an interesting story because it’s written by two guys from the US military –

Luis Magalhaes: Jocko, I think. [Jocko 00:26:31].

Marcello: Yeah, exactly.

Luis Magalhaes: That’s his name.

Marcello: And the core of the concept is interesting, but what I like about extreme ownership is the very simple idea of don’t make excuses. If it’s your work and something didn’t go well, just take responsibility, say it didn’t work well because of A, B and C, I understand where the mistakes are and I’m going to fix it.

Marcello: And I think this is sometimes a little bit difficult in some places because people have the practice of just giving excuses. You know, I was busy or I had a wedding, I couldn’t, I was sick and all sort of excuses. So what we try to encourage is everyone has a difficult life but if you have a project, if you have a responsibility, own it no matter what, don’t make excuses.

Marcello: The number –

Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, I mean I can have this conversation with you because you know, you’re from Brazil and I’m from Portugal, and I think that we could use a bit of that in our cultures as well.

Marcello: Yeah, I think everyone can use that. You know, and it’s something that even sometimes unconsciously we do it ourselves, you know?

Luis Magalhaes: Oh yeah.

Marcello: Sometimes you make a mistake, and you try to look for excuses to say, hey, it was not my fault because someone else didn’t do their work. And I think that is not really healthy, especially if you are in a leadership position. And I try to do self-reflection every day and put myself in that position because I have a team to manage and if someone is not performing well, ultimately it is my responsibility, I cannot just blame everyone else because they are not performing, so I have to identify the issues.

Luis Magalhaes: Oh I agree but the question is, as you put it so elegantly before, I don’t see it as a personal defect, I think that it’s something in some societies’ concept of education, and I mean education in the way that things are handled in schools, right? I think that some educational systems do a very bad job of teaching that sense of ownership and responsibility.

Marcello: Yeah, I agree with you.

Marcello: And the second thing I would say is taking initiative, being proactive. This is something that is lacking and we struggle a little bit because, again, we’re talking about the education system and how people are taught to behave. And there is this pervasive idea that everything is given, right? That I don’t need to do much, you’re going to do it for me. There’s no urgency of doing anything, and this is really a mindset that we try to change, because it’s really important that you take initiative. Like don’t wait for me to tell you to do your tasks, be proactive. Look at what is not being done, do it yourself. Look for more tasks. I think there is always that perception like, oh, I finished my task so what’s next?

Marcello: It’s like look for what else is out there for you to do. Be creative.

Marcello: So we really try to encourage them to be more proactive because I think that is extremely important when you’re working remotely. You want to be several steps ahead of your client. You don’t want them to be following up all the time and telling you what to do. Be steps ahead because your client will appreciate it. They will appreciate it.

Luis Magalhaes: Absolutely.

Marcello: If you’re sending the work on time, that you’re suggesting new things, that you’re … even if they say no. We tell our students, be okay with saying no. Suggest, see what the client wants, in the end, it’s their product, they know what they want to do. But be proactive, show that you’re interested in the work that they do, [and within 00:30:27] the work you do for them.

Luis Magalhaes: Exactly, because it’s their project but it’s your work, right?

Marcello: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. So I would say those two things are the biggest behavior changes that we try to instill during our programs.

Luis Magalhaes: Okay, so I want to take a bit of a U-turn here and go back to something different, to something more conceptual. Tell me about the day when you realized that coding was as important as reading or math?

Marcello: You know it’s so funny because I never thought number one, that I would be a social entrepreneur. I was finishing my Masters and I thought I’m going to work for the United Nations and I never thought that I would be leading my own organization, and it has been extremely transformational for me doing this. And I am not a developer myself. I love technology, but I like a little bit more on the design side of things, so it took me a while to have that trigger that coding would be the answer to employment issues in those countries.

Marcello: My co-founder was more like I see this happening in New York, I see people coming out of universities not able to find jobs and going through coding bootcamps and getting upskilled in five, six months and finding employment.

Marcello: And there are a lot of criticism about the coding bootcamp model, and a lot of them with reason, but I think at that moment she was able to see that this could be a real opportunity for youth in Iraq, which was the country that we started. And I think more than the coding, I think what is important is youth in countries that have gone through war, they are already at the margins of the digital revolution. You know, they are not exposed to the same things that you and I are, because we happen to be in countries that are stable. So teaching them how to code is really pulling them out of the margins, and saying you can be part of this. Even if you don’t want to be developer, by learning how to code, we are connecting you to a reality that before was not fully available for you.

Marcello: So I think more than coding, it’s really trying to bring them into this global dialogue of how technology will change our lives in the coming years.

Luis Magalhaes: Wow, that’s a pretty good argument.

Luis Magalhaes: But apart from coding, you also have emphasized before the importance of created leaders, and I want to talk specifically about leaders in the digital age, digital leaders. The reason I bring this up is because currently most remote work arrangements are for contributor positions, meaning a developer, a marketer, an artist, people that generate content essentially, generate content, generate product, but we’re starting to see an uptick in leadership positions like yours or mine being developed digitally, and among the several qualities that a leader must have, you put some emphasis on developing empathy. So I want your take, if you have thought about this, what’s the best way to develop empathy with the people that are working with you over digitally?

Luis Magalhaes: So, I always use this example that I always record this podcast even though it’s an audio only program, I always record it to video just because we can get a feel for each other’s expressions, there’s the non-verbal communication, we gain some of that, but [further 00:34:55] from employing video, how do you think leaders can develop their empathy in an increasingly digital setting?

Marcello: I’m constantly thinking about this, Luis. I think it’s really important. I think that the nature of my life at the moment is remote. I’m based in Istanbul, working with my team in both Turkey and Iraq, and then we have some team members also in the US. And I’m constantly traveling as well, which means that even if I’m based in Istanbul, I’m traveling and, I have to manage my team when I’m not here.

Marcello: There a couple of things that we have tried to do in the past. So the video thing that you mentioned, I think it’s important to give it a more humane touch to your communication with your subordinates. I think making sure that you apply radical candor. And by radical candor, I mean challenge directly but show that you care. I think that is sometimes very difficult to do if you are communicating by email or by text messaging or Slack. We obviously use these tools a lot, but if you need to give feedback to someone in your team, it doesn’t matter if it’s negative or positive feedback, but especially if it’s negative, don’t send them a message, right?

Marcello: And sometimes I think we are very impulsive, especially when we’re upset, when we’re angry, and that’s why I really like mindful leadership, something that I’m teaching myself because –

Luis Magalhaes: And, parentheses here, radical candor is not an excuse to be evil to other people.

Marcello: No. No, so that’s the [difference 00:36:52] –

Luis Magalhaes: I would use another word but I want to keep this off the explicit list on iTunes.

Marcello: Yeah, and we call it radical candor, which is a concept coined by a former manager at Google, and it’s a very interesting concept but it’s basically: I’m going to challenge you directly, so I’m not going to sugarcoat any negative feedback that I have, but I’m going to show to you that I care deeply, that I’m doing this because I want to see you grow.

Marcello: And I think doing this through text messages, or not doing this [in person 00:37:30] or face-to-face through a video call is not the best way, because it gives so much space for the wrong interpretation, and I cannot emphasize how much [crosstalk 00:37:42] –

Marcello: Huh?

Luis Magalhaes: It’s so easy to get angry to people on Twitter.

Marcello: Yeah, so easy to get angry to people, and then the problem is, when you write something, you also give the time for the other person to read that and then the other person will be thinking, “What does he mean by that?” And they might have their own assumptions and preconceived ideas, and then they reply negatively, and then I’ll reply negatively. And then you lose control of the situation.

Marcello: And I’m saying this from experience. It has happened to me, and it gave me the opportunity to reflect, you know, why this is not a good way of working. So we try to apply this as much as possible, give feedback in person, rather than through communication tools. We have the one-on-ones and we try to get a pulse check with everyone every week. We, for instance, have a leadership one-on-one once a week, and this is a longer call than usual where we have the opportunity to talk to our managers and check what are the challenges they are facing and how we, as the leadership, can help them do their work better.

Marcello: And that works quite well for us to get updates as well, because we’re not with them all the time.

Luis Magalhaes: Is there any particular structure you use? Or is it just free form? For the one-on-ones.

Marcello: We have a Trello board with all the things we need to discuss. I think the call would eventually touch on these points: What are you working at the moment? What are your main obstacles and how can we help you overcome them?

Marcello: But then we also jump on the Trello board and try to see, okay, what are the main things you have on your table at the moment and how can we help you?

Marcello: It gives us a good idea of what is happening on the ground as well, because we’re not always able to be there and talk to the team.

Luis Magalhaes: So this is [inaudible 00:39:54] a Trello board for the whole company? Or for a particular [crosstalk 00:39:58] –

Marcello: Yeah. Yes. Yeah, obviously we organize in a way that people are aware of their tasks, and I have to say that I’m not the best Trello board member. I struggle with it a little bit.

Luis Magalhaes: I hear you.

Marcello: Yeah, nothing against the tool, but it’s just like I tend to really have all the things that I have to do in my head, and it has worked well so far, but sometimes you miss something, so I’m trying to be a more present team member on Trello, so I can keep track of everything that we have to do.

Marcello: So yeah, those are a couple of things that I think are really important for you to implement when you’re working with remote teams.

Luis Magalhaes: Okay. So the other thing that you mentioned about leaders in the digital age, is really the ability to notice the need for change and adaptation. So what do you think, give me like one to three things that you think that people need to adapt to today. What’s the major change in the world in the coming year? And what should people do to get ready for it?

Marcello: Yeah, I think the first, the one thing you mentioned before, and I completely agree, is having more empathy. I think when you’re working with remote teams, and you have the wealth of diversity that we have. For example, we have in our team like five or six nationalities, we have different kinds of people with different walks of life, so it’s really important to have that sort of empathy because at the end of the day, you have to try to understand where the person is coming from. And, I know this is difficult. It’s really difficult to pause in a difficult situation and think, what does that person mean exactly?

Marcello: And then you have to undress yourself from all your assumptions and preconceived ideas and past experiences, and then make a decision on the spot. So it’s something that you have to exercise again and again, so I think having more empathy in the workplace, but in your life in general, is really important.

Marcello: I think the other thing is being self-aware, living in the present and knowing how to focus on the most important things for you. We’re always getting distracted by everything that we have at work, and in our lives, in our devices, and I think being self-aware and having that ability to live in the present and focus, is something that will definitely help people to thrive in a very decentralized and remote and fast-changing workplace.

Marcello: And then, having the ability to self-manage one’s self. I find it really important when we work with our students to show them how you can be more independent when you work, how you can organize your time, how you can manage your projects, making sure, as I was saying before, that you’re always trying to be one step ahead of [inaudible 00:43:35] happening [with you 00:43:37]. And I think this is a very important ability to have when you’re working with clients that you have not had the chance to meet before. It shows professionalism, it shows that you’re reliable, and then that all increases trust.

Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, well absolutely, I’d have to agree with that. Sometimes it’s very impressive how like 10% more effort helps you impress people. Just 10%. I mean, there’s this statistic … I know this is a true statistic, I don’t know exactly how it was collected, but that the people who spend like 30 minutes more a day on work, they arrive 15 minutes early and they leave 15 minutes later, so it’s like a negligible, like a 10% increase to their work week or something like that, they end up, long term, earning like 40% more money. Just because of the good impression that makes, and you know the little bits of work, they can get a little bit further than anyone else, so I would definitely echo the idea that putting in a bit more effort, returns disproportional dividends. That’s absolutely true.

Marcello: Yeah, and that doesn’t need to be putting more office hours or anything like that, but just showing that you care about the work you do and confirming that with quality, being present, I think those things are very important because … I play both sides, right? I’m training people, I work with my team, but I also work with clients. And when we have a client and, as I was mentioning before, we’re about to open a coworking space in Iraq, and you need to show your client that you care, right? You need to show your client that you’re willing to go that extra mile to make sure that they feel like they are getting something in return. And I think that that is a very important thing to do, and understanding that putting that extra effort will pay back. Not only pay back in terms of financial means, but in credibility, in reputation.

Marcello: And I think that is really important, especially when you’re just another freelancer in the market, if that’s your career and you’re trying to build a portfolio of clients. That trust, that people know that they can hire you and you will go the extra mile to deliver the product, that is absolutely critical.

Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, and that’s definitely a differentiator.

Luis Magalhaes: So a couple more questions, because I know that your time is not [crosstalk 00:46:28]. I want to respect –

Marcello: [crosstalk 00:46:28].

Marcello: We could keep talking about this for hours.

Luis Magalhaes: I know that on your website, which will be on the show notes, I’ll include links to everything that you do on the show notes, but I know that you offer a mentorship program, where people can … So tell me a bit more about it because a lot of people listening, they’re entrepreneurs, they’re team leaders, they’re project managers and how can people help you out, essentially, by mentoring students?

Marcello: Yeah. So there are different ways that they can work with us. We look for mentors who are able to come in person because we believe that there is a huge value in having that face-to-face relationship with our students, especially in places where they feel quite isolated because no one travels to Iraq or they cannot leave the country. So having someone who can come and not only do the mentorship, but do a workshop.

Marcello: Let’s say that you’re an expert in something related to web development or ad development, or even some of the core skills that we have discussed, and you want to come to one of our locations and run a one, two day workshop, and having that opportunity to meet our students and be part of their life story, this is something that we try to facilitate, and try to work with different experts in the industry so that they can come to the locations that we have.

Marcello: Remote mentorship is something that we do specifically for the entrepreneurs coming through our programs because the one thing that they say that they need is knowledge and experience, and knowledge goes from anything like putting together a marketing plan, or writing a good business model, or how do I do market research to know what my target customer wants? And those things we try to teach them, but having someone that can jump on a call and tell them, “Send me your marketing plan. Let me revise it for you. Let’s try to make it better.” That is really helpful.

Marcello: So, through the website, you can fill out a form as a mentor. Explain what are your expertise and the skills and whether or not you can do that in person or remotely, and we’ll get in touch with you and see how we can collaborate.

Luis Magalhaes: Okay, so the message is out there. I hope you get some good mentors from this.

Marcello: Yeah, yeah. Always looking for good mentors.

Luis Magalhaes: Great. Okay.

Luis Magalhaes: So I want to ask you the question that I ask everyone before we close the show. You are a very traveled person, so you’ve probably been to a couple of nice Chinese restaurants and you’re certainly familiar with fortune cookies.

Marcello: Yeah.

Luis Magalhaes: So let’s say that you’re hosting a dinner in a Chinese restaurant with the top technology leaders in Silicon Valley, and since you’re hosting, you get to decide what comes written inside the fortune cookies. What is the message that you’re going to leave these people with?

Marcello: Alright, so I usually try to write down messages for me, or like intentions for the day if I come across something interesting. I would write a very short message saying, “Start your day by fighting self-sabotage”, because we tend to do that a lot, right? I think that’s why we don’t start things. We think that we’re not good enough or we don’t know enough, or it’s not going to work. Try to fight that self, that person within you self-sabotaging everything that you want to do. Because once you start something, there is a real chance that you’re going to make it happen.

Marcello: And I look at my story and I never thought that I would start an organization.

Luis Magalhaes: [inaudible 00:50:47]

Marcello: Yeah. And if it wasn’t for that moment when you say, “You know what? Let me give this a try.”

Marcello: It can go terribly wrong, but let me try. I have nothing to lose. And only wonderful things can happen if you believe in it.

Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, and you know the great thing about it, if it goes terribly wrong, well you can always try the next thing.

Marcello: Yeah, and try the next thing and the next thing. And once you start doing this, I’m speaking from my own experience as a social entrepreneur, and it’s a little bit of a bug because you do it once and then you want to do it twice, and three times, and four times. It infects you with that enthusiasm for building things and starting new things.

Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, exactly. And the beautiful thing about winning is that you only need to win once, right? You know?

Marcello: Yeah.

Luis Magalhaes: Eventually you keep on trying and when you win, obviously if you want you can go away and win again and again and again, but when you have your first big win, you can build a career out of that, which I think is also an important message to the people that don’t think that they should try. Yeah.

Marcello: Absolutely, and you know what? We have to understand that we do not know enough to be fearful, to be stressed all the time. We do not have enough knowledge to make us fear taking the next step, so just do it. Just trust that things will be okay.

Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Just do it.

Luis Magalhaes: Someone should a slogan with that or something.

Marcello: They should, right? Yeah, such a huge business opportunity.

Luis Magalhaes: Exactly. Exactly.

Luis Magalhaes: Okay, man, this was a pleasure. Tell my audience how they can be involved.

Marcello: Yeah, sure. Just go check out our website, it’s Re:Coded, and Re:Coded you write R-E dash C-O-D-E-D dot com, and you can find a wealth of information about the programs we have there. And I really encourage you also to follow us on social media. It’s @recodedoffical. You can find us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. We have a lot of interesting stories about our students there. And if you want to reach out directly to me, I’m sure that Luis can share my email address but it’s just my first name, [email protected], remembering that re-coded is R-E dash C-O-D-E-D.

Luis Magalhaes: Of course. I’ll have that and I will have Twitter as well. Do you use Twitter often?

Marcello: Yeah, I do. I’m not very active, I should say, but I do. I’m trying to be a bit more social media minded these days.

Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, well it’s kind of a black hole. You know, it’s kind of a black hole sometimes, so definitely.

Luis Magalhaes: Well, this was a lovely conversation. Thank you so much for coming in. We’re going to help you spread the word as much as possible. Wonderful work.

Luis Magalhaes: Thanks again, Marcello. Thanks for coming.

Marcello: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure being with you.


But don’t be fooled into thinking that we’re going all touchy-feely about how remote work is helping to turn the world into a better place. There’s plenty of that, but there’s also some very practical advice about how to invest in your employees education, and how to account for cultural differences when hiring and managing remote workers. As usual, the podcast goes into a lot of different subjects, so start listening and find out what can YOU apply to your business, today.

As always, if you enjoy the podcast, we humbly ask that you leave a review on iTunes or your podcast syndication service of choice – and if you could share it, that would be even better!

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