“Science can amuse and fascinate us all, but it is engineering that changes the world.” —Isaac Asimov
If you’re a developer and UP42 user, chances are you’ve come across one of António Almeida’s blog posts or talked to him about webhooks and workflows. He is our numero uno when it comes to Customer Support and a relentless advocate on a mission to engage innovators like you with our platform. But who is António, really? And why is he a pillar for our company? Let’s find out in this interview.
When did you join UP42, and how did you become a tech advocate?
I joined UP42 in April 2019 as a technical evangelist. Initially, my role was to support customers. It was interesting to understand how they perceived the product. Your idea as an UP42 developer can be quite different from that of customers.
I studied mechanical engineering at the Instituto Superior Técnico in Lisbon, but I really wanted to be an electrical engineer. During my MS in Engineering, I focused more on its mechanics and structural side. Then I started my PhD but dropped out a few years later to tutor in math and physics. I moved to France, where I joined an e-commerce software company based on Drupal. When I moved to Berlin, I first worked for another e-commerce software company and then at an IoT company, where I had a chance to connect with things I used to do as a kid, like playing with hardware and building electronic projects.
When I saw the opportunity to join UP42, I thought it was the perfect match between development, programming and science, and I like that that’s still our goal.
Did you have a role model growing up?
My father always influenced me with his passion for doing stuff with his hands – metal working, DIY, having things around you and wondering, “how can I do this better?” You have to be an engineer to at least try to understand it.
I wasn’t very good at math, and I hated physics in the beginning, but I learned to love them. I had this conviction that as humans we need different methods to understand the world. Science and engineering are approaches that provide another perspective.
What does a tech evangelist do, exactly?
It goes back to the root of the word. People who evangelize are advocating for a product. The only way to be successful, though, is to do it honestly. For example, you should be upfront about the product’s flaws – there’s no such thing as a perfect product, and you should never oversell it. If users realize you’re trying to trick them, the trust is lost, and your connection with them is irreparable.
Maybe because I never officially became a teacher, I’m trying to be a teacher in a different way. I’ve always liked to explain things to people. You are forced to learn something well when you have to explain it. Otherwise, people will see that you don’t know it. That of a tech evangelist is a unique role; you can be a teacher, but don’t have to be in a class with all those rules…
What do you like the most about UP42?
There is the subatomic level of 19th – 20th-century physics, but we’re also going in the other direction, which is macroscale: EO satellites. It kind of closes the loop: from the smallest, tiniest thing to the biggest possible thing at our planet’s level. It’s also accessible not only to scientists but to everyone who’s interested. Science will always be a thing that’s done by the few for the results to be enjoyed by the many. UP42 is making that possible.
The culture we have in customer support also plays a big role. We’re eager to reach out to developers, regardless of their level of competence, and still, be able to engage with them. I’m just at the beginning of my “evangelism” role at UP42. I would like us to be perceived in the developer community as a serious company that really listens, not just to put something nice in their mission statement. This is the impact I’m trying to make – a serious and engaging approach.
What was your hardest challenge at UP42?
In 2020, a customer asked for a massive volume of data sets (DEMs, DSMs, etc.). We were at the beginning of the pandemic. We didn’t have any way to make 500 GB available in an expedited way. I was in lockdown at home, the internet was very unreliable, and I couldn’t just download the files on my machine and upload them, so we had to find a different solution using an SFTP server. That’s why I like customer support: that willingness to find a solution even if we don’t have it necessarily in the product roadmap.
What makes UP42 different from other companies you’ve worked with?
There’s this book called “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey Moore. It’s a B2C book, but you can adapt it to B2B. The idea is that there’s always a chasm you must cross to have a successful product with mass market adoption. The context in B2B is different, but you still have two mountains, side by side, and you need to jump over this gap. We are trying to appeal to innovators, people who stand out with new ways of doing things.
Before Google Maps, maps were a very niche thing that only certain companies needed, such as car navigation systems. Google made maps available for everyone. Any restaurant or shop is now on Google Maps to say, “hey, we’re here, come visit us.” Something that is very niche is now suddenly available to everyone.
This is also what I’m trying to do through my articles or when I interact with developers. You have to be “fresh” and write well-researched things that are not available anywhere else.
It’s certainly much more interesting than e-commerce. There are many ideas with a real impact on the planet. One time I was asked, “What makes you different from any mapping software?” I said that we always give developers a choice.
So what about your childhood dream of becoming an electrical engineer?
Well, I’m working on building a solar installation by myself – an autonomous energy system, because the energy situation is not going to improve. And since I currently work with satellites, it helps me understand things like angles of incidence, orientation, azimuth, etc. I am finally almost finished, after testing panels, batteries and inverter for two weeks. Being familiar with electricity matters also helps. I still like to build things with my dad, but we usually have a different approach: sometimes my ideas win, sometimes his ideas win.