[Личный опыт] Professional emigration: how Amsterdam differs from Riga and Booking.com differs from a young startup

Under the heading personal experience in our blog, IT specialists share their impressions of working in large and not very foreign companies. We recently published a story about interviewing at Amazon and Microsoft, today Anton Korochinsky will talk about his experience at Booking.com and a growing startup, as well as life in Amsterdam and Riga. We give him the floor.

Hello everyone, my name is Anton, and today I will tell you about my experience of professional emigration, which has been going on for eight years. I must say right away that I did not think about anything like that at the start of my career, it was a natural development of events. Go!

Introduction: Taganrog, outsourcing and Odnoklassniki

It all started in my native Taganrog. I studied at the university, worked as a designer, but closer to the diploma I decided to find something in my specialty. So I got a job as a frontend in an outsourcing company.

During a year of work there, I realized that outsourcing and riveting of standard projects is not really my topic, and I thought about further career development. I didn’t want to leave Taganrog – there are friends, family, my own apartment. But it turned out that the companies I was interested in were in Moscow and St. Petersburg. In the capital, I interviewed in Yandex, and in St. Petersburg – in Odnoklassniki.

I had little experience, only a year, so Yandex did not hire me for a project that was interesting to me – the main page of a search engine. But they took me to Odnoklassniki, and I moved to St. Petersburg. Everything in the company was very cool in terms of technology and professional development, but somehow my relationships with colleagues and bosses did not work out for me. So about a year later, I decided to look for a new job and accidentally stumbled upon a vacancy on Booking.com. It turned out that the position in the Amsterdam office of the project.

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Moving to the Netherlands: relocation process, language barrier, first impressions

I sent my resume, and pretty quickly they answered that they would call. At that moment, I was actually scared – a couple of times when recruiters called me, I saw this Dutch number and just didn’t pick up the phone.

However, they somehow “put the squeeze on me”, I passed a Skype interview, then came to Amsterdam for full-time. I liked the city initially, I was a tourist there for a couple of days, but this time they made me an offer and gave me time to think. When I left the office, I looked around again, thought that I could really live here – and right on the steps of the office I wrote to the recruiters that I agreed. It turns out that two years passed from the start of a front-end career to moving to Amsterdam.

This is how it looked when I stood on the steps of the office and accepted the offer
This is how it looked when I stood on the steps of the office and accepted the offer

The relocation process itself was very simple for me as an employee. Booking covered all costs. I just sent all the documents, then flew to Moscow to the embassy to get visas, and I sent my things by a special company. In my case, the moving process took three months, but that was only because I had a wedding and I didn’t want to change the date. Otherwise, the company would have transported me in a month.

View from the Booking.com office terrace
View from the Booking.com office terrace

Upon arrival, I was provided with an apartment for a month and lift – this was just enough to hire a realtor who helped me find an apartment. I moved in 2013, then the situation on the real estate market was better than now, that is, it was easier to rent housing. As a result, in just a couple of weeks, I already drove into a new apartment – and my relocation bonus was enough even to pay the security deposit for housing. As a result, I settled in about 20 minutes walk from the office, and for many years walked to work.

Later I bought my home with a mortgage. This apartment was already outside the Amsterdam Moscow Ring Road, and began to ride a bicycle to work – it took about 25 minutes, by public transport it would be similar.

From the first difficulties – I had English at the most ordinary school / institute level. I thought about improving my skills when I found out about the upcoming interview in Booking. It is clear that in a couple of months of classes with the teacher, there was no serious progress. Already in the office, I could communicate, but in the first couple of months I did not understand a lot, given that many Englishmen and Americans worked at Booking at that time, that is, native speakers of English with different accents.

Therefore, I had to come up with a life hack – after each working discussion or meeting, I asked my colleagues to send me summaries of the conversation in writing by mail. They say that nothing should be forgotten for sure – but in fact, only in text form, I could finally understand the task! Of course, after a couple of months this problem went away, but at the beginning it was not easy.

As for the relationship in the office, everyone here was always positive, extremely polite, always ready to help, the first months I was really euphoric from being in the office. It seemed to me that every colleague is a real new friend of mine, whom you can always turn to. In Russia, of course, at work no one was rude to me and there were no tough situations, but in Odnoklassniki there were specialists who you yourself would not turn to once again – a person is always busy, thinks about important tasks, is not very happy to be distracted by you, etc. .P. In Booking, this was not at all.

How corporate culture affects developer development

Later, I realized that Booking had such a policy – when hiring, more attention was paid soft skills workers, not their technical skills (hard skills). This was explained by the fact that “we are not a software company”, and the main thing is to solve the user’s problem, and not write the most thoughtful and cool code in the world.

But I came and thought that now I would meet here a bunch of cool experts from whom I could learn. As a result, after a few months, the realization came that this would not work. Many of my colleagues were very pleasant but weak developers. The euphoria from the move began to pass at this very moment.

And not to say that I did not try to do something about this. At first, together with a couple of colleagues, I tried to promote some technical initiatives that could not only improve the product, but also pump the skills of engineers – a banal update of versions of languages, libraries, the introduction of a cove review. Neither other colleagues nor the management received much response.

In 6 years of life in Amsterdam, snow was covered only once
In 6 years of life in Amsterdam, snow was covered only once

As a result, I decided to try to work in the format that was expected of me – I was active within the framework of ordinary tasks, I communicated positively with everyone, participated in internal meetups, but did not go deep into engineering issues. It worked – at the end of the year they gave me an award, they praised me a lot, they even wanted to transfer from the middle to the senior category, but emotionally everything only got worse. I personally realized that I had not done anything useful in a year, and also received an award for this! In fact, I never joined the corporate culture of Booking, they valued other qualities, not those that seemed important to me as a developer.

I have never had any complaints about Amsterdam itself, it is a very good city in which I want to live. Holland is generally convenient – it seems to be on the outskirts of Europe, but from there it is very easy to travel both by car and by plane. My wife and I went somewhere every weekend, saw many countries and cities. But at the same time, the country is boring, and for six years of life it got a little fed up. Coupled with the gradual cooling of emotions towards the work itself, all this led to thoughts about trying something else.

Dickens Festival in Deventer
Dickens Festival in Deventer

From Amsterdam to Riga, from a corporation to a startup

At first, I went to interviews in Amsterdam, but it turned out that in the several years since my move, the situation on the labor market has not improved. Among the options were either some unreliable startups, or companies with a culture similar to Booking and an attitude towards hard skills. The only exception was Uber – all my friends from their office in Amsterdam were thrilled in terms of technology. But I also wanted to change the country, so I didn’t even bother to interview there.

As a result, I was called for an interview in the London office of Facebook, and at the same time the founders of the startup in which I work now contacted me. Faceook didn’t hire me, but during the interviews I realized that the approach there is generally similar to Booking and I didn’t want to go there myself, given that London is also a very expensive city. As for the startup, it is based in Riga, and the idea of ​​moving there initially did not inspire me at all – especially after I was there for an interview. So we agreed to try to work remotely.

As a result, I liked the product and the project so much that after the main work at Booking, I ran home to finally sit down and start writing normal code. When I caught myself thinking, I decided that I still need to completely switch to the project, since I like it so much. So I ended up in Riga and became only the third developer in a company that recently attracted investments.

How Latvia differs from the Netherlands: my impressions

Moving inside Europe is, of course, much easier than from Russia. It was before the pandemic, the borders were open, got into the car and pretty quickly you are already in another city and country.

In terms of infrastructure, mentality, living standards – for me Latvia is closer to Russia than to Holland. Riga is a nice nice city, it’s cheaper here with European salaries for developers, delicious food, but you can’t compare it with Amsterdam. Social and cultural life is not so active here either. That is, moving to Riga from Russia is cool, but from Amsterdam – the emotions are not the same.

In Latvia I enjoy nature the most
In Latvia I enjoy nature the most

But I am still very happy, because I moved for the sake of work and professional development, and I get all this here in full!

What to Remember When Relocating: 5 Practical Tips

In conclusion, I will tell you a little about my own mistakes and the mistakes of emigrants that I have seen, and I will give a couple of tips to help avoid them and get the most out of the new experience:

  • Collect as much information as possible about a future employer to avoid disappointment… I didn’t do it, in the end I tried to adapt to the wrong corporate culture for several years, and at the same time in the same city there was the same Uber, where the engineers worked exactly the way I wanted.

  • When moving to a large company, you will need to accept its rules of the game… One developer won’t change the culture, you have to fit in or leave – it took me several years to figure this out.

  • If you are afraid of too much change, you can start from the Baltics… The same Latvia is an excellent country, while the contrast in comparison with Russia is not as great as in the same Netherlands.

  • Think about what your spouse will do… I was lucky – my wife was still working remotely in Russia, so she had something to do after moving. But I saw with my own eyes how other people’s families collapsed, including due to the fact that, for example, the wife lost her entire social circle and job, did not fit into a new life, which led to a crisis in relations.

  • Do not consider the first city and first page as the last point of your trip… Everything is just beginning, you need to be ready for new challenges in order not to miss interesting opportunities.

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