This is me on a beautiful beach on a beautiful sunny day in Tallin, the capital of Estonia. Until 6 months ago, I didn’t even know where Estonia was on the map and that there were pretty beaches there.

But how did I end up going there?

Well… one day scrolling through my LinkedIn timeline I read this interesting post from a Brazilian recruiter called Gui Lozano. It’s in Portuguese, but here is some context: many Brazilian companies are having a bad time hiring and retaining tech talent.

And well, that is not a new problem.

But the pandemic has aggravated the scenario since remote work has become the default modus operandi for a lot of tech companies worldwide. Add that to the fact that a lot of these companies pay salaries in American dollars for Brazilians: we now can get salaries we never imagined we could. Working from home. The Great Resignation has hit Brazil’s tech market hard.

A few months ago another Brazilian tech recruiter wrote a LinkedIn post that went viral, but for a very negative reason. She probably was having trouble hiring people and said that Brazilian developers should “get off the high horse” and calling them spoiled, saying that they were asking for too much money, amongst other disinformation about working for foreign companies. The post got a lot of bad repercussion and she ended up deleting her LinkedIn account.

Good salaries and a great product

Anyway, Gui has read the post and decided to talk about his perspective on that subject using as an example some of the policies that they have at Alvin, the Estonian startup he works for. First, they pay salaries above the “normal” for senior Brazilian engineers, starting with 21k Brazilian reais per month, with a local employment contract (known as the CLT).

The entry salary for devs in Brazilian companies is between 1–2k per month and a senior dev salary is usually between 8–15k. A 21k salary here would be for someone that has like 15 years experience and is very specialist in something and/or has a very important position in a big company.

He also talks about the fact that you don’t need to have perfect English speaking to be hired by Alvin and that they let candidates use Google in technical interviews since they understand that people don’t need to know everything to perform their jobs well.

That post caught my attention and I started following Gui and reading other content from him, including an amazing article where he explains how they hire at Alvin. One thing that I liked is that they have a Candidate Guide with everything you must know before applying for an opening. And the Technical Interview Guide is just awesome.

After reading all that, I messaged Gui saying “Hey, Alvin seems cool, what if we made a video on my Youtube channel about what you do and how is to work there?”. I already do interviews in my channel with companies interviewing them about tech cases, focused on the Brazilian community.

And we did it. The video starts in Portuguese but around 0:44 we switch to English.

Meeting Data Lineage

Before recording the video, I needed to understand better what kind of problems Alvin solves. And the first thing I did was read the company’s CEO article called The Future of Data Lineage — Beyond a Diagram where he introduces data lineage and explains the most common pains that data professionals have.

And well, there is a good amount of them.

Big Data is a buzzword that became reality: data really got big, especially in huge corporations like Amazon and Google. And the data market itself has grown exponentially in the last years, there are countless tools like Tableau, Looker, Big Query, and Snowflake to work with and manipulate data in many different ways.

Now imagine these huge places where there is a bizarre amount of data flow coming in every minute, and it’s been “thrown” to many different tools.

Image by Dan Mashiter

How do you control all that?

I mean, I’m not a data engineer myself: my background as a developer is mostly web development and working with not-so-big applications and well… I already had many different problems regarding data. Like having to add a column to a table and then breaking things that other people were working on the application.

And that kind of pain is something that Dan and Martin, Alvin’s founders, saw that was very common to data professionals. They realized that a lot of them were spending countless hours checking the integrity of data in many different ways.

An example: the CFO of a company opens the report that he looks at every day and there’s a metric that has changed a lot from one day to another. He thinks “This is weird”, then asks the head of data to check what happened. The head of data then asks one of the engineers of his team if something has changed. “Not that I know of”, he says, but will have to check manually. He opens his tools and has to first understand where that data is coming from, then he writes a few SQL queries, compare data, and tries to trace everything he can to understand if everything is ok. And if it’s not, correct it. That can take hours, even days depending on the size of the company.

And that is just one of the many pains that data professionals have:

  • How do they know if something like adding a column will break things they can’t even imagine?
  • When things break (and eventually they will), how do we understand right away why and where they broke?
  • What is being used and by who? How to know when something can (or must) be deleted?

And Alvin’s answer to all of that is Data Lineage. A way to track data through machine learning models, columns, dashboards, jobs, people, and the dependencies between them.

Dan and Martin spent 3 years talking to data professionals while developing Alvin’s software, which plugs into different data sources, analyzes all its metadata through a parser, and then builds the data lineage.

You can see the data flowing from one point to another, where it was born and the different tools it “traveled” through.

And not only that… one of the coolest features in my opinion is the Impact Analysis tool:

There are also usage statistics in detail and visual graphics:

And the possibility to search and filter your data assets:

All that is really powerful.

If you want, you can request a beta for your company here.

Superpowers for data professionals

After reading Dan’s article, I watched a lecture (in Portuguese) from Alvin’s first hire, Marcelo, at a Brazilian meetup where he explains data lineage and then makes a demo of the product.

I got really impressed with the demo and then started talking to some friends that work with data about Alvin, asking what they thought of the tool.

One of them was Thiago, that works with lots of data daily and told me that Alvin can help him a lot in three different aspects of his work: data discovery, data quality, and data management. He talks about it in a very exciting way, saying that doesn’t see any other company doing data lineage like Alvin is doing now.

That is because most tools that have data lineage these days treat it like a feature, while for Alvin data lineage is the foundation of everything: first they built the lineage, and all the other features are being built on top of it. By doing that, they ensure the integrity of the data you are working on, giving superpowers to data professionals, allowing them to focus on what matters and not firefight all the time trying to figure out if things are in the right place.

Alvin sees data lineage as a data source. An alive one, that is growing and changing constantly.

A very nice place to work

Alvin was founded in Estonia, but we can say that 45% of it is Brazilian now. The first developer that the founders hired, Marcelo, is Brazilian. And after that, he started talking about his work there to other Brazilians (even wrote about it) and caught the attention of a good amount of us (including me).

At the time of this writing, the startup has 22 employees and 10 of them are from Brazil. And not just developers are paying attention to Alvin’s work: 9 Brazilian companies are already testing the software and will probably become customers pretty soon.

Talking to Alvin’s developers and founders, I realized something in common: all of them are very motivated individuals that understand what kind of problem they want to solve. And they take it very seriously. You should read all the articles on their Medium, they are all really good.

So… why not work there?

After recording and publishing the video, I spoke to that tech recruiter at the beginning of the story, Gui. And he told me “Hey, maybe wouldn’t you like to… work here full time? We don’t have an open position for that right now, but we could try to convince the founders that your work would be important”.

And then, I studied a little bit more and prepared a presentation for them.

I called it DevRel at Alvin and in it, firstly I introduced myself and told about my experience with content creation: I worked for 8 years at Alura, first as an instructor, and then started getting involved in content creation and community work in general.

I have hosted multiple podcasts and live shows, participated in countless videos, organized in-person and online events, and handled a lot of community work. I also have my own Youtube channel and newsletter.

And then I told them the reasons I was excited about working full time at Alvin:

  • The product;
  • The opportunity to create a DevRel area from scratch;
  • The possibility of taking my work to the next level, since I’ve been only working with Portuguese content and communities.

And also, why DevRel was important for Alvin:

  • Awareness: Alvin is a developer-first product and developers have a low tolerance for bullshit marketing speech. They need to know about the company and what problems it solves from people that understand them;
  • Feedback: good feedback is the one that is given constantly and to achieve that, conversations must be happening all the time. That comes with a good and strong community around the product;
  • Sales: developers, data engineers, and people from similar roles that will eventually be Alvin’s users won’t probably be the ones actually taking money from their pockets to buy this kind of software. But they will influence that decision heavily inside their company since only they can really understand what problems it solves and how it will make their job better.

Then I told them how my background plus Alvin’s needs would be a great fit. And they thought so too and made me a very good proposal! I accepted and joined the company on May 18th, and traveled a few days later to Tallinn, the Estonian capital, for my onboarding.

One of the entrances of Tallinn’s Old Town

The trip was long: from São Paulo to Frankfurt, then Helsinki, and finally Tallinn. I got there very late and went straight to sleep.

The next day, when I woke up and left the hotel, this was my sight:

Which is the kind of urban art that is very different from the ones we have in Sao Paulo. Everything was very new to me: until today, I have only visited Latin countries like Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and Spain. So, everything was very exotic to me.

The founders Martin and Dan at the left, then Oisin (one of the first devs) and the mustache one is me

Then I met these guys for lunch and we had some really good food before going to the office, where I had my first in-person meeting with Dan and started doing some real work.

I’m not gonna lie: the whole thing was kind of an intimidating experience for me. Different country and culture, different people, and I also weren’t used to speaking English daily.

I’m not sure if they knew I enjoyed beer, but on the second day, we had this tour through Põhjala, a very good brewery based in Tallinn. Everyone (except Oisin) that lives in the city was there.

We had a few beers, got to know each other a little better, and had great conversations.

And what about the work?

After this very warm welcome, I and Dan started planning some real work. We came up with some OKRs for content and community efforts at Alvin for my first 6 months of work.

Basically, in the first month I will:

  • Learn as much as possible about the data community and the modern data stack;
  • Help the company’s devs start writing their first articles;
  • Plan and structure our community on Slack;
  • Create an editorial line of content for our social networks.

There is a lot of work ahead and I’m very excited about everything we’ll create.

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