Carta da Parceria de Investimentos — 2019

Caros parceiros,

o retorno da nossa parceria em 2019 foi de 59,25%. A cota encerrou o ano a R$1,72409133324.

Nossa parceria superou o índice Bovespa, que subiu 31,58% no ano, em 26,67 pontos percentuais.

Ano Nosso Fundo Ibovespa
2017 29,44% 26,86%
2018 11,51% 15,03%
2019 59,25% 31,58%
Acumulado 129,86% 92,01%

Nossos ativos sob administração cresceram 183,40% no ano. Como vou lembrá-los a cada carta, toda a minha poupança vai para a parceria. O princípio é simples e o mesmo de sempre: objetivos compartilhados e a certeza de que estou cuidando da parceria com o mesmo zelo com que cuido do futuro da minha família.

Começamos o ano com 6 empresas no portfólio: Cyrela, Trisul, Hering, Metisa, Tarpon e Cielo. Na carta aos parceiros do ano passado eu compartilhei que a permanência da Tarpon em nossa carteira era uma dúvida. A própria empresa retirou suas ações da bolsa este ano.

Outra empresa que não está mais em nossa carteira é a Trisul, desta vez por bons motivos: suas ações mais do que quadruplicaram de preço em pouco mais de um ano. A empresa emitiu também novas ações em 2019. Com tudo isso, o preço da empresa, ao menos até onde consigo enxergar, deixou de ter uma margem de segurança suficiente para o futuro.

O setor imobiliário mudou de perspectiva com os juros em queda. Nossa alocação de quase 35% da carteira na Cyrela e na Trisul, quando começamos 2019, deu resultados muito bons e rápidos — a Cyrela quase dobrou de preço no ano, mais dividendos.

Ao longo do ano acrescentamos à nossa participação na Cielo, e hoje ela é um terço do nosso portfolio. Foi um ano marcado pela ida de concorrentes como a Stone Pagamentos ao mercado de capitais, esta com o glamour a mais de ter sido via Nasdaq. O mercado de meios de pagamentos deixou mesmo de ser um monopólio da Cielo e é agora um oligopólio. Nos últimos 4 anos a Cielo perdeu mais de 70% de seu valor de mercado, mesmo atendendo o país inteiro, tendo grandes clientes e muitos anos em atividade. Acredito que a Cielo passou boa parte do ano de 2019 custando menos do que vale.

A única empresa nova em nosso portfólio este ano foi a Metalúrgica Gerdau. A Gerdau que todos conhecemos é subsidiária da Metalúrgica Gerdau. Ambas têm um balanço saudável e bons fluxos de caixa a preços ainda hoje convidativos.

Em um ano de resultado tão bom para a parceria, é mais fácil lembrá-los de que um ano é muito pouco tempo para julgar uma iniciativa de investimento. Nosso portfólio é concentrado e pode oscilar bastante. Blocos de 5 anos são bons mínimos para avaliar. E um referencial exigente de comparação é o Índice Bovespa.

O retorno acumulado nos 3 anos de existência da nossa parceria, líquido de taxas de performance, foi de 101%, superando em 8,99 pontos percentuais os 92,01% acumulados pelo Ibovespa no mesmo período.

O ano de 2019, e isso é algo muito raro, não revelou nenhum grande erro. É claro que, quando uma empresa mais do que quadruplica de preço em tão pouco tempo como foi o caso da Trisul, desejamos ter alocado 100% da carteira nela e não 5 ou 10%. Não precisamos acertar tudo para ir bem, e é certo de que esta seção das cartas da parceria logo voltará a trazer meus erros e, com eles, mais aprendizados.

Desejo um 2020 maravilhoso para você e seus familiares.



My Year in: Tech

I started the year of 2019 as a front-end developer at Toptal’s core team. Just a few days later, I was invited to be Team Lead for a brand new team.

My emphasis turned, again, to working with people. That was a delight and I fully embraced the opportunity to help build a team. We had a few company veterans enlisted to start the new team, all of whom I had not worked with before, and we needed to hire two more front-end engineers.

The first recruitment process was for an excellent React engineer. It was done very deliberately and unhurriedly, to make sure we raised the overall level of the team on the React stack. It took us a little over 2 months until we found a great guy, who has contributed a lot this year.

The second engineer was a gift to us, as he was initially hired for another team. Happy to say he’s also doing tremendously well.

We quickly became a real team. It seems we did a few things that helped: communicating a lot, admitting mistakes and ignorance openly and quickly, and being real human beings.

One teammate brought along the Personal Questions call from his previous team. This call has a simple structure: one team member asks one or two questions, personal as the name says, to everyone on the team.

The questions are as simple as “What was the best trip you ever took?”, or “What is your favorite dish?”. It’s up to the team to let this call become just a little window on who they are, or a huge gateway to people’s souls. Yes, it’s possible to cry while listening to someone tell you about their favorite food once they tell you the story behind it. The bond I felt with the team was immense.

Dedicating at least one or two hours per week of each team member’s time to building rapport makes a big difference, particularly in new teams. Next year I will work to learn more ways of doing that.

I made my share of mistakes. The one that comes strongest to mind is about having patience before giving feedback to people you may like personally but don’t think are doing a good job — especially when they are not reporting to you. Convincing people to change is hard enough as it is, doing it without mutual trust and knowing their motivations is likely to backfire.

Another lesson I was reminded of by a mistake of mine is the “no surprises rule”. It’s often hard to know, in advance, how sensitive some task or decision may turn out to be. Next time something I do starts to deviate too much from what was agreed-upon, I should remember to share that early on, and avoid surprises, because the surprise itself may make people react negatively to something fundamentally desirable, or I may have the wrong assumptions or decisions and other points of view will help me see that.

I stayed with the team for a total of 9 months, we launched a good chunk of the new application we were developing, and then I was enlisted to start a new team from scratch: to recruit every single engineer, and help recruit designer and product manager.

It was painful to say goodbye to a team I loved so much.

Soon it was back to recruiting, this time a few weeks of full-time effort, and we are still at it. We seem to be close to hiring two people, and have one more front-end and one more QA person to bring onboard on the engineering side.

This recent team switch gave me time to study programming after a several-month hiatus. I am focusing on new React APIs, from Hooks to Context and Suspense, as well as testing, TypeScript and, soon, Apollo.

I did continue to study the Elixir language source, something I’ve done for maybe 3 years now. This year I did relatively little of it. I love Elixir just as much as always, and am thankful for having learned so much from its community.

I plan to go multi-team as soon as I have a chance, be it in an Engineering Manager or CTO role. Thus I dedicated more time than ever to reading about leadership, management and communication, often with a big emphasis on tech. Especially for people who are new to management, I recommend The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhou.

My Year in: Books

Any year in which you read Grande Sertão: Veredas is automatically excellent.

This year I read 32 books. I may have broken my record of rereads at 4. I continued reading in Italian, 2 books this year. Or should I start saying “consumed” books? Thirteen out of the 32 were audiobooks.

It may be hard for a non-Brazilian to understand what about Grande Sertão: Veredas makes it the best book of all time. It is probably as difficult as can be to translate. It is very hard to understand at first, even for solid, native readers. Suffice it to say that it is on par with the Iliad, the best Goethe or Shakespeare. Ranking works of art is nonsense. Still, Grande Sertão is number one for me.

If not for Grande Sertão, 2019 would have left a lot to be desired in terms of my reading. I am happy to put in a good word for Crucial Conversations, a book I listened to and immediately repeated. I seem to have reached that age when any meaningful personal growth is to do with interpersonal skills.

Crucial Conversations was one of several books I read around communication and management, the one big topic for me in 2019. It always feels like most of these books could have been fine as shorter blog posts, but you never know which ones should truly be books and I end up reading them whole. Also, a single good idea may easily be worth the dozen hours we spend on a given book, and that makes me think of The Culture Code, a serious candidate for a future reread as it may contain 2 or 3 really good ideas.

But then there is Grande Sertão: a book where every line, every phrase and word explodes with meaning, with angles on life, a love story to make Romeo and Juliet robotic and numb by comparison.

Maybe I’m ripe for some fiction after a long hiatus.

I log my reading, done or intended, on Goodreads. Please friend me there if you’d like and let’s find the next amazing book.

A personal take on interviewing programmers

A few months ago some members of the team I lead at Toptal’s core team started interviewing programmers.

The fundamental questions that popped up were simple and deep: What should I look for in the interviewee? How do I know I should pass or fail the person?

I really like the priorities my own former supervisor, Timo Roessner, advocates: to look for—in decreasing order of importance—a team player, a good communicator, and a technically excellent person.

The person should ideally be very good at all 3 requisites. The main point, however, is deemphasizing technical wizardry in favor of interpersonal skills.

How to assess team-playing chops in a 90-minute interview with a coding challenge

Team-playing chops and communication chops seem intermingled, and in fact I believe one potentializes the other, but they can be assessed quite separately in software engineers.

As you facilitate a coding challenge or nearly pair-program with the interviewee, try to make it as close to the interviewee’s normal workflow as you can. Don’t use CodePens, have the interviewee use the editor or IDE of her preference. Apart from the technical things you need to evaluate her on, encourage her to use her favorite tools and procedures.

What you need to evaluate the candidate on is up to the needs of your company or team, but in general I prefer to give the candidate a wide-open small project instead of some algorithmic or procedural task. The reason is you will get a chance to role-play being the customer or Product Manager, and you can talk to the interviewee as such and see if she is able to conduct a dialog like this.

Calibrate, as you go along and get a sense of the candidate, how high-level or low-level it’s better to be. That is, is this person more concerned about the coding nitty-gritty or about what the entire project should do? Both are fine and necessary programmer inclinations, but the quicker you spot the candidate’s preferences, the quicker you can develop a rapport.

As the coding challenge starts, pay attention to the questions and shared thoughts. It should be clear to you, given some experience, if the candidate has mileage or a willingness to openly express thoughts. If they don’t say anything at all, probably this person will behave the same way at work.

Avoid, or delay, “helping” the candidate. Generally, in a coding challenge lasting 1 hour, I may interfere 1 to 3 times. But when you do, try to make it very meaningful and make it so that the proposed change of course really takes things in a different direction.

For example you propose the programmer develop a simple game. She starts by crafting the algorithm that will define if the game is over. As the interview goes past half its allotted time, and if the candidate has shown a good direction regarding the solution, propose she create the UI (if she is a frontend developer), or suggest creating a way to store a leaderboard (if she is a backend developer).

The way the candidate reacts to such proposals can be telling of a team player.

Also, very often candidates will do or say things that you don’t know anything about. Tell them you don’t know anything about that and see how they react. Do they explain it to you? Are they surprised? Do they convey a sense that they respect you less for that? But don’t pretend you don’t know something you know—you don’t need any trickery to interview people well.

How to assess communication chops

Assessing communication skills is a bit easier than assessing team-player inclinations. Start with the basics: can you even understand what the interviewee is saying? Often that is not the case. If and when you don’t, tell them that in a gentle way. This happens particularly often in international interviewing when spoken languages are not native to you or the candidate.

The opposite can happen: the candidate does not understand you. You should, of course, try your best to communicate clearly, and if the candidate still has a hard time getting what you are saying or asking, notice if they have the energy to ask you to clarify. If so, that is a good sign.

Being able to listen deeply is what differentiates an ok communicator from a good or great one. Does the candidate flow from what you are saying? In other words, can you notice them using and reshaping pieces of your discourse? Repeating things back to you transformed? Those are good signs. If they just respond things that seem unrelated to what you have been saying, then clearly this is a minus. More often things fall around the middle, and with time you will develop a feel for how good the candidate seems to be, plus the courage to use your intuition when the decision is not clear-cut.

How to assess programming chops

This is the easiest part if you yourself are a programmer, but it’s still challenging sometimes. Granted, it’s easy to reach a conclusion in extreme cases: if the candidate did really poorly or just brilliantly in the coding part.

When things fall more in the middle, which is by far the most typical, your skill can make a huge difference in the decision to say Yes or No to a candidate.

I always like it when a candidate writes, in human language, something like a list of things that need to happen in the program. For example, if the proposed task is to build a search user interface: to jot down that the screen has an input and a submit button, the user will type a string in that input, then press the submit button, and so on. This helps the candidate “think like a computer”, it allows her to expose her thought process to the interviewer and, if her assumptions are off-base, to know early. The worst that can happen is to end up with a little algorithm of what to code.

TDD, or anything similar to that, is a huge positive differential. It is a kind of planning ahead.

I must say it’s very rare that anyone uses TDD in interviews I run, and I’ve run a few hundred of them at the very least. It has never ever happened that a candidate wrote down point by point what should happen in the application.

Finally, good code architecture early on is one of the strongest signs that the candidate is good. If they refactor continuously, improve variable names often, and order things in their codebase without losing their train of thought, you are looking at a hire. And that’s why giving people much harder tasks than they will face in their work is typically not a good idea: you need to see how they can make code understandable to fellow programmers.

So if they start one file and fill it up with disorganized, commented out code and huge blocks of attempts, unless you asked them to do something too hard, in general consider this as a potential flag. But don’t get stuck to this: it’s not uncommon for great developers to seem quite sloppy the first 15 minutes in, and 10 minutes before the hour, to start deleting code and apply a final layer of improvements that leaves the code looking quite wonderful.

If you give the candidate a project that is larger than the hour you have to interview, something I support you do—as long as you set the right expectations, otherwise you will have a frozen person in front of you—, and you enabled the candidate to own the code in her machine, the bonus point is them continuing the project on their own. Until recently I sometimes suggested they do it. Nowadays I don’t even suggest that. If they have a way to reach me, they can do it if they want. I certainly take it as the strongest sign of interest in the part of the candidate if, hours or even a couple of days later, they get in touch with the completed project.

Participating in Daily Standups

Purpose of Daily Standups

You should leave a daily standup:

  1. More energized than you entered it.
  2. Aligned to be in contact after the daily with anyone if your or their main task needs discussion.
  3. Remembering everyone’s update.

Things outside of Daily Standups that can ruin Daily Standups

  1. If team communicates 1-to-1 a lot and not on shared channels.
  2. If people are tackling too many things at the same time.
  3. All basic management deficiencies.

How to prepare for a Daily Standup

Half an hour before the Daily Standup, stop for 5 minutes and:

  1. Decide what is the one initiative you will mention.
  2. Write it down in your own words.
  3. Edit that down to 280 characters.
  4. Include expected time to finish task at the end.
  5. Say it aloud.
  6. Improve the wording or delivery until you have a clear and memorable update.

How to decide what to mention in a Daily Standup

By decreasing order:

  1. Task you are doing that is most problematic.
  2. Task you are doing that you know someone can help you with.
  3. Task that is going well.

How to listen well in Daily Standups

  1. Keep a log of Daily Standups and make notes of every update.
  2. Come back to that log half an hour after the daily and read it again.

Trusting the Scrum Master in Daily Standups

If each team member delivers their update clearly, nicely and concisely, the Scrum Master will have time to:

  1. Ask about important items that were not selected by the team.
  2. Raise questions.
  3. Ask about extraordinary additions to people’s update.
  4. Align people for pairing on issues raised.
  5. Use the extra time for having a bit of fun and enjoying the team before it gets back to work.