Tech Lead Alon Rotem relocated to The Netherlands to come work at Emakina. That’s a life decision with quite some impact. We were curious to learn about his experience, so of course we had a chat about all the details of his relocation to The Netherlands: from visa to housing and more.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Who are you, where you’re from and what do you do at Emakina?
My name is Alon. I was born in Israel, and lived there most of my life. In the past 11 years I have been living and working in Bulgaria. My wife is Bulgarian, and we have a 6 year old multilingual child. I have been in the tech industry since 1996, on a wide range of fields, companies and positions, mostly in software engineering. I moved with my family to the Netherlands, and into Emakina, at the end of May 2019.
My position at Emakina is Tech Lead. This title has different meanings in different companies. The main focus of the role here is to be technically responsible for a project and drive it forward by making technical and architectural decisions (software/solution architecture, that is).
Being an integral part of the development team, the Tech Lead also works closely with Project Managers, Product Owners and Business Analysts. Tech Leads at Emakina demonstrate both high technical skills, and good communication skills, in order to devise optimal technical solutions, pitch and explain them, and help deliver them firsthand in the best way possible.
During your application process, you lived in Bulgaria. How did you become aware of Emakina, and what did your application process look like?
A friend who lived in The Netherlands gave my LinkedIn profile to a recruiter at Emakina. After sending my CV, I connected with one of Emakina’s recruiters. She was the one who maintained contact with me throughout the entire process, forwarding bidirectional feedback between the company and me at every step. Her close involvement helped the hiring process a lot.
The next step was a technical interview via Skype with a fellow Tech Lead. This interview was followed by a thorough, comprehensive online technical assessment, after which, another Skype interview was conducted. This time to review and discuss every answer and solution I had given in the assessment.
After an interview with Olle de Zwart, the Head of Development, I was invited to visit the Emakina office in Amsterdam, to meet him, and one of the managing directors, in person. This interview was followed by an offer, which I gladly accepted.
One month before I started working, during an apartment-hunting trip to the Netherlands, I was invited to the Emakina office again. This time to attend a company party: a great opportunity to meet some of the colleagues. It also affirmed my positive impressions of the company, the office and the people.
You decided to relocate for your job. Why?
Working in the tech industry, while raising a small child, is not equal everywhere. We wanted to move our family to a place which appreciates and promotes a healthy work/life balance, good public infrastructure, a trustworthy healthcare system and a healthy lifestyle and also has good schools. The Netherlands is such a place.
I had relocated before, from Israel to Bulgaria (although that was self-relocation). I do tend to follow good opportunities whenever they come knocking on my door. The opportunity from Emakina came at the right time, with an option to move to the right place. I got a good impression of the office, the company, the people, the role and the offered conditions, so I decided this was not something I’d want to miss.
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How did you arrange housing in The Netherlands?
A friend, who recently relocated, recommended a real estate agency he had worked with. After a few consultations and research, we decided to target a few potential areas, and started following properties on sites such as Funda, Pararius and Vesteda.
A month before the move to the Netherlands, we flew in for a week of concentrated property hunting with the real estate agent. During this week, we were tightly following the property websites for any new listings, while sending and receiving options to and from the agency all the time. We visited as many houses as we possibly could, until we found the one we liked, in Haarlem.
The real estate market around the big cities in the Netherlands is blazing. Working with an agent was crucial, as he quickly understood what we were looking for, and helped us focus our search. Also, as the house we ended up renting, was not even listed online yet. We were the first people who got to see it, and quickly sign the contract (great places like that get rented very quickly). Of course, all the paperwork, and communications with the owner, were also handled by the real estate agency, which was very helpful for us.
As this was all handled one month in advance, when I arrived in The Netherlands (two days before I started working), the apartment was already signed for and fully ready to move into.
What was the visa application process like for you?
Emakina hired the services of Hillbrook, a company which specializes in immigration (among other things). Most of the process was done through email correspondence. I provided all the relevant documents, filled in all the forms, signed, scanned and sent.
Once all the documents were submitted and approved, they arranged a meeting for me at the Dutch embassy. There they collected my biometric data and took my passport for attaching the visa to it. A short while later, I was called to the embassy again to collect my passport and visa. The next stop was the immigration centre in Amsterdam for my local Dutch citizen service number (BSN) and residence permit.
Hillbrook coordinated, handled and took care of everything. It all passed smoothly and pleasantly.
You have a family, how did you ensure they are taken care off too?
My wife and child are both EU citizens, and do not require a visa nor a residence permit, for The Netherlands. They did, however, need BSN numbers, so they were included in the application process with Hillbrook.
This is in addition to all the other required procedures, like looking for the right school, opening a mutual local bank account et cetera.
What do you think of Emakina’s support in relocating to The Netherlands?
Emakina handled all the bureaucracy, visas, immigration procedures and flights to The Netherlands. In addition, they gave a one-time sum, to cover relocation expenses. This is good, because different people/families have different needs, and this “open” grant can be utilised to fit individual relocation requirements.
I think Emakina’s relocation approach is healthy, as they put their hands on, and fully handle, the “complicated” procedures, while other personal decisions and plans of the relocation are left for the relocating employee.
What was the biggest challenge for you in relocating to The Netherlands?
Eating a sandwich for lunch (kidding).
As much as The Netherlands is a great place to live in, any relocation is a challenge. The unfamiliarity of coming to a new place always brings a culture shock. Beside the trivial challenge of the Netherlands being a very different place from both Bulgaria and Israel (in terms of weather, the mentality of the people, the spoken language, and (yeah..) culinary habits), I think the greatest challenge is probably social.
I think no one can match or replace the close friends from my teenage years, and the older I get, I find it more difficult to make new true friends. Having said that, I do believe making friends is possible at any age. It may take some effort and a step out of my comfort zone every now and then.
How are you adjusting to the Dutch office life and culture?
Emakina’s office is quite comfortable and easy to get used to. And there’s a number of advantages which make it easier for a newcomer like me.
I have never worked in a more multicultural, international environment. Almost half of the employees are foreigners (from, literally, all over the world), which makes it especially interesting and diverse. Meeting the colleagues is also made easy. The open buffet daily lunch arrangement, where everyone sits and eats at a long shared table, helps me meet new people, talk to them and get to know them. The regular Friday afternoon drinks also helps achieve the same goal. Otherwise, it may be more difficult to meet people who don’t work in your team or on your floor. Having a social hangout on a daily/weekly basis, helps me find people with common interests.
Personally, one more thing I like about the office, is the fact that it has musical instruments. I can take a piano-break to clear my mind and hands, from sitting at the computer. This also already helped me team up with colleague-musicians, and even go play together in a rehearsal studio outside of work.
What surprised you most about The Netherlands when you moved here?
I have read opinionated articles about the reputation of Dutch people, being unfriendly and reserved. Although the definition of warmth and closeness is different from what I was used to from Bulgaria and Israel. In those countries people make connections more easily, both in and outside of work, and they will, as I often say, sometimes talk you to death. The truth is, so far I found the Dutch people to be extremely friendly, helpful, nice and open. I have experienced this everywhere. It’s also nice that nobody is trying to make money out of me, or cheat me, despite me being a foreigner. A refreshing feeling. 😊
I have also heard about the unfriendly weather. I guess it was good I came at the beginning of summer, where the days are very long and pleasant. So I got pretty good impressions about that too. I guess this will be spoiled when the winter comes, and I’ll be sorry I praised the weather so much.
What’s the best advice you can give to people who are considering moving to The Netherlands?
If you are considering a move, come visit The Netherlands to get an impression.
If you are already familiar with the Netherlands, and still want to come, go for it. It’s a great, pleasant place to live in, and easy to get used to.
And get a bicycle quickly. It’s fun, cheap, healthy, and the best means of transportation.
And a good umbrella!
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At Emakina, we’re always open to relocate the best tech talent out there. Together we will work on your personalized relocation plan. But first, you need to apply of course. Check out our current vacancies.