by Filip Ryba
When I first came to Grape Up, almost two years ago, I could hardly say I did not know what to expect. The kind of work I was to be doing was known to me, as was the location. Still, I felt anxious about going over the pond and spending almost three months in a peaceful Chicago suburb. Another challenge – working with people with whom I seemingly had little in common, apart from the knowledge of the tech and language. I was kind of obsessed with those tiny details that set the American and European cultures apart – so similar, yet so different. But let me get back to where the story started.
In the first half of 2017, I happened to be looking for a different job, just when Grape Up tried to reach me. An inconspicuous e-mail, detailing a work opportunity in the United States, for a period of time, possibly in an Illinois or Texas location, appeared somehow in my inbox. I decided to bite the bullet, well knowing myself as a not-so-adventurous person – apparently, the more I thought about the implications of going abroad for a fairly long time, the more I hesitated. So, the decision was a quick one – still, I wish I knew things back then that I now do.
Because of that, to clarify matters for anybody pondering about working with Grape Up as a contractor programmer here is a little guide, which I modeled after a typical FAQ. This should be a good start – if any questions arise, do not hesitate to contact us!
Can you tell me more about the job you got?
I have been working for a big insurance company, perhaps the second largest of its kind in the US by revenue. By all means, this could be likened to working in a Polish branch of a corporation, but the work culture is quite different from what you could get in the country of my residence.
Was your job interview anyhow different from the usual?
I would say it was as good as any interview I have been to, save for one thing. Since I would be working in pairs (a very common practice in teams adhering to extreme programming), I had a short call with a technical person from the US company. I was presented with a problem, and we then tried to alternatively write tests and implementations together – the purpose was to have a quick outlook on how I would find myself in the new environment, and also for me to get a gist of how pair coding looks like. This might seem unusual at the beginning – try not to let it intimidate you!
Was getting to the USA hard?
I found the process of obtaining the necessary visa daunting. First, the ancient form on the US Embassy’s website (watch out for mistakes), then waiting for the appointment and finally getting into the queue at the Consulate. I cannot say that I did not enjoy getting that sticker in my passport – it made me proud! Apart from that, the flight itself and resulting jet lag can be physically challenging for some (myself included). Still, once that initial fatigue subsided, America was all mine to enjoy.
What did your usual day look like?
For the morning routine, we would usually drive or walk to work (had we been fortunate enough to live downtown), attend a group standup at 8AM, have a team stand-up shortly afterward and then have a complimentary breakfast, provided by our company. After working for a bit, we would head for lunch at 12 (lots of options, regardless of the location). Informal breaks also happen, more or less frequently – ping-pong and Mario Kart are among popular leisure activities in the US workplace. Workday would end at 5PM with some exceptions, such as “summer hours” on Fridays, in which case we could go home a little earlier. Still, all of this varies from company to company, and even from location to location.
What about the projects?
I happened to work on-and-off with various product teams. The projects spanned internal enterprises, such as data buses, as well as front-facing customer applications, like video chatrooms and remote consulting services. Worth noting is the fact that I have always felt like an important part of a team – little difference was being made between people working as contractors and full-time employees.
How did you find the people there?
Whether you are headed for America or otherwise, you may be in a culture shock. In America, they may seem unusually nice, in other places, to the contrary, somewhat uptight. Either way, unhelpful and rude people are a surprisingly rare occurrence. Some of them were externals, like me and we had little problem finding common ground – regardless, cultural discrepancies are a fun topic to chit-chat about.
What’s there to do in the time after?
Speaking of Chicago, depending on the closeness to the city center, there’s a lot to do or even more. Museums are abounding, as are clubs. Try eating something different every day! In the suburbs, some local Asian restaurants are well worth paying a visit. Apart from that, you may want to save some of your planned leave for visiting the other cities or sights after your assignment is completed.
Is food in the US really as unhealthy as it gets?
Depends on what you are having, of course. There are plenty of decently healthy options to choose from but finding them requires a little effort. It’s easy to end up eating junk food every day, because of the convenience, so watch your carbs while you are there.
Was there anything you felt uncomfortable with?
The 9-hour working day with an hourly lunch break takes some time to get used to. American cities are vast and half an hour drives to the nearest Wal-Mart are not uncommon while living in the suburbs. Downtown, on the other hand, while offering a lot of services within walking distance is very loud and lively – I certainly did not expect being woken up to car sirens at 2:00 in the morning on the weekends!
To sum it up, how was your experience?
Overall, quite good – I really appreciate the opportunities that on-site work was able to provide me with, like working with people from different backgrounds and getting a taste of what’s it like to live in a different country.
Would you go back?
Absolutely – as a matter of fact, I already did and came back. It has only been getting better with every new place I traveled to. I sure hope that impression lasts long enough.