I’m not exactly sure where I am. Let’s flip on the in-flight entertainment system in the back of the seat in front of me. “FlyLufthansa”. Touch. “Flight Information”. Touch. “Airshow”. Touch. Sweet, I’m nearly over Godthab, Greenland. Better Google Maps that one when I get home. Looks like I’m almost exactly half way from Vancouver to Frankfurt. Once I hit Frankfurt, it’s a 2-hour delay then a short hop to Berlin, just one hour.
A lot has happened between now and when I last wrote. The interview process began for me with about 40 job applications. I scoured the web: monster.de, jobpilot.com, stepstone.de. I applied to everything I could find that was even remotely applicable to what I did. Type in keyword: Java. Click search. After three weeks of this nearly daily activity, I happened across a few jobs that were promising. When I say promising, I mean they were written in English. As it turns out, my suspicions where correct. The odds of finding work with my skill set would be easy, however finding work with my lack of German skills, not so easy. I received dozens of responses, mostly something along the lines of (translated from German of course), “Thank you for your application to our company. We regret to inform you that although your skills are desirable we cannot offer you employment at this time. Best of luck in your search.” That started to get annoying. As someone that has been lucky enough to, in the past, have 6 job interviews in 7 days resulting in 5 offers, this is suboptimal.
I digress. Clearly something has gone right. I received my first good news from a recruiting firm in the UK that I applied for work through. I now had a new friend, Rick. Rick had an interesting opportunity for me in Hanover with an international tire company. The job was in English and better yet, they would put me up for 6-months in corporate housing for half-price rent, give me 2,000 Euros for moving expenses and pay for me to continue learning German. “Wow, I’m not sure it can get much better than this”, I thought. How wrong I was. Turns out the company (whose name I’m apparently not at liberty to reveal) has an IT department based in Charlotte, South Carolina. Er, okay. The phone interview I had with the Director of IT was, how can I say this politely, amusing. The technology was brutal. Ancient. I would be a yes man, a code monkey. More or less, that which I fear the most in a job. After some deft manoeuvres to delay a response to fly to Charlotte for a face to face meeting, Sabine was finally able to bring rationality back into my mind. I nearly took the offer, nearly. But after all, all the crap they were offering me just came down to money. Did I really need the money? Not really. Did I really want to live in Hanover? Not really (thank you to our German friends for warning me of Hanover). Fine, thanks Rick old chap, but no thanks.
After that first experience and close call, I became a bit more selective about the process. I screened my applications a bit more and started applying only to cities where I would want to live. The short list was, more or less: Cologne (where Sabine’s family is), Dusseldorf, Bonn, Aachen, Stuttgart, Munich, outside Frankfurt (not in Frankfurt itself), Hamburg and of course Berlin, which we had visited last year with great acclaim (just ask Sabine about Knut). A few more responses started coming in, in English no less. Things were looking up.
I took several phone interviews, some at odd hours of the day (see Sabine’s previous post on the 2:30am phone call). In the end, several companies said more or less the same thing that the others did on the phone. “We are very interested in your CV and your skills, but you must have better German. Please get back to us when you have better conversational German”. Fair enough. If I were to import somebody to work in my office from another country, I would expect them to speak the language of the office. Technology may be language neutral, but people aren’t.
So the search continued and I turned my attention to large, international companies. Oddly enough, I think I found the top 3 prospects on monster.de (thank you Yahoo! Babel Fish for the rough translations). The top 3 ended up being (in no particular order): Lycos Europe, Nokia Siemens Networks (a joint venture between, duh, Nokia and Siemens), and Nokia gate5 (a division of Nokia that make their mapping software).
Earlier this week I had a telephone interview with Lycos Europe. I had applied for a position as a Senior Software Developer, which is more or less the position I hold now. Much to my surprise (and perhaps to my shock) they wanted to interview me for a position as a Software Architect. To a lay person, this could probably be described as the different between, er, a construction worker and a foreman. More or less. The role sounded great. They have an interesting mix of technologies, a team in several geographic locations, a formal Architecture Team (something my current company could never really assemble). The only downside, it was in a small town called Gutersloh, smack between Dusseldorf and Hanover. According to our German friends (the same ones that said to avoid Hanover), this was another town to avoid. I’m taking that advice, but not completely to heart. The larger problem with this city is merely practical. Finding English speaking ex-pats or even locals is more difficult and Sabine finding decent work is also more difficult. Okay, this one is on hold.
Nokia Siemens Networks
I had a lovely conversation with one of the managers from Nokia Siemens Networks (hereby know as NSN). Thankfully he thought it was a good interview as well going so far as to tell me that this was in fact one of the best he’d had for this position. That’s rather promising considering I was half a world away. The job itself sounded just okay, but the thing that really kept me going was the fact that it was in Dusseldorf, which is right around the corner from Cologne and nicely positioned nearby Holland, Belgium, France and Luxembourg.
The job was, well, a bit managerial sounding. I would be a team lead and part-time architect for NSN’s Reporting product (NSN makes the software that runs the network’s back office application for large telcos like T-Mobile). The bad part was that I would not be working on the core development team. Instead I would be working directly with customers to customize applications suited to their needs. Not exactly glamorous work. It would be superb experience and an excellent challenge for me. It would be working for a great company and in a great city. So why the hesitation?
I drove down to Redmond, Washington for a face to face interview with some of the NSN staffers. Since T-Mobile is one of NSN’s major customers in the US, they just happen to have an office in Redmond. How convenient. The interview was of course quite good (in my humble opinion), and I suspect that this week they will make me an offer. The more we talked though, the more uncomfortable I found it. They hardly asked me any technical questions, yet they hounded me on how I would deal with angry customers and tight deadlines. That’s not a good sign (for me at least). When I turned the tables on them I found out a little bit more about the technology. From the sounds of it, we’re talking about technology that is easily 5 years old. Now although that is sometimes not an issue, it was beginning to sound like a legacy system ballooning out of control. They spoke of a cumbersome, slow changing, beurocratic environment too. Reminds me of my interview with HSBC years ago. That was so last week though.
Did I mention yet that yesterday marked 3-weeks to Sabine and my wedding? Well it’s true.
Right out of the gate (pun intended) this sounded like a pretty good gig. I applied at Nokia for no less than six positions in Berlin. I had no idea that Nokia had offices in Berlin, so I was pleasantly surprised to see so many jobs I could apply for there! A little background. Nokia bought a small company called gate5 a few years ago and integrated their mapping software into their handsets. Nokia gate5 is now responsible for the mapping software on the handset (I think) as well as the services that go on top of that.
And this is why I’m on a plane. Nokia gate5 has asked me to fly out to Berlin for some face-to-face interviews and meetings. I was flattered when it was suggested, but to be totally honest, I was a bit nervous too. That’s a lot of pressure to get things right!