Retrospective: 30 years old and 10 years as a SWE


Well, tomorrow I turn into 30 years old and this month I completed a 10-year journey as a Software Engineer, being the last 3 years as an Engineering Lead in Product companies, something that I always aimed for and which I’m pretty much realized for being able to do.

When thinking about this time, I became pretty nostalgic about a lot of people I’ve had the bless to share some part of this journey with. I’ve been fortunate to have excellent teammates and mentors along the path that shared both successes, failures and, the most important of all, learnings that I carry with me not only for my career, but for life as well.

Below are some of these learnings that were lying in my notes for the last year or two. They are notes, most of the times, of things where either I did wrong and could have been better, or where I tried to be right from the day when I was assigned some related tasks. They are personal about my own grow, but also reflect some sharing thoughts with the teams I was trusted to perform a leading role. Last but not least, they are categorized per area; even thought they might fall into more than one. Probably better to read them more as single ideas, rather than a super cohesive structured text.


  • Your work day should have a both start and a stop. A healthy routine will have direct impact on your daily working routine. We have vacations only a few times a year, so remember: pace yourself, because it is a marathon and not a sprint. If you rush too much at the beginning, you won’t complete it;
  • If you do not manage your time, the environment will manage it for you. You have to separate both the maker’s and manager’s time . I plan my week in advance every Friday after lunch, give it a review on Monday and make daily adjustments, if necessary. To minimize these adjustments, I block with specificity my maker’s time and leave the manager’s time more flexible for everything else. Own your calendar for a more focused and enhanced productivity;
  • Do not try to embrace the world - you won’t be able to do it. As excited as you might be with something, choose wisely if you have the bandwidth needed to work in it. I speak for myself: for several times I tried to create blog series that go deeply into certain topics - simply because I love to teach fundamentals and like to understand things as they are. But that almost always took off me time I couldn’t give, so I stopped in half. Baby steps, choose your priorities, fit in your schedule and defer what cannot be done right now;

Project Management#

  • When estimating anything that has shared responsibilities -aka external dependencies, be sure to have a RACI aligned between every involved part;
  • Learn to say no it is important, but the why is even more. Expectation management is key, so every time you have to set expectations back, provide context. Sometimes alternate propositions will be possible, sometimes not. Either way, share it all;
  • If you see a risk in a project, initiative, execution, planning … point it out as early as possible. Risk management is an art hard to be mastered, but the first step is to point the risks out. That is key for an initiative success and also falls back into expectation management, as said above;

Coaching and Mentoring#

  • Leadership is not about being the one who-knows-all in the room. A lot of times we don’t know. And it’s ok. This is an opportunity to show to the people you both trust and need them to find a common solution. Vulnerability tightens trust;
  • To be the role model sometimes will mean to the stuff no one wants to. If possible, do not delegate this, but rather take the lead and do it first to set an example. Take the ownership of the boring stuff and improve the signal-to-noise ratio in the working context and free your team to their best in the nice part;
  • Still about feedbacks, sometimes they are hard to give. Either because it is a sensitive matter or context, they might become hard to give. Prepare your feedback points beforehand, and always with empathy and kindness, aiming the other person’s growth. You’re not leading robots, you’re leading people. And we are complex, sometimes in even more complex contexts;
  • Feedbacks are almost always given in retrospective point-of-view. It is easier to say anything about things that already happened. As leaders, our job is to be specific and, almost aways, give examples of a situation was either good our could’ve been better. Actionable feedbacks with continuous follow-ups are needed, otherwise they fall into simple criticism;
  • Each person is unique, with a set of strengths and weaknesses and seasons. As leaders, our role is also to respect that. Be close to them, understand when they are good to go and when they are in trouble, and tell them to go slower, when needed. Sometimes, you’ll have to take some load off the team and that’s okay. Expectation management is what matters at the end;
  • Be a productivity enhancer, a blocker remover, not a micromanager. Your team needs to have buffer to explore the solution space. Your job is not to ask if they have completed a task already and why they didn’t start the other, but rather how can you help them to finish something. I like to do this via “walk-the-board” stand-ups ;

Without Category#

  • Hard skills are often put in front of soft skills, but they shouldn’t. While it’s important to align both, it is far more important to be able to learn new things fast than knowing a lot about a subject and closing yourself to the outside thoughts. It is far more important to ask for help, than sticking with your pride based on your years of experience. Our experience counts, and it should, as it becomes a foundation for us to tackle each time more high-level abstractions and complex roles and projects. But do not forget to keep humble, know that each person has its own pace, always be open to new ideas, think twice and keep learning. You will grow even more;


These are not meant to be a “source of truth”, but just a sharing of my own notes throughout this beautifully crazy leadership journey. Surely there were a lot more that got lost throughout the way, but overall, these are very important in my daily life. Hope it is useful to someone else. Thanks for everyone who shared a bit of it with me, from my wife to work colleagues, family and close friends. You folks were fundamental for making me a better leader and a better person. That’s what made me share this with the world as well.

Thanks if you spent time reading this. :)

Time to celebrate my 30yo.

Cheers, Mateus

carreer leadership growth

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