Amazonian here! And random thoughts

I’m writing this post to prudly announce that I am now an Amazonian and will be for the next 6 months. This is an important moment for me as it marks my “membership” to the FAANG/Big Tech club. It took me two years of studying and prepping and grinding to go from rejections in Fall 2020 to receiving an offer in Fall 2021 and starting now in March 2022.

When I received the offer something in my brain just… clicked. It marked a shift in perspectives in my brain. In some sense, after I received this offer I just got into a new stage in my life because I managed to satisfy one of my fundamental needs, that is, being able to find a well-paying job in a company that I admire and in a field that I enjoy. I am a believer of the Pyramid of needs [1] theory and now I jumped to a higher level in such Pyramid.

The Pyramid has many different levels, the lowest ones being deficiency needs and the highest ones being growth needs. I have always been lucky enough to have my lower deficiency needs satisfied as my parents have always been able to provide me with food, water, shelter and emotional support. I wouldn’t have made it this far without my family’s support, and this includes also my extended family. As I grew up, I felt a lot of pressure on me as I proved myself of having great potential, but this along with my general awkardness coupled with the Italians’ envy and hate of success, meant that I had to work hard in order to understand the full extent of my strengths and weaknesses, and I struggled a lot when it came to self-esteem, fitting in and living up to people’s expectations. My initial low self-esteem coupled with my social awkwardness meant that for sure my esteem needs weren’t satisfied, along with some of the love and social belonging needs. I may even say that after I became an adult, even some of my safety needs needed to be worked on, as I felt the need to become fully independent as soon as possible, meanwhile I was working on bettering myself.

I will never be able to thank my mother enough for discovering AFS - Intercultura [2] and both of my parents - mum and dad - for being brave enough to let a clueless 14-year-old kid from Palermo apply for a scholarship for a high school exchange and for sending me to another country (France). I will also never be able to thank enough my host family in France for hosting me and giving me what was the biggest growth opportunity that I ever had in my life. I am sure that if I were to visit a couple of parallel universes, the ones where I would be ashamed of myself would be the ones where I did not take on that challenge. This experience helped me so much I have no words to describe it. During my year in France I had to face many small, medium and great challenges that helped me to build confidence in myself, to start to accept my weirdness for what it is, to deal with my introversy and thanks to two great teachers I had - my history teacher and most importantly, my maths one - I finally found a glimpse of what people would call “purpose”.

Becoming more extrovert and accepting myself made it easier to make friends (from the start), have relationships (to some extent) and build professional networks (over time). My self-acceptance and the resilience I found within me to win all challenges gave me a gigantic boost to my self-esteem: I went from zero-to-negative to a 100, and it only got better over time. All of these combined made it possible to go through hard times unscathed and to always bounce back harder, stronger and better. Having a glimpse of “purpose” helped me to start a currently 7-year-long and ever-continuing process to discover and find my morals, that I go by everyday. My french math teacher in particular was the first one who didn’t teach Maths per se, but he definitely taught me how to and why we Maths. I also discovered my passion for computer science, which after my last two years of high school was decisive in me going to study computer engineering as a bachelor’s and later computer science as a master. Who knows what I would’ve done if I didn’t go to France. Maybe I wouldn’t have discovered my nerdy passion for computers. Maybe I wouldn’t have built the persistence, resilience and courage that people today like to attribute to me.

The next big step in my life was when I started living along at 18, this time without any host family of some sort. I was on my own, but I chose to stay in my home country and moved to Turin. Tackling one challenge at a time, I guess. This was the time when I learnt how to be self sufficient. I learnt how to cook (to survive, but getting better now), how to clean, how to do the groceries, how to budget and so on. One defining moment was when I received an email telling me of the possibility to go to Shanghai for a year and half for a double degree. The email come on a Saturday during a long weekend that I was spending in Palermo, I had just gotten out of the shower, Dad was home and Mum was out. As I was drying my hair I read the email and this is the real quoted (yet translated) conversation between me and Dad:

“Dad, Politecnico’s asking me if I want to go to China” “Do you wanna go there?” “Yes” “Bye!”

China is worlds away from Italy for many different reasons - distance, timezone, culture, food… - but the fact that I already lived abroad and I was currently living on my own didn’t make this seem like a big step, just the next logical one. In China I was learning so many things, it was like being a child again: I had to learn a new etiquette, I had to learn how to eat with chopsticks, how to eat spicy food - and their spicy food is really spicy, even by Indian standards. It was the first time I was a minority in a country and the first time that I wasn’t living in a western republic. This gave me new perspectives and taught me the importance of values such as Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Association and just the Freedom that comes from security. It also made me realize the differences in lifestyles and cost of living and how well we have it in the West; even more so when I went to countries like Vietnam and Cambodia for a backpacking trip. Everyone should do a backpacking trip and probably 19-20 is the best age, since you are mature enough to be self reliant and young enough not to have too many responsibilities. Having to decide what to put in a backpack and living from hostel to hostel on a very low budget (part of the challenge we went for) in countries that you now nothing of, you don’t speak the local language nor do people from these countries speak any one of yours. Everything became a struggle. Taking a night bus where you travel like sardines for 20 hours, crossing disputed borders, bargaining for the price for souvenirs and food… I have many fond memories and will always be thankful to my friends Antonio, Matteo M. and Matteo C. for encouraging me to come with them. But when I was at the highest point ever in my life, as I was feeling invincible and unstoppable for the first time, I even thought for a moment that I wasn’t merely content with my life, but truely happy, or ven better felix as you would say in Latin, I had to suffer my first blowback that set me back hard and forced me to change my life plans, not because I wanted, but because I had to.

When covid first hit the world I was traveling in South East Asia and finally came back home from Bangkok with a last minute flight. My backpacking trip wasn’t even over and probably never will be. I couldn’t accept this at the time. But now, two years later, I am ok with that staying incomplete. It serves its purpose as a reminder that I always have to take the most out of the present as the future is unpredictable, and even more so as the time goes on. During the one year and a half I spent living with my parents again, as a 20- to 21-year-old already accostumed to living a long, I was going through hard times. The pandemic hit everyone equally hard, maybe some people more to some extent. During 2020 I lost my spark, for the first time since 2015. I lost my purpose. I lost my quotidianity. I lost my figure and gained weight. At some point, around a year ago I was the lowest I had ever been. I lost my joyful nature. I lost my smile. I even lost my will to live. I got scared of myself. I am happy that I didn’t take drastic actions and was able to tough it out, seeing where I am today. Now I can rationalize and see that I was that low because all of a suddent, the majority of my needs in the Pyramid weren’t satisfied anymore, and in some sense I was back to being my old self. I think I got a glimpse of the parallel universe where I didn’t go to France. It did not feel good. It felt awful. It felt terrible. I never wanna feel that way everr again. But when you are at your lowest, after you dropped the ball and it hit the ground, it can only bounce back up. Oh, and you bet that I did bounce back up. I bounced so hard I almost shattered the sky as I was on my way to cloud nine.

I bounced back slowly, but steady, and as time went on and as I achieved small objectives, I got back a piece of myself and in the end I was able to put all the pieces back in the puzzle. I was among the founders of a blockchain students’ team [3] at my university. This gave me purpose for a while, made me discover my passion for cryptography and allowed me to understand a ground breaking technology that is currently making the world a better and freer place. I started looking for a job in my field for the first time and was accepted into the biggest Italian community for STEM students, experts and industry leaders [4]. This community gave me a highly needed reality check and gave me back something that I lost: my motivation. It was at that point that two metal pieces were starting to stride against one another, my spark was finally coming back. LeadTheFuture put me in a situation where for the first time in many years I wasn’t the number one, not even number two or three. It extended my network allowing me to meet many different students and experts in different STEM fields all with great accomplishments that I could only dream of. When I got back to Palermo during covid, I was taken away from my small niche of high-achieving individuals who would all be strivng for success and share some common values, and I was put back in the traditional Italian culture were success is to be shamed and there is no such thing as hard work, merit or personal responsibility. I would be talking about ideas, thier implications and their results, but people would be more interested into just “having a good time”. I would be talking how I was working with BIT PoliTO, how I was looking for a job and how I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and become financially independent at 21, only to be mocked by my peers. It did not feel good. LeadTheFuture put me back in a network full of action-minded people, who were all ambitious and craving for success, all the while praising each other for our accomplishments. There is no jealousy in this community, only a group of people that want the best for each other and want to leave their mark in the world. BIT PoliTO did a very similar thing. It allowed me to experiment with some of the technologies I was studying and taught me skills like management, selecting people through interviews (which was super usefull when I was applying for jobs) and learning the advantages of a small, compact but hard-working team over a team full of people who do not contribute much to the great picture.

When I was applying formy third-year bachelor intership, I was contempt with the first offer I got. Big Italian company, with decent career prospects and it was in a field (computer security) that interested me, even though I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pursue it. After I joined LeadTheFuure and got to meet my mentor, my reality was shattered. I will always be thankful to him as he is always able to give me advice even though he’s arguably one of the busiest people I have ever met. He was a good source of inspiration and I will never foget he first scolding he gave me and taught me not to be content with what I had, but to continue to strive for more and to believe in my abilities. I didn’t know what Imposter syndrome [5] was at the time, but I was suffering from it without even realizing it. I started applying to all internships I could find from Big Tech companies in the world. I only got rejections, except from an offer from Huawei in Germany that I had to reject because of covid. All of the rejections plus the covid situation were what brought me to the lowest point in my life. I ended up taking on the internship that I first received the offer for, I did a great job and I finally saw what I was capable of. But I was wrong, I had just tapped into a small percentage of my potential.

A couple of weeks later, I received a scholarship for the SECCLO [6] program and this gave me much needed relief. Out of 4 university master’s applications, I got 2 rejections and 2 acceptances, one with a scholarship. For the first time in my life I was fully financially independent and I reached my objective of following my father’s footsteps. As I came to Finland, thanks in most part to the less strict covid restrictions and the great student culture that they have here, I was finally back to my highest point when it came to confidence, happiness and general satisfaction. It only went higher from here as I learnt from the past. I studied hard. I grinded. I applied to many internship positions, this time got two offers. I accepted the one for a Big Tech company. After I finished my call with Amazon where they gave me my offer, I was jumping, I was frenetic, I had no idea who to tell first. I had many people around me who encouraged me - my family, my mentor, my friends here in Finland - and I finally felt like I achieved something. This also made me realize that whatever happens in life, I will always be able to have financial stability and I am starting to make use of my potential. I still have a long way, but I can see now a clearer picture of my future. I am now going to Barcelona and later to Tartu (Estonia) and who knows where I’ll end up next. What I know now is that many of needs are satisfied, I finally have peace of mind and things will get better over time. Now I am into the growth needs, as I now look to inspire people to do better and to start building some sort of legacy for myself. I am also starting to feel the desire to have some geographical stability, to have a partner to share my experiences with and starting to build something lasting for the future. But for that, I am not ready yet. I am still a wanderer, looking for my place in the world. My 22-year-old self has many advantages over my younger selves: I have more life experience, more confidence and I know what I like and what I don’t. This is starting to show also in other aspects in life.

I can’t wait to start working for Amazon and to learn all kinds of techniques, best practices, business practices, Spanish and so much more. I can’t wait to go to a post-soviet state and learn what it has to teach me. I can’t wait to finish my studies and finally finding a place to settle down and maybe grow in the only one aspect of my life that I put on pause, but it has been on pause for too long, and finally satisfy my last desire before I go into the next step in my life. What a meteoric rise I had in the last few years, going from shy-insecure-awkward boy to confident, self-reliant and self-loving man. I wanna see what the future holds for me and I’m gonna make sure to be continuing taking advantage of all of the different situations I find myself in.

Writing this article/wssay was a cathartic experience that I definitely needed to do and helped me rationalize my thoughts and experiences up to now. 10/10 definitely recommended.

I would like to conclude my saying Grazie to my family, both close, extended and host family, to the friends I made during my Odyssey in Italy, France, China and Finland, to all of the people who invested some of their time in me and made me the person that I am now.

References [1] Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, From Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs [2] AFS Intercaltural Programs, afs.org [3] BIT PoliTO, bitpolito.it [4] LeadTheFuture, leadthefuture.tech [5] Imposter syndrome, From Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome [6] SECCLO, secclo.eu

Alessandro Chiarelli
Alessandro Chiarelli
Computer Engineering B.SC. | Digital Marketing | Developer | Cybersec

My research interests include Cybersecurity, Artificial Intelligence, Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain.