Five With Fidel #7 | Carlos Vilhena, Head of Engineering, Fidel API
The foundation of great tech companies starts with the engineering team, and this week’s guest certainly knows a thing or two about them. With experience doubling engineering headcounts, founding a tech business, and managing the building of products from start to finish - our new Head of Engineering, Carlos Vilhena, is sure to have a major impact.
Carlos will lead Fidel API’s engineering efforts and serve as a critical foundation to Fidel API's rapidly evolving engineering organization, offering leadership, mentorship, and direction. Carlos joins us from Talkdesk, where he doubled the size of their engineering team to 500+ engineers in just two years. Before that, he worked at YLD and the Government Digital Service as Chief Technical Officer and Tech Lead, respectively.
With a rich and varied background in both fintechs companies and high-growth startups, Carlos knows the importance of developing the people he leads. He’s also claimed to be pretty handy with, and a big fan of, LEGO - simply put, he just loves to build new things!
Q1 | Hi Carlos, it’s awesome to have you here. What attracted you to Fidel API?
Thanks, it’s great to be here! There were several things that attracted me to Fidel API, but I can distill them into 3 points: the people, the challenge, and the industry.
Starting with the people - throughout the interview process, there was an outstanding level of care and empathy shown by everyone I met with. I felt we were having genuine conversations about Fidel API’s challenges and how my experience could be helpful. Both Dev Subtrata and Andre Elias, Fidel API’s co-founders, were attentive and supportive in really helping me understand both the opportunities of the role and the challenges that need solving.
Second, the challenge itself - I love working with growing organizations. Fidel API is in a sweet spot where the product quality is high and the future is even more promising. That means I have the opportunity to work with great people and scale the engineering organization to meet the expanding needs of the wider company.
Finally, the industry - my first full-time job was in the financial services industry and I really enjoy working on building disruptive platforms that challenge the status quo. Therefore, returning to fintech was a no-brainer for me.
Q2 | Fidel API is in an exciting place: we’ve just reached 100 team members, we’re expanding our product suite, and entering new geographies. From an engineering perspective, what are you most excited about in Fidel API’s future?
One of the most interesting things about growing a company like Fidel API is building technology at scale and it brings plenty of operational and technological challenges.
One of the challenges I experienced at Talkdesk was figuring how to adapt our systems, teams, and especially mindset, to deal with a rapidly-growing customer base. It placed a lot of added pressure on their systems, so scaling up quickly to meet that demand was critical to maintaining a very high service level.
In a wider sense, when companies experience exponential growth, the systems need to be reconsidered every time they reach another order of magnitude. From an engineering perspective, that’s where true innovation and breakthroughs happen.
As Fidel API continues on its trajectory, some of these challenges will become more evident, and I’m thrilled to be able to partake in finding a solution for each of them.
Q3 | How do you grow an engineering team with those kinds of challenges in mind?
In order to grow an engineering team, it starts with structure. From my experience at Talkdesk and YLD, that means building a career framework, which allows an organization to be clear about the roles and responsibilities available, and how to progress between those roles as someone gains more experience.
On top of that, you need a culture of learning, supported by a strong professional development offering. I saw first hand how YLD and Talkdesk invested in L&D and how that enabled them to be more successful. Everybody wins when people feel truly valued and have the resources to grow.
A lot of large organizations can be quite rigid in their structure and in what engineers can or can’t do. It’s fundamentally a very different job to working in a start-up environment. That rigidity comes with the size, so it’s a natural evolution.
For those wishing to have more autonomy, to be able to touch the entire software stack (from frontend to backend, plus the infrastructure) - and own entire problems from idea to completion - a place like Fidel API is ideal.
We’re laser-focused on shaping the future of real-time payments APIs, and these sorts of industry-defining concepts don’t come about very often. That is Fidel API’s competitive edge to overcoming whatever challenges we face.
Q4 | You’re a self-confessed fan of LEGO, a company that also happens to boast one of the best-known examples of a great internal culture. How do you maintain a strong culture during a time of rapid growth?
A company culture can be described as the core values, beliefs and behaviors exhibited by the people it employs. As we scale, it’s imperative we keep those values, beliefs and behaviors in check. One of the best ways to ensure a company maintains its culture during growth is to engrave it in career frameworks, performance reviews, and hiring processes.
At the base, acting as pillars, are the company core values. These need to be reiterated over and over again, so everybody understands why they’re important. Then, on top of the core values, sit the beliefs and behaviors. Those are described in the company career frameworks, so everybody knows what’s expected of them.
They can be assessed in performance cycles, interview processes, and when recognizing success. Celebrating that success, through social occasions, down-time, and team-building exercises are the cherries on top that help a healthy and happy company culture flourish.
Q5 | You like to stay fit and we’ve heard you’re a big fan of Crossfit and Padel. If you could pick up another sport that you’ve never tried, what would it be?
I would like to try Karate or a similar martial art. I’ve never tried it, but I find the self-discipline and self-confidence it helps build to be really appealing.
You can connect with Carlos on Linkedin here if you’d like to say hi or give him some Karate tips. Make sure to look out for our next Five with Fidel episode - you can subscribe to our blog here to never miss a beat.