German Catchup

The topic of organizing a society is a big one. I am mostly a capitalist, but I believe having a social net for those who need it is equally important.

The topic gets more tricky as soon as you get into things like healthcare, and how universal it should be. Should it be funded by taxes and controlled by government, fully private, or something in between?

The way of organizing a society really gets to me when I start thinking about technology. Why America is dominating the world while Germany isn’t?

There is tons of literature on why silicon valley works, it is mostly abstracted to three main factors: A high density of well educated nerds, high density of risk capital aka VC, and a competitive culture of survival to the fittest with high tolerance for failure.

When I look at Germany I see the high density of nerds, I see the capital, but I don’t see the culture.

I am not going into the typical discussions of risk aversion and Germans vs Americans. I don’t see this as a big challenge because humans are normally risk averse, and Germany has good immigration policies. From blue cards to refugees, the country is welcoming for immigrants from all over the world. We can debate why are they doing this, or how welcoming it is, but the fact is, there are a lot of immigrants, and more are coming.

Immigrants are less risk averse, more motivated to build things, and they add a lot to the economy. This leads to motivating non-immigrants as well, and then you have a fusion of businesses starting, both from immigrants and non-immigrants.

What I am more interested in is the role of government in fostering a culture of innovation, this is where I see Germany’s biggest barrier to dominate the world technologically in the age of software.

I think big part of the solution to foster innovation as government, is to have less government. I will mention the two biggest areas where I think Germany needs less government.

  • Taxes, and Insurance: Starting a company involves leaving the full-time job. With so much stress, and having to worry about “Compulsory insurance”, “TV and Radio Taxes”, and god knows what else, this discourages many entrepreneurs from starting since being unemployed will result in paying much more money than they can afford. At the same time, you can get two years of unemployment benefits, receiving 60% of your last salary, and do nothing. What deserves more encouragement?
  • Workers and their rights: There is no Uber in Germany to protect yellow cabs (imagine if Uber started in Germany instead of US). You have to pay minimum wage to employ someone. It is hard to fire people after a 6 months probation. You can’t have temporary contracts for longer than specific period, after that they have to be permanent ones. Employee rights make it hard to start companies that are volatile by nature.

These are my observations on top of my head. The problem is with less government you get back to the topic of organizing a society, because the result of relaxing these policies is having a smaller social net, and therefore more people falling into poverty, debt…etc

Is it worth it to allow big breakthroughs to relax rules and regulations? or is it better to see what works, and artificially try to create an environment to make it work here?

Is humanity’s technological progress worth sacrificing some people’s well being? Or it is better for everyone to live a relaxed life and have slower progress. And where do we draw the line?

I don’t know.

Startups and restaurants

I was having lunch at a small café in Berlin city center.

While none of the cues indicated, the owner, and all of the staff turned to be Arabs.

When he found out I work in tech, he told me this area has changed completely in the past three years.

Now most of the offices around his place host startups.

These startups either grow and leave to bigger offices, or die and close.

This poses a challenge to his business, since his customers are rapidly changing.

Another challenge he faces is those startups are not making money, which makes the spending power of the people working there not that high.

A long way to go, Berlin.

Getting out of Egypt for non techies

A friend who works in HR asked for my advice on how to get out of Egypt (better late than never). She was asking about Germany specifically, and how to find English speaking jobs. I am publishing our conversation so that everyone can benefit with some edits to make it fit the blog.

Finding English Speaking Jobs

“So, about the possibility of finding an English speaking job here, YES. There is very high possibility of finding an English speaking job. There are many tech companies in Berlin and they use English as the main language.

The challenge will be in finding companies that sponsor visas for non-Europeans. This is easy for tech people such as myself, but I don’t know if they would do it for non-tech functions like HR.

For example I see many HR people who are not from Germany, and don’t speak German, but I never met someone who isn’t from within EU.

I also don’t know how hard it is to sponsor a visa for a non-tech worker. Tech, medicine, and engineering are considered “rare skills” and that’s why the government makes the visa process fast and easy for them.

That being said, I believe you should try, it will be hard and takes time. The first job outside Egypt always takes time, the average of me and my friends was 1 year of continuous applications, studying, interviewing..etc.”

How to search?
1- LinkedIn: Set your job seeking status as ON. This will tell recruiters that you are looking for a new job.

Also set location filter to Berlin, so you always get the notifications and the job board filtered by Berlin jobs.

2- Open indeed everyday, and apply for the latest jobs posted there. Make sure if you are using Google chrome it doesn’t translate the job descriptions, or you will be applying to German speaking jobs 🙂

3- Xing: Sounds Chinese, but it is actually German. It is the LinkedIn of Germany. Many times, you will find English speaking jobs on Xing.

4- There is a 4th way, it is non-scalable, but if you decided to leave you should give it some effort, search for companies based in Berlin, or companies that have offices here, open their website, and apply directly.

There are different ways to find companies based here, first you start with the big ones Zalando, Delivery Hero, Amazon, and the list of Rocket Internet companies (Rocket internet is the owner of Jumia, easy taxi…etc, they are based in Germany and have so many companies here).

Another way I used to do is to follow european tech news like, this is the TechCrunch of Europe. I follow companies news, and if any is based where I want to go, I open their website and check their jobs.

You can also, once you found a company with a position you are interested in, do what I call “recruiter hunt”. Go to LinkedIn, connect with the recruiter hiring for this position in that company, and start a conversation telling them why you are interested in the position and if you could get a chance to interview.

5- Use everyone you know abroad. Referrals, referrals, referrals.

Final remarks

It is not easy, but if you put your heart in it, it is doable in a year. I used to apply literally every day, and spend my weekends searching and applying. Also you have to accept rejections, they are part of life.

Office wheelchair accessibility

Someone asked me, what makes an office wheelchair accessible?

While there are many articles on the topic, I think most of them are very technical and target contractors, and designers. Here is my version for hiring managers, office managers, and non-technical people.

  1. Is the building accessible with no steps? It doesn’t have to be from the main door, there just needs to be a way that’s flat, and not so steep.
  2. Are there areas of the building that are not accessible? What are they? Sometimes they are not that critical like one cafeteria or few meeting rooms.
  3. Is there a wheelchair accessible bathroom? This means it is spacious enough to have someone with a wheelchair inside with door closed, and it is preferable if it has grab rails next to the toilet, and other facilities such as the sink, the dryer, the napkins box are low enough for the reach of a wheelchair user.

Mostly the best person to know this is the office manager. They should be able to answer the previous questions.

Cultural anthropology in technology

Sometimes I think anthropology, and sociology could be extended to include the study of cultural differences in tech designs.

For me this is most obvious between American & European websites. I feel I can blindly differentiate if a website is American or European.

American websites emphasize on negative spacing, visuals, and typography.

European websites are more information dense, and bulkier.

This is most obvious when you compare specific verticals with almost identical functionality like travel and food delivery.

The connection I see is in European focus on efficiency (being blunt and direct), while the American focus on aesthetics and perception.

There are some exceptions here and there, like Deliveroo, and Zalando in Europe looking American, and Amazon in US looking European.

The connection is obvious if you give enough attention.

English in the autonomy race

One of the surprises when I see jobs posted by German car manufacturers is they still post them in German. I am not talking about typical jobs, I am talking about jobs related to connected mobility and autonomous driving.

In a world more competitive than ever and with scarcity of skillful people for the next vehicle era, using German is significantly limiting those German manufacturers to compete with their American counterparts, and with smaller startups.

The first step for German manufacturers to catchup is to switch to English, in Germany.

Flag Morality

I was rolling somewhere and found one of the cleaning people using this German flag colored dust cleaner.

It reminds me of the first chapter in the righteous mind by Jonathan Haidt. The first case he presents is about the morality of using the country flag to clean the toilet, and how different cultures would react to such act. Americans for example are very proud of their flag. This shows me maybe the Germans don’t care.