Emiliano Rodrigues, class of 2016

“I felt really welcomed and safe in the community, like I belonged there” 

Emiliano’s journey as a Paulean started the day he applied for the St. Paul’s Foundation Scholarship Programme. Born and raised in Uberlândia, Emiliano’s aim has always been to study overseas. Reading all about the IB, he knew it would be the best option for him, and it was when he found out about St. Paul’s and the scholarship programme, offered only for the IB Diploma at that time. He went through the scholarship admissions process and was offered a full scholarship for Lower and Upper Sixth. In 2014 he moved with his family to São Paulo and started attending the school.  

It’s been five years since Emiliano left school and, since then, he has achieved brilliant milestones, from a full scholarship at Stanford University to taking over as a product manager at Goldman Sachs in New York.  In this interview, he reminisces about his time at the school, and reflects on how much the opportunity at St. Paul’s helped him on his way to greater success. 

Tell us more about your experience as a St. Paul’s pupil. What was it like studying here? 

It was interesting, I got there at the beginning of the IB, so I remember that everyone was having the same experience of being introduced to what the IB is. I remember that in the first weeks, there were a lot of introductory meetings and get-togethers in the form room.  

I’d say things happened very naturally. The school does a very good job exposing you to all the opportunities that are available. Dr Hallinan and Ms Belmonte were always giving tips and mentioning things that were going on, and I was trying to do as much as I could, because I knew I had a limited time at the school. So every little opportunity that showed up, I’d tell myself to try it out and see what happens. 

With the subjects, I went towards things that I was already genuinely interested in. I knew that I wanted my major to be something engineering-related, so I chose physics and maths. At the same time, I knew I wanted to do English, and something Literature related, so I chose English Language and Portuguese Lit. It turned out to be fantastic. I also wanted a more artistic component there as well, so I ended up choosing music. Back in Uberlândia, I was at a conservatory, taking piano lessons, so I just thought of continuing that.  

You wanted to go for engineering but you also had that artistic side as well. 

The greatest thing about St. Paul’s, I remember when I got there, I was like: “Wow, there’s an art centre, there are actual art classes, visual arts, music, films…” It was so well developed and these were all interests that I had and that back in Uberlândia in the school I went to, classes like these weren’t offered, it wasn’t even a possibility. My previous school had a football field, but that was it.  

So, getting to St. Paul’s, and seeing they had all this infrastructure, I felt like: “oh, I have to do that”. Another thing I did, which was completely different, was economics. It was one of those subjects that I didn’t know anything about, but it sounded pretty interesting. I thought: “the world runs on money, so let me try and see what this is”. One of my great tutors at St. Paul’s was Mr Cooper Blanks. I did so many projects with him. All my involvement with entrepreneurship, such as a little start up I had with two other students, it was all through him. There was a lot of good stuff that came out of being part of economics and having Mr Cooper Blanks as a tutor. His class was also different. It was great to get that part of the St. Paul’s experience. He’s all about self-learning, so we’d all just sit at our computers and then we’d go through the videos he prepared, and that was the class. Whenever we were confused about something, then he’d go to the board and explain things, but it was very different. 

That experience with him was very important to me. Entrepreneurship and  creating things were all things I got, and I think were part of what Stanford saw in me. In the Upper 6th, I was leading the Social Entrepreneurship club with other people in the school, so that was a leadership opportunity at the end of the road as well. I was in swimming for a little bit too, that was great. It was more like my play time in school, but I still took advantage of that, and it was great with the pool downstairs. Iit was like “oh, I don’t need to go to a club”, which is what I’d have to do back home.  

I was in MUN (Model United Nations), another world I had no idea about, but at St. Paul’s, everyone’s just crazy about MUN, everyone loves it. There were the trips and I was very excited about that aspect of it as well. I thought MUN could look good on my CV and I’d also get to enjoy the trips. I didn’t get to go to The Netherlands, though. That was a trip I really wanted to go to, but I wasn’t prepared enough.  

I also took part in the Duke of Edinburgh Award. That was really nice, doing stuff outside was a completely different aspect of the learning experience, and it was my first trip like that, an exploratory trip. It was great seeing the support of my friends and the people that were with me in the trip, as well as getting to see that part of the country that I’d never explored. I think if anything, St. Paul’s and all these little things made me appreciate Brazil more, and made me realise how much we have in our own country. At the same time, it allowed me to discover different aspects of myself, what I’m capable of doing, both inside and outside the classroom. I think that St. Paul’s does really well the “whole education” experience, which I think doesn’t even cross the mind of other schools. 

You mentioned some teachers like Ms Belmonte and Mr Cooper Blanks. Do you remember other impactful teachers? 

I think all of them, they were all impactful in different ways. Ms Guimarães from the Portuguese department, I know she has left, but she was incredible with the way she taught literature and the way she was willing to have classes outside of the classroom. I see that as part of the IB format as well, of, you know, let’s read this book that we were supposed to read in class, but let’s also incorporate that experience into other things we’re doing. We were free to write essays or whatever we were working on with other interests that we had. I was and still am very passionate about philosophical and existential analysis of books and stories, and she’d always tell me to incorporate that into the analysis of the books I was reading. She was really great in both exposing us to Brazilian Literature that I don’t think we’d have known otherwise, but also showing us the importance of literature itself. She’d always say “Literatura é uma arte humanizadora” and that was the point that she kept coming back to: making yourself a better person and a better citizen through literature. 

You were one of the first scholars from the Foundation’s programme. What were the biggest challenges in adapting at St. Paul’s? Were you welcome from the start? 

I look back and think of myself back then, I’d never see anything as a challenge, to be super honest. I think I was just so anxious and ready to give my best, and do whatever it took to succeed at St. Paul’s, that I pretty much blocked out everything that wasn’t working.  

However, one thing that was challenging was the fact that I lived in Osasco, and I’d have a long commute before and after school.  

Some days I had a lot of work and I’d stay in school for extracurricular and enrichment until 7/8 pm and then I’d go back home, eat something, and then had homework to work on. So I had a lot of time commitments, because of everything I was doing at the same time, and time management was really tricky back then. 

I’d say that I also struggled a lot with music, because for all the other subjects, they were things I was kind of familiar with, a format I could understand and follow through. But for music, I lacked a lot of the background that the fellow pupils had, because most of them had been doing music ever since they started at St. Paul’s. So a lot of things that were beginner’s stuff, I didn’t know. I definitely had to put a lot of time and effort into catching up. Looking back, I can see how my development in that area suffered because that was the one thing I couldn’t do while doing everything else, it was my limit. 

I’d say that in terms of the community, the sense of belonging and all that, it’s just incredible how smooth it was. I remember being invited to people’s houses, parties. Everything that a sizable group of people was going to, I was always invited to. I felt really welcomed and safe in the community, like I belonged there. Some days, people would go and have lunch together, and obviously I couldn’t go because I couldn’t afford to go there, but those were very minor things. When it came to my day to day at the school, everyone was extremely welcoming and it was just quite natural. 

And all the hard work paid off, right? Because you then got a full scholarship in Stanford! What led you to this field of study? How do you think this has impacted your view of the world? 

Something else I did at St. Paul’s was robotics. My timetable was crazy. This was actually quite big; I’d spend a lot of hours over a couple of months in robotics. We had these LEGO robots, and our teacher was amazing. I remember we were preparing for this competition and that entire experience was an important window into computing and software, something I was already interested in even before I joined St. Paul’s. I became really passionate about programming the robots and this integration with the hardware aspect of it.  

I used to design websites before I joined St. Paul’s as well, so I had some experience with HTML and other programming stuff. Everything combined led me to computer science and, getting into college, it was pretty easy to decide on that field. My surprise was realising how right that decision was for me. 

I started as a developer and I loved building the actual code, but now my job position is a little bit different. I am a product manager now, so I’m thinking more about the strategic aspect of building a digital product: users, other stakeholders and combining their needs and really building something from that. Stanford was central to that, because they offered Design Thinking and had a really strong Design programme, teaching you to think about ideating and all those little things, of what is a story, what is the need to tell the story and how you tell an effective story. All that really permeates anything product or software-related where you’re trying to deliver a good user experience. 

Stanford had that and, at the same time, had a really strong computer science programme, where I honestly struggled a lot. The classes are really tough, the level of knowledge people come in with, especially people who already have software experience, is pretty high, so the things they demand are quite advanced. I had a lot to catch up on and CS ended up taking so much of time in college, but also because of that, I got so much experience that now I feel very comfortable with it and feel ready to do real things in the real world. 

What skills learned at St. Paul’s helped you in your university and work experience? 

I think the part I was talking about, entrepreneurship with Mr Cooper Blanks, that involved a lot of public speaking – presenting and formulating an idea, even the generative creative aspect. The genesis of it was with Mr Cooper Blanks and seeing other people around me doing it as well. 

On the more academic side, IB itself really prepared me for a rigorous course of work, for managing my time while at university and also finding time for myself as well, in the middle of all of that. I’d say those were the main skills, but the breadth of things I did at St. Paul’s allowed me to get to university and figure out what I’d focus on. Since I had the opportunity to do all those things before, I was able to focus on something specific. St. Paul’s was like my exploring phase and then Stanford was the “let me get really technical in this one thing” phase, and that’s what I did. 

And everything I’ve done, the breadth of experiences, also helped me prepare for my current less technical experience as well. That’s mostly from where I’m drawing the soft skills, thinking skills and knowledge I have to use creativity-wise, that Stanford and the CS major didn’t necessarily address directly. 

Photo: personal file

What kind of work are you doing currently? And what are your professional goals? 

Up until a month and a half ago, I was in software engineering, programming in JavaScript and React, just doing core programming work for a platform that the company has. My previous internships and stuff I had to do for university helped lead to that and it was a pretty smooth transition, but there was also a lot of learning on the spot, with technologies I’d never used before, for example. The team was very organised and I appreciated that a lot. They helped me understand things even better.  

To summarise, right now my work is a lot more user-centric and strategic about what we’re building and how we’re building it and coordinating all these pieces: business stakeholders, corporates, final clients, the engineers, the designers, and I’m sittingkind of in the heart of all of that, managing where the product is going to go. It is extremely exciting and very adult.  

We plan everything ahead – something we’re planning today has to be designed 3 weeks from now and will be presented to the execs 6 weeks from now and then will be developed 12 weeks from now, so everything has to be very coordinated. I was lucky because at Goldman we don’t have product management as a well-defined position yet, but at my team, we have a really solid foundation of products, so I’ve been very lucky to be a part of that and to be learning from that as well.  

What advice would you give to St. Paul’s pupils preparing for the IB?  

I’d also say to not stress over it, because you can take shortcuts here and there, and the path may be a little muddy, but you’re going to end up where you want to be and where you need to be. That’s what happened with me and I fully believe that this is what would happen to everyone. 

For me, it’s about goal-setting. Follow your passions and really do try to study what you’re interested in, but at the same time, try to come up with one thing that you want out of your St. Paul’s experience and one place you want to be after St. Paul’s. Then, you can start coordinating what you’re doing with that goal that you have. It’s the best way to think about it. 

Photo: personal file


Photo: personal file