Hi, I am Bruno Paulino.
Software is my craft.

Ask away, like you career depends on it

October 22, 2023

It has been a while since I wanted to write this but I’ve been putting this on the side, until this week when a more junior engineer at my current job approached me with some questions around a work-related topic. I noticed that he was a bit afraid of asking, perhaps concerned that he would come across as unprepared or stupid. Turns out, his question was really interesting and sparked a great conversation with surprisingly new learnings for him and myself.

This really motivated me to write this piece because I have once been like this and was constantly ashamed of asking questions, fearing to sound stupid or dumb, which eventually led me to lose a few opportunities.

But there was a point where I stopped worrying about this and the result of it was really surprising: It changed my life and career in several ways I could never imagine and today I want to share a few situations where I simply asked, already expecting the worst outcome, but it turned out to work much better than I could ever believe it

Getting the chance to study without losing my job

Before going to university and becoming a full-time software engineer, I was a police officer. This was a particularly challenging job because I was part of a military force in my home state, which as you can probably guess, it’s a job that involves a lot of rules, discipline and hierarchy. You don’t simply go around asking people, you need to follow the chain of command and crossing this line can have consequences.

After a while, I figured this job wasn’t really what I wanted to do, so I went to university. There was one little challenge: The classes had many conflicts with my work schedule, so I would have to figure out how I could work and study at the same time.

I was a little worried that it would be troubling to find a work schedule that could support my studies, so I was already thinking that I would have to give up university given that I couldn’t afford to lose my job. Either way, I simply went to my boss and asked if he could support me in figuring this out. Surprisingly, he was quite happy that I was going to university and went out of his way to help me out. He figured out a way to change my work schedule where I could work a few nights and weekends and I wouldn’t have to miss classes much.

It all worked out and I managed to study just fine. I missed one class here and there, but I wasn’t expecting to attend at all. That was a huge win already.

Everything was going well until nearing the end of my studies, where I managed to get a scholarship with all expenses paid to go to the US.

Getting the chance to study abroad without losing my job

There was no way for me to go, spend almost 2 years in the US without losing my job. I thought “That is it, I am gonna lose this opportunity. I cannot afford to support my family without my job”.

Although I knew the chances of keeping my job while away were really slim, I had to ask my boss again. I thought “What have I got to lose? I did not have this opportunity in the first place. Worst case, I graduate here and eventually get another job”.

So I went and talked to my boss. Surprisingly, he was one of the happiest guys around when he heard the news. He was very honest and told me he had no clue whether I could go and keep my job, but he would do everything on his power to help me out. He asked me for a few days so he could figure something out.

A week had gone by. It was a weekend evening when he called me and said “Hey Bruno, I’ve figured something out. Let’s try it next week”. After talking to him I was really surprised, I had no idea what that could be, but I was willing to try anything.

Next week, once I was back to the office, he explained to me that there was some sort of particular law which allowed the police chief to authorize any particular officer to go anywhere and take a course that could benefit the police.

I HAD NO CLUE THAT THIS EVEN EXISTED! Neither did my boss, until he talked to his colleagues about my situation and a good friend of his, who turns out was a really good lawyer explained it to him. Long-story short, we went through all the paperwork internally and eventually I got the approval to go, enjoy my hard-earned scholarship in the US while I kept my job, including part of my salary.

The following picture is me and a couple of friends making a Brazilian BBQ in one of many sunny days in Florida:

me and a couple of friends making a Brazilian BBQ in one of many sunny days in Florida

Everything was going well until I was nearing the end of my studies in the US. I was given the opportunity to find an internship and stay for another 3 months. If I couldn’t find it, I would have to head back to my country in 2 weeks.

Getting the chance to work abroad and bring along 10 other colleagues

And the time to find an internship came. I was looking for jobs everywhere in the little town I was based in (Melbourne, Florida).

If you are not familiar with this area in Florida, you have probably heard about the “Space Coast”, which is this area in the USA where rockets go around, where NASA is based at, together with many companies working with aerospace tech.

This was super exciting to me during my whole time there, but when it came to find an internship, I quickly found that many of these companies have contracts with the American Department of Defense and, due to security reasons, if you are not an American citizen, they won’t even consider you as a suitable candidate. This is even written in the job ad as a requirement.

So my search for an internship immediately became quite difficult. My American friends were getting job interviews left and right, while I was only getting rejections. I thought “That is it, I’m going back to Brazil without some international experience. But that is fine, I got really far, this is already good enough”.

I was once again at the state of feeling defeated. I felt I’ve not tried hard enough to get an internship. So I started reaching out to other foreign colleagues that got internships in the past. Until one of them gave me a hint about a jet research lab that took him in the past summer. I looked it up and to my surprise, this was a Brazilian company (Embraer), with a research facility in the same town I was based at.

Looking at their website and LinkedIn page, I couldn’t find any available opportunity. So I started checking the folks that work there. I managed to find one of the HR department heads on LinkedIn. I couldn’t contact her directly given that we were not connected on the platform, so I just tried to guess her work email address.

I simply tried:

Subject: Looking for an Internship Opportunity
to: [email protected]

{Email body left out for brevity}

I sent her an email. I didn’t receive any error delivery message, so I assumed it worked and her email existed. This already felt like a small win. But even then, my chances of getting a reply were really slim. Worse yet, even if I get a reply, what are the chances of getting an actual internship opportunity? Very likely zero. But it was worth asking anyway.

Three days later, an unexpected surprise

Three days have gone by since I sent her that email. Around that time, I’ve already mostly given up my internship search and was already preparing to travel back home. Then suddenly, I had this one unread message in my inbox. The message looked something like the following:

Re: Looking for an Internship Opportunity

Hi Bruno, Thank you for reaching out. I’m really glad you wrote me regarding that. I am trying to contact someone at Florida Tech for a couple of weeks now, but I couldn’t get a hold of anyone from the administration.

We actually have 10 available spots for the Summer Internship Program at Embraer and we are looking for students like you. Could you send me your resume and if you have more colleagues looking for internship opportunities in IT, please let me know.

After reading this email, I couldn’t believe it… I not only found a potential opportunity for me, but somehow I could also help ten other colleagues?

I am pretty sure that you, the reader, might be thinking that this is some sort of joke and to be honest, I couldn’t believe it myself when I read this email.

Fast-forward 2 weeks later, I managed to get one of the spots for that internship program, and believe it or not, I also managed to bring along 10 other friends that were in a similar situation. All of them got hired.

This internship was one of the coolest experiences in my professional career and I could not have been happier about its outcome. I made many friends from several different countries, I learned a sh*t ton of new stuff and I even got paid for it.

Here is a picture of me, a few of my colleagues that joined me after that lucky email I sent, and one of our great managers, getting the chance to experience the Embraer Legacy aircraft, the same aircraft which the queen of England used to fly around back then:

Bruno inside a luxury aircraft with the Embraer team

What can you learn from this?

I think there was a good lesson I learned from these experiences. I had several opportunities during my life that I could have completely missed out if I didn’t ask for help back then. And in other situations, where I had no clue whether something could work, by simply asking around, I could carve out the opportunity I needed, like that internship.

In retrospect, I feel quite lucky. I was at the right place, at the right time and thankfully had the right people by my side. Things could have turned out much differently, but by the simple fact that I asked around, I managed to increase the likelihood of these lucky moments to come to reality.

So if you are ever wondering whether you should ask, just go, ask. You should, of course, do your homework, research around what you are looking for and try to help yourself first. If you are reaching out to a mentor, a friend or your boss, try to offer a few ideas on how this person can help you right away.

But even then, if you are clueless, ask anyway. The worst outcome is likely that things will remain the way they are. And in case things don’t work out, you at least tried and can already think about other plans.

Most people have good intentions and are very likely able to help you. Sometimes you hit a jerk here and there, but you know, they are not the common place. They are also missing the opportunity to be part of your story, so don’t hold questions to yourself.