From Vet Med to Engineering Canada’s FinTech Cloud | Outliers

6 min readAug 3, 2022

Welcome to Outliers, where we celebrate the rebels that are shaping emerging tech. We ask developers and engineers how they came into the tech space, what gets them excited, and what cool shit they’re building.

Meet Liana Filizola, a Cloud Infrastructure Engineer at Neo Financial, one of Canada’s fastest growing companies. Her journey into FinTech began in Brazil when she transitioned from studying vet med to working in the banking industry. Liana made the decision to start her career over in Canada in 2019. Today, she builds products that reimagine banking for Canadians and is a true outlier breaking ground in Canada’s FinTech space.

What do you do?

I work as a cloud infrastructure engineer, building the infrastructure for our services based on AWS cloud infrastructure.

How does your role fit into the overall vision of the company?

We are building new technology every day. It’s a very fast-paced environment, and working with the cloud really taps into that because it’s one of the ways that we can develop new things and make what we do scalable. There’s so much to learn about the cloud, just like there’s a lot to learn at Neo, and I like that those things go hand in hand when we’re trying to build something new and drive growth.

How did you get into fintech?

Actually, it took me a while to get into tech and see just how much I gravitated towards it. I grew up on a farm in Brazil, where I started my studies in veterinary medicine. I dropped out after two years because I realized that I was no fit for it — I was really good at the math side of it, anything statistics and computer-related. After that, I switched into engineering, and after I finished university, I worked in a bank, which brought me closer to FinTech. I was working with middleware, supporting customers who were using our mobile and browser applications. It was there that I started to discover a passion for using my skills to build solutions that help people. As a newcomer to Canada, it took some time to get started in my field, but now I get to explore that every day and I couldn’t be happier.

When did you first start coding?

I started to work a little bit with HTML when I was in high school. Even though it’s not a programming language, it made me curious about technology. For a long time my family didn’t have a computer, but when we got one I became the go-to person for everything computer-related, like setting up an Ethernet adapter, or helping with the classic “the printer isn’t working!” I also did some JavaScript courses before starting my engineering program.

When did you get started as an engineer?

When I was still in Brazil, I did a 5 year bachelor’s in production engineering, which was useful and gave me strong foundations when it came to understanding protocols and the business side of things, but I wanted something more specific to tech. While I was working different jobs in the service industry after I first came to Canada, I knew I wanted to follow my passion and so I started a computer programming course.

What made you want to work at Neo Financial?

I was working in Winnipeg and a friend of mine who worked at Neo had great things to say about the company and how much he was learning, so I applied and moved to Calgary once I got the job. Neo is very different from the bank I worked for before, and I was really excited about the fast-paced environment, how you get to learn something new and then apply it quickly. In legacy companies, the infrastructure and process moves much slower because you have to go through many layers of approval for everything, and even small changes can take weeks. At Neo, we can make dozens of changes in a day. The way we’re building new things all the time to give our customers flexibility is something that I really aligned with.

What are you building at Neo?

Cloud engineering covers a lot of different ground. When the other software teams need a new service or infrastructure, they reach out to my team to build whatever they need. We also deal with network issues, particularly expansion and keeping things secure. Cloud infrastructure is an entire world, and there are so many different paths within that field. I love getting to try out lots of different things.

What’s the most exciting part of what you do?

It’s like magic to be able to code a couple of lines and that puts up a new service or server, and the customer is able to use that soon after. It’s impressive how fast infrastructure can be built nowadays — it’s not a Jurassic process anymore.

What sets your work apart from similar roles at a non-startup?

It’s the freedom to test different tools, different services, which I wouldn’t be able to do in a more traditional environment. Neo is also a very creative environment — you get to have a lot of discussions with your peers, you come up with new ideas, and people embrace that by giving you all the tools and support that you need. It’s very rewarding.

How do you stay up to date with the latest technologies?

I follow a lot of different blogs on Medium, but since I use AWS, I find the AWS blog super helpful for keeping informed about the latest changes and developments. We also have a Slack integration that receives the latest news released by AWS. At work, we have a lot of discussions about whether or not we can use something and test things out. I also code in my own time, which lets me play around with new tech.

How has working at a startup helped you grow as an engineer?

More than anything, it gave me a lot of new skills that I didn’t get to grow in the environments I’ve been in previously. At a startup, if you do something wrong, it’s okay, because we believe in failing fast. We know that failing is okay because it’s part of the process — you just get back on your feet and try again. Of course, you have to take responsibility for mistakes and work with your team, but that flexibility lets you try new things and discover new ways forward.

What has helped you grow in emerging tech?

I learn so much from the people around me. I’m in a very collaborative environment where people are really excited to learn. Neo has lots of Lunch and Learns where a team can present the technology or project that they’re working on and expand that knowledge. When we share knowledge, we are encouraged to use it, which makes us really flexible when it comes to finding a solution to a problem, because the answer can come from anywhere.

What advice would you give your early self about building a career in tech?

I would tell myself to trust myself. My path was outside the norm which caused some self-doubt. It can be intimidating to start on something when the people around you have way more experience than you do. But I leaned into the skills I did have. I’m a good listener and I’m collaborative, and even when I still need to learn something, those are the things that set me up for success.

What has been the most impactful decision of your career?

Definitely moving to Canada. I basically had to start over and didn’t get started in tech right away — my first job was as a cashier, and I worked delivering food for a while. It’s made me who I am today, and gave me the skills I needed to start my tech career in Canada, and now I really love where I am.

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