In this series of interviews, we talk to an OutSystemer from the Engineering team about their role, interests, and expertise.
An introvert who dreamed of becoming a taxi driver when he was a child, Sérgio Amorim has a witty sense of humor that shines through in such an unassuming way that it will make you laugh when you least expect it. It’s a trait that serves him well in his role as a DevOps Expert Lead — he has a way of getting people out of their comfort zone, much like he ventured out of his when he decided to perfect his public speaking skills. Here, he shares how he did it, his thoughts on DevSecOps, and how he started coding in a ZX Spectrum 48K.
How did you first hear about OutSystems?
I worked at EDP [a leading Portuguese company in the energy industry] for about five years as a project manager. After a year or so, I became responsible for the DevOps Center of Excellence, which focused on optimizing the flow of value from idea to end-user by breaking the development and operational silos, changing the mindset, and introducing continuous delivery techniques, proactive alerts, and training, among other DevOps-related topics.
At that center, we worked on two main areas: high-code development and low-code development, in which one of the main areas was, of course, OutSystems. That’s how I had my first contact with OutSystems, and I met some of the people who are now working at the company, such as Rui Mendes [DevOps Team Lead at Platform Services]. I even worked on implementing automation pipelines — the first contribution to OutSystems we did at EDP. That was really the first time I learned about low-code capabilities. I had never dragged the “little boxes,” so to say, and much of what I saw getting done with OutSystems was about dragging those little boxes to make things happen. But I had heard fantastic things about the product, and developers kept stressing how quickly you could develop with it. I was bitten by the curiosity bug about what it did and its purpose. At the time, I knew that the teams had to be relatively small, which made me think you couldn’t do significant transformations with it, and that made me a bit skeptical.
Are you still skeptical now?
Well, my path at EDP took on a different direction, and I felt I needed to be part of a company with a greater focus on engineering, product, and clients. After “planting the seeds” at EDP, I found it was time to move on. Around that time, I found a few job offers at OutSystems, and while none matched my profile, I decided to apply. I thought: “Let’s do this; I’ll introduce myself, and the worst or, in fact, the best that could happen is receiving a ‘no’ for an answer because I’m already expecting it.”
I was in for a surprise because I had my first job interview with João Neto [former Head of Quality] and Adolfo Nunes [Release Engineering Manager], and it went really well. They introduced me to Sílvia Rocha [Head of Engineering Growth], and I became responsible for the DevOps component within the former Extended Product Team. I started in June 2020, and I’m leaving my mark.
Now that I’m in the company, I see how we explore our product to offer different solutions to our customers. The Architecture Dashboard, which our clients use to verify the quality of their apps, is a good example. Ninety percent of it was built with OutSystems, which proved me wrong: we can create complex applications with OutSystems, and, much like our CEO, Paulo Rosado, encourages us to do, we’re using our product to different ends. We’re still at the stage where we need to further push sustainable apps and work, for instance, on test automation. But, well, trying to improve an already perfect product wouldn’t be much of a motivation, and we enjoy having these challenges.
“We can create complex applications with OutSystems, and, much like our CEO, Paulo Rosado, encourages us to do, we’re using our product to different ends”
Fast change is an integral part of the OutSystems culture. How do you deal with it?
Most people like to say they’re open to change, but then their actions betray them — you can tell that some changes are like a foreign body to them. I got here at the right time because I can understand what’s before and after, especially with a new generation of people trying to push innovation. We have a product with 20 years of history, but simultaneously, it wants to transform and evolve. However, our legacy and history won’t change in one day. It’s interesting to see this clash and how — moving slightly to the left or right — we can find a balance.
If you had to choose between DevOps or DevSecOps, what would it be?
The way I see it [pauses]. Some people say, “Let’s do DevOps, DevSecOps, SRE [Site Reliability Engineering]; let’s do AppSecOps, DevTestSecOps.” And all of these terms are creating more confusion than they should. The DevOps movement, started by Patrick Debois back in 2009, had the goal of bringing Development and Operations together, but it is usually coined as “join Coders and SysAdmins.” My reading goes as joining the “art of creation” to the “art of running,” or joining “innovation” and “service” (in the product perspective). Adding Sec in the middle of DevOps would put a “role” between these two arts and promote the division because other areas would think, “What about testers?” and would end up with DevTestSecOps. Does this mean that security is not important? Not at all! To join the two arts, we need coders, testers, architects, security teams, sysadmins, product owners, analysts — all the roles required to successfully deliver value to the end-users. So DevOps is all about roles, culture, and bringing people together on a common goal.
“I find it important to have different roles with T-shaped skills, meaning that they master a skill they’re very good at and showcase other capabilities”
How do you prepare people for that mindset?
One of the things I learned in my previous company is that companies should be segmented, at least in their core business, around business and product areas — Martin Fowler [a renowned software developer, author, and speaker] talks about this in the video What Does Tech Excellence Look Like?. We have product teams that take complete responsibility for the value they’re bringing to the end-user. Teams don’t just develop, they operate. As our teams are mostly composed of developers, it’s only natural that they exhibit resistance because their main skill is coding. I find it important to have different roles with T-shaped skills, meaning that they master a skill they’re very good at and showcase other capabilities. As an example, coders should be able to efficiently communicate and even support (although not as proficiently as) testers, architects, security, and product owners, as well as understanding the business purpose. The same should apply to other roles within a team — they should all back up each other.
To be autonomous and deliver value to their client, a product team must have varied competencies, but if we tell developers they must excel at everything, it’s evident that you’ll meet resistance — and they are right since it is impossible to be good at everything. One thing we’re doing is to lead by example. Adding experienced people to the team and seeing how it works from a different perspective — in a continuous delivery perspective — helps push the group to another level. There is the need to do a continuous cycle between analysis and execution, but where to start? Taking a look at the DORA research program, we have a starting ground to place questions, see the team in action, collect actual data, and come up with what we call a Blameless DevOps GAP Analysis. This helps identify opportunities to create a team’s growth plan. By experimenting with different solutions and measuring the outcomes, we can nourish a healthy growth ecosystem.
Sharing has a critical role in changing the mindset, so we recently created a group that will also focus on sharing the culture and the technical challenges we overcame with the internal and external community.
Did you always know you wanted to work in the tech industry?
My mom says my dream was to become a taxi driver when I was a kid (and also a saint… but let’s keep this in the realm of the living). Why? “Because they get good tips,” I’d tell her [laughs]. I always had a knack for computers. Like many others my age, I began with a ZX Spectrum 48K, playing games… At the time, I also had access to some BASIC programming books, so I started creating a few programs and developing other games on my own.
How old were you at the time?
I was maybe eight years old. And even before that, I always messed around with electronics. My mom tells stories about how I would disassemble and reassemble toys, and they would still work despite the remaining spare parts. For instance, when I got tired of remote control cars, I would disassemble their motors and build fans, stuff like that. When I graduated from high school, my goal was to pursue an Electronics degree at university. I was never a genius in school; I always did barely enough to get by and didn’t really work hard to have good grades.
Looking back, things turned out for the best because I didn’t have an excellent grade average by the end of high school, and I wasn’t accepted into the Electronics course. I studied Informatics Engineering at the NOVA School of Science and Technology [in Monte da Caparica, Portugal]. It all went smoothly — except for Mathematical Analysis, but let’s not talk about depressing things. I had an easy time, and I was able to help out my classmates. I helped them with programming and Maths, despite Mathematical Analysis [laughs], and I feel that it was a skill I built over the years alongside my informatics knowledge.
In a way, it worked out from all angles: I enjoyed the course and, most likely, I wouldn’t do well in Electronics because I know so many people who ended up dreading it and dropping out. I probably wouldn’t have liked it either. And yes, after applying myself, I did pass Mathematical Analysis. Actually, I had the best grade in the university (hurray!).
“It would be easy for me to communicate a problem to a teammate or business team, but if I had to speak to third parties or the Board of Directors, I would get very nervous, my hands were cold and sweaty”
You describe yourself as an introvert, but you’ve developed your public speaking skills over the years. How did you do that?
Just so you can understand the level of introversion here, my first job was at a bank in a very technical role. I rarely had to present information to managers. It would be easy for me to communicate a problem to a teammate or business team, but if I had to speak to third parties or the Board of Directors, I would get very nervous, my hands were cold and sweaty. It could be very [inhales and pauses] tense. If I had to communicate in writing, I would do it seamlessly. If I had to speak, I would turn into a nervous wreck. I was at that bank around 10 years ago, and in the meantime, I transitioned to EDP. As a project manager, which was something I didn’t want to do, I’d much rather focus on engineering, I had to put myself out there a lot. I had to present plans, status reports and attend meetings with 30 or more people. I realized I had to step out of the box.
My first presentation at that company went quite well, but I had a great yet challenging boss who was incredibly demanding. He would advise me to speak slowly and nag me for hours if I had used a word he didn’t like. Since then, I’ve had to repair some of the “trauma” that was inflicted on me, but on the bright side, I’ve learned a lot and present in a much more relaxed way now. I speak slower, and while I’m still quite clumsy — which is fine, that’s my nature — I pause more and pick my words better.
You’re part of the DevOps Lisbon community. How did you get involved in that?
My first presentation at the DevOps Lisbon meetups was still part of my work for EDP. I presented a DevOps state of the art for about 50 people [(A Brief) DevOps History at EDP], and it turned out very well even though it was a completely different audience than the one I was used to. I then took that same presentation to a company event with 800 people — 400 online and 400 physically attending the event. It was something I always wanted to do but was too scared. However, I wanted to step out of my comfort zone, and the outcome was great. I then did a few more presentations at the company with improved confidence.
Going back to DevOps Lisbon, the first time I presented there, I ended up having dinner with the founder, Manuel Pais, who invited me to join as an organizer. I’d always wanted to give back to the dev community, and I thought, “Let’s do it!” Nowadays, in addition to helping out the organization, I often act as a host or moderator, presenting the speaker and ensuring we have a pleasant session.
“There are always other groups of skilled people that can help you. If you don’t want to expose yourself to that, ask your teammates to do it. Present your slides to them, have them peer review your stuff”
What skills have you learned as a speaker that benefit your work at OutSystems?
One of the things Sílvia compliments is, of course, my communication skills. That is an instant benefit. When I prepare a presentation or a slide deck, I tell a story. Narrating a real-life emotional situation or even something purely technological, but from a storytelling perspective, helps the audience understand the flow of information and retain it. It allows me to capture their attention. The idea of exposing myself, putting myself out there, and having my colleagues peer-reviewing everything I present, has also benefited my verbal skills. I articulate words better, I’m more relaxed, and I’ve lost the fear of looking people in the eyes, which I avoided.
What advice would you give to other fellow introverts who want to become skilled speakers?
Well, I only attended one session, but Toastmasters International really helped me. There are several of these groups across the world, and they allow you to improve your speaking skills and teach you how to build a story and improvise. The session I attended had an improvising bit, and when they asked who wanted to do it, I immediately raised my hand. That leads me to my second piece of advice: don’t be scared. Let’s leave our comfort zone. You can’t do it if you don’t have the will. Toastmasters will help you because they kind of force you to abandon your comfort zone and you are in a very closed group where everybody is there for the same purpose: public speaking.
At DevOps Lisbon, we also do dry runs and advise on improving your speech, posture, slide deck, content. We know our audience very well, so it’s easy to tell if people focus excessively on the technology side or lack on the storytelling side. There are always other groups of skilled people that can help you. If you don’t want to expose yourself to that, ask your teammates to do it. Present your slides to them, have them peer review your stuff.
Something I would like to work on in the future is telling all these little stories that happen to us in our daily professional lives and take something out of them to say to others. I haven’t been allocating time to that, but it’s a wish. There are so many exciting stories waiting to be told. Sometimes, the most seemingly ordinary story can be of interest to someone else and help them navigate a particular situation or obstacle.
“We, as engineers, must learn how to sell our craft: we often talk from a technological standpoint but not from the customer’s point of view”
It’s funny that you mention that because people have this stereotyped vision of engineers as people who can’t communicate. Still, there are very few jobs in which you are encouraged to share your knowledge as extensively as engineering.
I’d never thought about that. I thought you were going to say the opposite, that we’re a bunch of geeks with no communication skills. Our community is growing, and we find more and more people who can easily express and present themselves. Others, like myself once, struggle with it. Our job involves a lot of team communication. We can’t complete a task alone, and maybe because of that, we have to communicate with our workgroup and, sometimes, beyond our group.
I believe that’s something missing in engineering. We, as engineers, must learn how to sell our craft: we often talk from a technological standpoint but not from the customer’s point of view. Maybe that necessity to share our knowledge and issues with a larger community will force us to think outside the box. There are still many incredibly airtight engineering groups that don’t share anything — they consume information but don’t share it. I’m one of the latter, I should share a lot more information with my community, but that’s a gap we need to close.
What is your typical day like?
Traditionally, I get up around 7.15 a.m. or 7.30 a.m. I have breakfast, and not so long after, I’m already on the computer. I love what I do. I know this is typical computer geek behavior, but I’m always on the computer. I also enjoy doing other things, such as exercising. I’ve been exercising a bit less though, the pandemic is not helping, but I love running and biking. It’s cathartic.
While I haven’t played in over a month, I also enjoy photography and playing the guitar. I’m still only learning, and as much I would love to think that my finger dexterity from pressing the computer keys would help, this is a whole coordination game. The creative side of it is also super cool. Above all, I love spending time with my family, I have two kids (aged 9 and 12), and I love watching old movies and TV shows, like Friends or The Big Bang Theory. I like upbeat shows that will leave you in a good mood. I’m also a video game fan, and I find it to be one of the best ways to decompress — not that stress is necessarily a bad thing — but this is my way to unwind and stay in my “nothing box” (thank you, Mark Gungor, for this side joke), a kind of void where I can forget whatever is going on around me.
What do you enjoy playing?
I like either strategy games or games where you build stuff, like SimCity. I’m not just an action game type of person, although I still play them now and then. For me, it’s more about relaxing.
You mentioned you spend a lot of time on your computer. How did you adapt to remote work and remote onboarding?
I adapted pretty well [pulls a funny face]. At first, I thought I would suffer, because I love talking to people. I just got up from my chair and spoke to them, sketched, asked how things were going, did more sketching, and I felt like, “Okay, how will I do this now?”
I honestly thought I wouldn’t work as well remotely, and now all I want to do is work remotely. I do miss the social side, getting off work and going for a drink, having lunch with your mates and discussing different themes, really get to know them outside of work. We work together for eight hours every day, and if we only talk about work, I don’t understand what motivates people outside of work. Sometimes, your teammate is feeling down, and you have no idea why, and it would be good to know. I’ve only been at the Lisbon OutSystems office twice since this all began, and I do miss having an office to go to.
Since we are all working from home, can we see your desk?
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