[This interview was originally published in the first blog of Italians in DC.]
By Grace Orfila
Italians in DC is proud to count among its members Luca Passani, Chief Technology Officer at Scientiamobile in Reston.
For those of us who had the pleasure to attend the recent IDC professional networking event sponsored by Confindustria held at 1776, you will remember that Luca was one of our local presenters!
IDC: Luca, how did you end-up living and working in DC Metro Area?
LP: It all started in February 2010. I was at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. I was speaking to a US Venture Capitalist I had known for some time about all the things that kept me busy and that, in my opinion, might have intrigued him. “Luca, you always tell me about all of these nice things, but then you keep living in Italy. The food….the wine…Move to the US and then we can start talking seriously”. That was his reaction and that triggered it for me. Two days later my wife Tatiana picked me up at the airport in Rome. I asked her: “If I did all I could to start a company in the US and move there, would you support it?”. She said yes. And that was it. One and a half years, and a lot of ups and downs, later, Tatiana, my 5 year old son Leonardo and I disembarked at Dulles International with visas in our three passports. We were ready for our new American life. My two American co-founders (Krishna and Steve), an investor (not the one in Barcelona!) and USCIS (the Citizen and Immigration Services) believed in my plan of creating a start-up in Virginia and supported this. That was a defining moment in my life and the life of my family.
IDC: How was USCIS involved?
LP: Well, USCIS had a big role. I needed to move to the US in order to run the company, and you need a worker visa to do that. I have a little story to share here. Cary Devorsetz, my US lawyer, had helped me file my visa application. I had applied for a visa that is normally given to experts in certain fields of sports and science. As the inventor of a venerable piece of software called WURFL I qualified for that. In summer 2011, my company petitioned USCIS for my visa. Cary provided me a link to the USCIS website. He explained that I would be able to check there whether my petition had been accepted or denied, before any other notifications that we might receive. I had gone into the habit of checking the link once or twice per day. Casually. I believe that, for some weird reason, subconsciously I expected that that page would say ‘in progress’ for ever. On a hot Roman September day, that page looked different. Greener. I had to pause for a few seconds. My petition had been approved. I stayed calm, but I had been touched. I called Tatiana and gave her the news. She was surprised to see that I had tears in my eyes. All at once, I realized what had just happened. I had told America “I am cool. I can start a successful company in the US. Let me come there”. And America had replied. “I believe you, Luca. Come here. Show me what you can do”. That was enough to make a grown man cry.
IDC: Your company, Scientiamobile is based in Virginia. We also heard that you run operations in Italy. With a young company and a young family, I imagine you are almost always on the go! When you do have free time, what activities do you enjoy?
LP: You have a point there. My days are busy. This is slavery, except that I have no one else to blame for it but me (laughs). Jokes apart, I do hit the fitness center at times. This is important to support my body and my brain. I also make sure that a minimum guaranteed amount of time is reserved for the family in the weekend. I spend about one hour each Sunday to teach Leonardo how to write in Italian. One side effect of the awesome schools in Loudoun county is that teachers will make English the primary language of foreign kids, and I happen to think that it would be a pity if my son was not bilingual in the big global village. Apart from that, yes, my days start at 7AM, when I get online from home in order to overlap as much as possible with an engineering team we have in Milan, 6 hours ahead of the US east coast. Finding engineering talent in the US is tough. Demand for developers is very high. Outsourcing part of our development to Europe, and Italy in particular, was a good idea for us and one that other US software companies should probably consider. My workday ends at around 7PM. Such long working hours are only sustainable thanks to Tatiana, who takes care of the house and the family most of the day.
IDC: Italians take good food and drink very seriously. If you had to choose, what would be on the table for your perfect meal?
LP: I cannot contradict you much there. To be Italian, I don’t take food super-seriously, but by American standards I probably do. I normally avoid US style pizza, unless I’m incredibly hungry. Once, shortly after we had moved to the US, I took the family to an Italian restaurant in Georgetown, one that was supposed to have authentic Italian pizza. We were disappointed. In the car, on the way back, Leonardo uttered “Mi avete imbrogliato! In America non c’e’ la pizza!” (You cheaters fooled me! There’s no pizza in the US!). In Italy, when kids speak candidly, we call it the voice of innocence. That was the signal I had to do something about it and it was the beginning of a quest for the recipe of authentic Italian pizza. A few weeks, and several trial and errors later, the magic happened. Thanks to my KitchenAid, long raising times, and a couple of firestones strategically placed in the BBQ grill on the balcony, the magic happened. I was able to create thin and crispy pizzas that bring my Italian friends working at the Italian embassy in DC all the way to Ashburn, to enjoy the prodigy with us.
IDC: You did not answer my question. What would be on the table for your perfect meal?
LP: Ooops. You are right. Well. I love steaks. In addition to pizza, the grill will often host one steak or two. There’s certainly no shortage of great steaks in the US.
IDC: If you could have a superpower, what would it be and why?
LP: Wow. That’s a hard question. I would first need to decide if I was to use the superpower for personal benefit or to the advantage of others. OK. Hold on. I think I got it. I would like to be able to get people to always agree with one another and cooperate. I could use that for my own advantage certainly, but after a period of practice, I would help bring peace to the Middle East….