About me – the story of my life


I am Brazilian, born in Rio de Janeiro and raised in Porto Alegre, south of Brazil. I currently live in Silicon Valley, California.

I was born premature – 7 months – and according to my mom I could fit on the palm of a hand – not sure why I can’t remember that.
In consequence, I was the shortest of my friends for many years.

Since I was 3, my hobby was reading and writing – except that from my 8th to my 16th birthday I loved playing video-games, playing instruments and playing outside with my best friend.

When I was around 10, I was introduced to my brother’s IBM computer, running commands to start up games in those 5 1/4 floppy disks – like the one of the frog crossing the street.

When I was 12, I started appreciating music and instruments – from tambourine, to acoustic guitar, to drums, to bass, to electric guitar, to keyboard and then to violin.

Switching topics, in Brazil you decide your “major” before you join college, not during the first semesters while you’re already studying. Thus, you need to be sure you know what you want before applying for any school.

Before applying for college, I concluded that knowing a second language would be ideal.
(In case you still don’t know, in Brazil we only speak Portuguese)
Although I wanted to learn English better, my mom convinced me that Spanish would be the best option. Universities in Brazil require that you pass an exam of several disciplines in order to get in, and Languages is one of them. I started my Spanish classes right away and kept learning English by myself, so when I had to take the Languages test, my Spanish would be sharp.

When I was 15, during my last year of high school, I struggled about which course – meaning “major” – to take in college: Music, Industrial Design, or Computer Science. I was stuck between something very artistic and something totally scientific and analytic. Following my parents’ direction, it made sense to keep studying music (theory and practice) by myself along the years, and go to school to focus on something that would give me a future – and everybody talked about computers like they were the future.

When I turned 16, I started my BS in Computer Science at “Pontificia Universidade Catolica do RS” – I finally decided.
As a side note, remember the Spanish classes I took to prep for the exam to get into college? It was a 3 year course! But when I applied for that exam I was notified that English was the mandatory language in the exam for the Computer Science courses. My thought after that? “I hate Spanish! What a waste of time!”

Computer Science was supposed to be a 4.5 year course, but easily turned into 8 years for me since I decided to take fewer classes per semester. At that time I was dedicating more time to our church and was also participating in the church band. For some time I led the Wednesday and Friday worship during the services. I had a clear understanding that this was an important period in my life, and that life was not all about college. I really learned during this period and had a great experience understanding more about God and also feeling Him.
I was also able to use music to teach kids and to play in hospitals a few years later. Knowledge can be used in various and powerful ways, but you rarely know that at the time you learn something.
Around that same time I developed a passion for the film industry and started reading books on Film Production, thinking that maybe I could do a career change some time in the future – as you’re reading this I assure you that didn’t happen.

In the early 2000’s I started taking TaeKwonDo classes and developed a great sense for martial arts. I had to stop after an injury in my left foot during a tournament (I started it again years later, but it lasted just a few months. It was difficult to find enough time to dedicate to it. My next step is learning Krav Maga some time soon… and that’s the 4th year I’m saying “soon.”)

During that same period I started using English on the Internet whenever and however I could, asking people to correct me and not being afraid of committing mistakes.
That gave me wonderful new friends from different parts of the World.
In 2004, I made 2 friends from Greece – an archaeologist and a geologist – who quickly started giving me some tips on Greek; and I started loving that language.
During that time I started memorizing things just for fun. I began with a few words and numbers, and then was able to memorize dozens of pages. That ended up being very useful today. (I actually recall memorizing the Periodic Table with a friend during the 8th grade to play games during class break)

In 2005 I started reading more about ancient Egypt, Greek mythology and general History. From that point on I started loving archaeology and ancient languages, and then started studying ancient Greek and Hebrew so I could read the original texts of the Bible (and gave up on Latin after finding out it wasn’t the original language). Once again I thought I could one day do a career change to become an archaeologist – that also didn’t happen so far – I was VERY bad at History before college.

In 2006 I finished Computer Science and was ready to move to the next step: study Theology.
During that year I read many books about other religions, and got to read their own books as well, and that was one of the triggers to point me to Theology, not the opposite.
I was already too much into science and academia, and didn’t want to just go to a seminary. I didn’t want to study the Bible like it’s taught in churches, but I wanted to understand the reason behind all things, and in details – not that it was possible, but my curiosity was increasing each day.

Therefore, I moved to Curitiba in 2007 to study Theology in a school that was recognized as one of the best in that topic, academically speaking – and maybe liberal enough to some conservative people.
That was as 4 year bachelor’s course focused on history, psychology, philosophy, geography, leadership, and we also studied all books of the Bible with a scientific eye without removing the essence of spirituality; we also went through other religions and different school of thoughts.
I chose my “minor” in Exegesis, which is the interpretation of ancient texts – in this case, in Greek and Hebrew… and no, no Latin.

Still in 2007, I started dating the most amazing person I’ve ever met who is now my wife for 5 years, and who gives me support beyond any expectations.
She’s a loving Argentine girl, and quickly transformed me from “disgusting Spanish” to thanking everyday for the classes I once took – although we speak to each other mostly in Portuguese, in which she has no accent at all.

In 2009 I started researching more about science for some events I was promoting at the church, and developed a passion for neuroscience, psychology, DNA, nanotechnology, and latest science discoveries. My questions were: should I get my Masters in Genetics, or Archaeology, or Nanotechnology, or Languages, or Artificial Intelligence?

I occasionally preached in the church during the years I was studying Theology, but in 2010 I became the youth leader/pastor for a year, working to drive them all toward the same goals while coaching other leaders. I had the opportunity of teaching the Bible at our Sunday schools as well.
All of that was a good exercise to understand that people think, feel, see and understand differently, and that many times it’s not a question of right or wrong, but different problems, in different levels, from different perspectives.

From time to time I decided to start learning a different language without going much further, but that gave me a good basis to understand differences in culture and expression. I studied Greek, Hebrew, German, Italian, Arabic and Russian by myself – and have forgotten already many things. I still dream of the day I’ll know at least 10 languages and speak just like a native person does (judge me later… let me dream first)

From 2011, my life started to get crazy(er) – in all senses.
My wife and I got married in the beginning of the year: +1!
I started learning about entrepreneurship and started working in an idea of a startup: +1 … during our first year of marriage: -1.
I decided to switch to a multinational company in 2011 (Volvo) when I was still in Brazil, so I could strengthen my English and come to the US anytime soon.
That worked out; 10 months later I was living in New Jersey and working in Manhattan.
From that point on (in 2012) I focused on product development, product architecture, startups, entrepreneurship, product management, etc. (I also added MBA to the questions about what I should do)
I also had to deal with how to be an employee, an entrepreneur, and a husband, in a new country, new life, and new culture – no friends, no savings, no one to recommend you for anything because nobody knows you yet.
I can say I failed greatly trying to balance all that. I’m still learning and failing many times though, but I grew like I never did before.

My dad influenced me on being rational, respect others, and having multiple skills. He’s awesomely good with math, history and science – and other crazy stuff.
My mom influenced me on loving and caring about others, using my creative side and being more emotional. She taught me to read and write when I was 3. I was left-handed and she also taught me to use the right hand too – she says she thought it could be useful someday.

I’d say that all of that explains why I’m just a freaking lover of science, math, languages, music, martial arts, technology, history, archaeology, psychology, business, neuroscience, and others.
Am I really good in all these things? Of course not! I try my best in everything I do and all I study anyway.
Do I regret not having focused on one only thing? Not at all. Maybe that helped me better connect to people and to the World.
Will that give me a decent job in the future? Well, who knows what future holds for us?

Thiago Jakob


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