Alberto Silveira is an experienced executive and thought leader with a passion for developing high-performance, distributed teams. He leads a balanced life that also allows time for sailing as well as being with his family. Currently serving as Chief Technology Officer at LawnStarter, he recently shared his thoughts about work and the future of business in his new book, Building, and Managing High-Performance Distributed Teams, published by Apress.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in a family of five in a town called Florianopolis, in southern Brazil. Back then, it wasn’t much, but it is now known as the Silicon Valley of Brazil. My father was the sole breadwinner. His monthly paycheck seldom saw us through the entire month, so like most people in the world, we had to make do.
My father came from a very humble background himself, but he was able to maintain a career as an electronics specialist. He was a pioneer in the field of caller ID technology in Brazil. The technology was called BINA. In Brazilian Portuguese, it’s a colloquialism meaning “person B identifies person A”. He was developing and perfecting this back in the late 1980s. Way before cellphones and smartphones were the do-everything tool they are today.
I am proud of what my father achieved, as, was he (I believe). He helped transform telecom centers to allow caller ID technology to work in Brazil. That helped Brazilian citizens embark on a path of technological innovation. And it’s also what put food on our table.
Since electronics tend to break after a while, we had lots of discarded circuit boards and transistors stored outside the house, and I became quite good at troubleshooting and fixing them to rebuild a complete, functional one that we were then able to sell.
This really started me on my path to becoming a software engineer. It later brought me across the Equator from Brazil to the United States. That spirit of “breaking and recreating” is what led me to break new ground and live here for almost two decades so far.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
The true meaning of the word inclusion. I grew up in a third-world country. Often the concerns we have there, day-to-day, are very different from those in a first-world country. For example, when I was a teenager back in Brazil, there was no notion of the words “bullying” and “inclusion”. In fact, I didn’t hear or learn these words until later in life, when I was already a citizen of the United States. But moving and seeing different parts of the world helped me understand and respect the importance of inclusion for a better society.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
It’s tiresome when I hear someone saying, “you or we can’t do” something. I grew up in a society where many things were hard or near to impossible to achieve. But there is always a way. We just have to find it.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How did you come out of it and what have you learned from it?
There were times when I went hungry. That hurts. That taught me that if you can ever have a chance to lend a hand, do so.
I also remember when I was about 14-15 years old, I heard my dad telling my mom on a Friday night that we would need to leave our home before Monday. Rent was several months late, and my dad wouldn’t be able to catch up. We had to leave on that Sunday from home without much hope. But still, I feel we were lucky. His friend from work leased a small studio for our family of five, under the premise we’d pay the upcoming month. It was tiny and far from everything. We sold the little we had to help come up with whatever cash we could so we could still have a roof to live under.
For several months, this was a very dark time in my life. But it is also what makes me value everything I have today.
One of the deepest recollections I have was when my two sisters and I had to split one egg between the three of us for our dinner. After that, I began knocking on people’s doors offering to wash their cars. That’s how I ended up getting some customers and was able to bring some money back. There was a fair bit of hustling. I later went on to work as a server, then selling cheap t-shirts in a small mall nearby. But, at the end of the day, I enjoyed every single job I had. And, together with my family, we overcame that period of adversity.
So here I am, many years later, working as an executive at fast-growing organizations. I’ve authored a book and am a successful man. I’m very thankful to my parents for never giving up and for teaching us to continue to do what’s right in life. I learned a lot and certainly respect any job. I will do what needs to be done with a smile on my face. That makes me feel really good and blessed.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
Resiliency, persistence and never giving up. Consistency is key.
What is your morning routine?
My routine varies a lot depending on the season and how many projects I have going on. I’m very active and I like to be creative and keep my mind building and solving problems at all times. That can be good, but it can also be overwhelming.
I wake up every morning and one of the first things I do is to prepare my Chimarrao. I tried coffee once when I was nine and I never had it again. Chimarrao is my morning drink and I love it. It reminds me of the Brazilian tradition of getting together to enjoy it as a group. That’s what the drink’s culture brings.
After preparing my Chimarrao, I often wake up my 6-year-old daughter and help her get ready for her day at school before I start my own work.
My days get busy with meetings so I have to find the time to exercise. I love walking in nature, so many of my meetings, when possible, I do while walking outside. That gives me the energy and clear mind to focus on one thing at a time. Other times, I work from my boat. It puts me in contact with water that gives me the environment I need to make my brain produce even more.
After work, I try to slow down and that is the time I help my daughter with her homework. Otherwise, I relax preparing dinner or I run to the supermarket to get some daily groceries. At the end of the day, I shower and spend some extra time with my daughter before I go to bed and rest my mind for the next day.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
Working from my home office has allowed me more time to be with my family and has definitely increased my productive time.
Working from home, under the right conditions, is priceless.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
Short answer, I love to write things down. I like to say “if it is not written down, it doesn’t exist”. I believe that writing things down allows me to better elaborate my ideas and achieve what I want to convey to others more easily. I’ve also been successful in using writing as one of the key pillars when scaling high-performance teams. When people can read from a single source of truth they will naturally operate more efficiently and continuously improve as a group. Writing things down allows me and people around me to get more organized and save valuable time. Believe me, it adds up.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
Not a book – a movie. In 1987 when I was just 6 years old, living in my hometown in Brazil, I was given the opportunity to watch a film that was to become a classic: Back to the Future, directed by Robert Zemeckis. I found the idea of time travel to be fascinating, and I tried to carry it with me. It turned into a passion for predicting the future, or maybe influencing is a better term. But it was a light-bulb moment for me. From that point on, I saw how actions carried out in the present can impact the course of our lives in the future. It’s still an idea I carry to this day.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
Since English is my second language, I tend to speak with my hands a lot while I talk, and I use metaphors to make up for those words or phrases that might still be missing from my English vocabulary. But it is key to note that metaphors have long been used by educators and leaders because they connect with our inner child—the one that always loves to hear a good story. Stories connect with people better than straight-up facts do.
That said, one of my favorite concepts, which has now become one of my mantras, is, “One Team, One Heart”. It runs through everything I do as a manager and is described in more detail in the book. In short, it refers to the synergy that comes from people feeling good about their place in a group. To me, passion and togetherness become the focal point, the heart of every great team.
I also love saying, “if you are willing to do something, do it right.” This quote is self-explanatory, but it drives me and the people around me to do things with passion.