Women in Leadership #1: Fernanda Weiden, CTO at VTEX
At VTEX, we believe we are unstoppable together by combining our diverse backgrounds, experiences and skills to transform the world of commerce — all under the best possible guidance. Our leaders’ powerful journeys trickle down to each and every VTEXer, inspiring us to build a future-proof career. This is even more true in the case of our female leaders, who have also had to face gender inequality throughout their lives to reach positions of power.
To celebrate the wonderful female leadership that makes the VTEX rebel pink shine brighter, we’re more than happy to tell the stories of these women in the Women in Leadership content series. In this blogpost and the upcoming ones, you’ll find out directly from them more about their careers, their learnings, their ups and downs, all while gaining valuable advice.
First stop? Fernanda Weiden, our newly-announced Chief Technology Officer.
Fernanda Weiden was raised in Porto Alegre, Brazil. A self-proclaimed problem-solver, she has more than 20 years of experience and has specialized in the development of scalable global solutions with a focus on site reliability engineering (SRE). Prior to joining VTEX, she had worked at Facebook, Google and IBM.
We know you’ve had a rollercoaster career, so what important milestones can you share with us?
Fernanda: In the beginning of my career, I was experimenting with systems and Linux at home, but I was not actually working with these. Then I got a job which was connected to IT support. The manager of the software development team in that company needed someone who understood Linux, so he gave me an opportunity to join him. That was one big change, because I moved from IT support to the software development environment.
The second one was when I got involved with the free software community in Brazil, doing a lot of things related to that. But then I met a manager from IBM that was leading a software development lab in Brazil called the Linux Technology Center, and she invited me to go work there. I think that was a second big milestone, because that’s when I was pressured to learn English and open myself to international environments and big corporations.
The next one is when I moved outside of Brazil to work at Google. I had a bit of impostor syndrome and never imagined that Google would offer me a job, so I kept asking myself: why do they want anything to do with me?
Joining Google, of course, was what was happening on the career side, but on the personal side, moving to live abroad was one of the most life-transforming experiences that I had, because it changed my perspective about the world, different cultures and different ways to approach things in life.
Some years later I took a leap of faith to go to Facebook, even had a huge pay cut and my mom said I was ruining my career, because no one had heard of this company back in 2012.
And I will say that after Facebook, now there’s VTEX. Each one of these milestones was a big transformation and I learned so much about management and technology. It was an incredible journey and now I’m pretty sure that I’m embarking on another one that’s going to be a breakthrough for my personal growth.
Can you tell us about a situation where you had to embrace the unknown and were positively surprised?
Fernanda: When I moved to Switzerland in 2006 to join Google. I was 23 years old, it was my first time in the country, I only had 80 euros in my wallet, Lufthansa had just lost my luggage, I didn’t know anybody and my English was not that great — and there were no smartphones.
I remember going to the corporate apartment in Zurich where Google had placed me and when it was time to go to work on Monday morning, I left the apartment only to quickly realize that I didn’t even know if I had to turn right or left and I had no idea where I was and the map was confusing and I had a moment of complete horror. People romanticize living abroad, but it can be very difficult. I really jumped into the unknown then and it was a crazy journey for which I’m grateful.
That’s indeed such a powerful journey! And now that you’ve joined VTEX, can you please explain more about the area you’re leading and what your responsibilities are?
Fernanda: I’m responsible for technology at VTEX and there are three large disciplines inside: engineering, product and design. Engineering is my comfort zone, that’s what I did for 20 years of my life. However, product and design are a new world, besides learning about ecommerce, which is not something I know much about. But the learning process is part of the value proposition for me.
Overall, my role includes everything from identifying new opportunities for realizing our future vision to actually making those solutions available to our customers in a way that is sustainable in the long term for us as a company, too. It also involves nurturing talents that are already part of the team and attracting new ones to build an extraordinary future for the digital commerce ecosystem.
What are the biggest learnings you’ve accumulated in your leadership roles?
Fernanda: One learning is that the difference between being an excellent professional and being average is not the technical skills. You can have technically-excellent people that are not excellent at their job, because they lack the soft skills. So soft skills and the human aspects of the job are all extremely important, in addition to being able to truly see people and meet them where they are and balance the interests of the company with their individual ones.
Secondly, when you are a tech lead about to become a manager, you have that feeling that you don’t do anything anymore, because you have to do everything through others. And then you tell yourself “okay, I’ve got this” but you really don’t, so you go and learn. After a while, you become a manager of managers and you’re back at square one. Bottomline, you need to learn how to influence people who can influence others to get the job done.
The third realization is that I was only going to be a better leader when I left my attachment to work to the individual contributors. Trying to get people to think differently about how they do their job by challenging them and not by actually doing the job for them. That’s why I believe management in the beginning is more of a science and, as you go up in seniority, it becomes more of an art.
And what an artist you are! Talking about that, what are the highlights of being in a leadership position at VTEX?
Fernanda: Something I find very special about VTEX is that it’s a tech company from Brazil that is building a global digital commerce product as opposed to a Brazilian version of a product that came up in Europe or somewhere else. This is inspiring and challenging.
Another highlight is the people. You can be peeling five kilos of potatoes which is not something that people would think is glamorous, but if you are amongst people that you enjoy spending time with and you are having good conversations, you are challenging each other even, peeling five kilos of potatoes is fun, right?
For me, the people I’m going to be surrounded by are an extremely important aspect and the people I have met at VTEX have been extraordinary. I really enjoy the conversations, the level of emotional intelligence, the bold vision and the challenges that they pose to me.
What we are doing at VTEX is far from peeling five kilos of potatoes. I think it’s a lot more fun than that, but it’s a good way to illustrate that we are not only working on a great project but also with great people by our side, which is amazing.
And how would you say women leaders should juggle work-life harmony? We know you’re expecting a second baby nowadays (congratulations, by the way!), so things must be tricky.
Fernanda: I don’t think this work-life harmony is necessarily about how much time you spend working; you can work many hours and not be a super stressed person or work very few hours and be the most stressed person in the world. So it’s really about how you balance everything that is important to you.
You need to identify what is important to you and what energizes you. For me, self care is important, I need to do my exercises, I also like cooking and spending time outdoors. So I make sure I block time out for these activities, because I need to put the oxygen mask on me first in order to put it on others afterwards. But there’s no perfect solution.
Could you share some leadership advice for women that choose to start a management career?
Fernanda: The first thing I say to people is that, if they are looking to go into management but they like the work they do as an individual contributor, they should not be managers, because the more you move into leadership roles, the less you are going to do the job that you’ve loved to begin with. So unless you are very comfortable giving that away, don’t get started.
And the other thing is to ask for what you want, career-related or otherwise. I think women and girls tend to believe that if they do everything right, the right things will happen to them. And that’s not really how this game works. You need to clarify what you want, what you expect, not take feedback personally and then things are going to start happening and the leadership gap will be bridged.
That is great advice, thank you so much for sharing everything with us! You’re an inspiration to plenty of women in the tech industry, not to mention a brave mother. Good luck on this new challenge, we’re sure you’ll rock it.
Fernanda: Thank you!
Stay tuned for even more inspiring stories from our women in leadership.