After the first job offer I had fell through, I was trying to not get my hopes up for the 2nd job offer. I told myself I wouldn’t get excited about the new job until I actually started working. Well I’ve recently started working for my new company so I guess I can finally say I have a job.
Information Technology, just like any field, has specializations. In medicine, you wouldn’t expect your general family doctor to be a brain surgeon and you wouldn’t expect a brain surgeon to deliver a baby. IT is much the same. There are desktop support people that troubleshoot physical problems with your computer and some software issues. There are programmers that write software (and here there are a lot of variations as well). You have network engineers that plan, build, and maintain networks inside of and between offices. IT security experts work to make sure those networks and computers remain secure. There are VoIP specialists, wireless specialists, database specialists, Linux specialists, Virtualization specialists and on and on. Each one of these paths can be highly focused and specialized. To stick with the medical analogy, the engineer position I have is similar to a general practitioner. I have Tier 1 support people helping me. Anything they can’t fix, they send to me. If I can’t fix it or it’s something I don’t have the power to fix, I send it onto a specific specialist.
Working in a large company with an established IT department is really strange for me. It’s something I’ve never experienced before. At my last job, I was the only IT guy for a bit. Then there were only three of us and so we all did a little of everything. Now I find myself having to put in tickets for the network engineers to pick up, or the database guys, or the software engineers. I’ll admit it’s a little sad not being the king of the network again, but it’s really great having a large team with a variety of specialties to help you and to bounce ideas off of. I’m really excited about what I can learn here. There’s also the possibility that I start to specialize in something too. I’m looking at going down the networking route, but virtualization is really attractive too.
My first day was really interesting. I got dressed up and went down to work. I left extra early and kept a stopwatch timer of how long it took me at a leisurely pace to get to work. 35minutes. I walk in and the HR intern is the first one who I speak to. She wanted to take me around the office and introduce me to all the departments. We did that and the reaction from everyone was the same “Holy crap! We have a dedicated IT guy in the building? Thank god!” I felt like I should have been jumping out a birthday cake, or had a bow on or something. It started to get a little unsettling after a bit. It was clear the office desperately needed someone to manage the IT issues on site. The main office for the company is in the US, so the IT people there didn’t come into the office until mid-afternoon for the people working in Germany. It was only when we got back to my desk and I opened my email did I see an message from the VP of the company: “Don’t tell anyone in Berlin there is an IT guy on site. We want him to get comfortable with the systems and people before everyone knows who he is and starts coming up to his desk to ask for things.”
Luckily for me, I think I was introduced to people before they had their first cup of coffee, so I didn’t get very many walk-ins. The week was still stressful though. I joined the company right as they are gearing up for some big in-house moves. My first few days were spent helping set up 50 computers downstairs for a new move. Each computer had to be unpacked, cables ran from the walls to the desks, the computers connected, and then imaged.
Perhaps the most stressful part of my job is working with network cables and switches. It often feels very much like you’re working with bombs. If you pull the wrong cable, or trip over the power cord, or knock something over, you could take down the internet connection for the entire office and cost the company thousands upon thousands of dollars. At one point I had to climb behind a networking rack to install some switches. I took a picture of what it looked like looking down. I always had to look twice before moving any part of my body, and when I did, I had to move slowly and carefully so as not to accidentally catch myself on a cable and rip it out of the socket.
Besides just the actual technical aspects of the job, the work environment is really interesting. Just about everyone in my office, about 100 people, is under the age of 40, with the majority of people being in their 20’s. They’re all young and beautiful and speak three languages. (At least it feels like it to me) The office is highly international. There are Americans, Germans, French, Dutch, Chinese, Italians, Columbians, Russians, Spaniards, Australians, Irish, you name it. Everyone speaks English since it’s the business language, but you’ll often hear a handful of languages as you walk down the hall.
The atmosphere of business life is also drastically more casual than what I’m used to in the US. In the US it was always very constricting. You had to be dressed professionally at all times. You had to clock in and clock out so you could be tracked. Breaks and vacation were discouraged. You must pay for your work uniform from your own paycheck, etc.
Here everything is different.
People here seem a lot more relaxed and friendly about work. What matters is if you get your work done, not that you have a tie on or that you be in your seat at exactly 9am sharp. If you don’t physically interact with customers, people show up in jeans and a sweater and aren’t looked down upon. As long as I cover the core hours of between 10 and 4, it doesn’t really matter if I show up and work 8-5 or 9-6. I can take my hour lunch pretty much whenever. Someone even brought their dog into work one day. Once a week the office sets out a large fresh fruit breakfast for all employees to help themselves to. There are even snack cabinets regularly stocked with all types of snacks that employees can help themselves to whenever they want.
Perhaps the biggest difference I’ve noticed between working in the US and working in Germany is how time off is treated. In the US I had 3 paid days off per year. I earned time off at the rate of 1 day for every month of work. In Germany, the bare minimum required by law is 21 days paid time off.
The people here are serious about taking that time off too. In the US I always felt this guilt about time off, like it was something they formally gave you, but that there was this unspoken feeling of “Really? You’re really going to be lazy and actually ask the company to pay you to do nothing?” I’ve heard people in the US proudly brag that they had not taken a vacation in years! I think that’s disgusting (and so too do people here.) There very much seems to be an understanding that you work to live, not live to work. You’re not going to be guilted about asking for time off. You can call in sick for up to 2 days in a row before you have to bring in a doctor’s note. Nobody’s going to automatically question you.
Once you’re also past your probationary period at a job in Germany, it’s very hard to fire you. Yeah this might make it more difficult to get rid of under performing employees, but it also provides a lot more security to all employees. In the US you could be fired at any movement for just about any reason. This meant you were constantly in fear of losing your job and being unable to pay your rent that month.
I always felt something like a slave while working in the US. Almost no time off, no trust to manage myself like an adult, requirements on how I dress, zero benefits, and the constant possibility that I could lose my livelihood at any second.
I’m really enjoying the healthier work/life balance here in Germany. It definitely feels more carrot and less stick.