108. Overseas Assignments

On today’s episode, we discuss overseas assignments, which is a fitting as William is departing to India for a four-month assignment. As tech companies grow, travel overseas is becoming a more and more common part of many job titles. But it is not as easy as packing your bags and going, as they share. You have to take into account many factors, from how valuable you are to your current team, to your personal commitments before deciding whether or not to take the opportunity. The difficulty does not end there. Once you arrive overseas there are several challenges that you may face both in the workplace and the new country. While there are many potential hiccups along the way, there are as many opportunities for exciting memories to be made. So be sure to join us today!

Key Points From This Episode:

  • Many tech companies have travel as part of the job.
  • Deciding whether or not to take assignments abroad is difficult.
  • What the challenges of taking an overseas assignment might be.
  • The specific set of challenges around communication.
  • Having a plan for your time, even when not working, can make it more constructive.
  • Finding the balance between assimilation and bringing your own culture is important.
  • Collaboration is a universal language.
  • What travel helps you see.
  • And much more!

Transcript for Episode 108. Overseas Assignments

[0:00:01.9] MN: Hello and welcome to The Rabbit Hole, the definitive developer’s podcast in glamorous Jersey City. With me today, I’ve got our friends.

[0:00:14.7] WJ: William Jeffries. I’m calling from the glamorous Newark Airport.

[0:00:22.0] DA: You're in the Newark Airport?

[0:00:24.4] WJ: AWR baby.

[0:00:25.5] DA: Wow, this is just straight up Jersey episode.

[0:00:28.5] WJ: Yeah. Represent.

[0:00:31.4] DA: The side of the Hudson. Today we’re going to be talking about overseas assignments. It’s not coincidence that William is talking me from the beautiful and functional Newark Airport lounge.

[0:00:44.7] WJ: It really, you know, just smokes the other New York City area airports.

[0:00:55.6] DA: I hear that, like, JFK has some fans out there.

[0:01:01.0] WJ: Man. JFK needs some love. LaGuardia is the one that’s the trouble city. Yeah, I’m here because I’m going to be flying out to an overseas assignment for the next four months and be based out of Hyderabad, India.

[0:01:20.2] DA: That’s wild. Yes, Hyderabad, beautiful city of –  okay. Biryani. The two big ones right there. Pearls and biryani, huge industries.

[0:01:37.6] WJ: Yeah, you know. I think it’s a thing people - most people have at some point in their career, the opportunity to do an overseas assignment. I think it just comes up not often if you’re in tech, especially. Given that a lot these companies have absolute overseas, it’s like not that uncommon. It is hard to decide whether –

[0:02:00.4] DA: I started out my career doing an overseas assignment and it was a big choice, I had never been outside the United States before, traveling.

[0:02:11.0] WJ: No messing around, right out of the gate.

[0:02:14.1] DA: Yeah. I want to say it’s my first time out of Jersey but that’s not true. But pretty much, basically.

[0:02:22.8] WJ: Who needs to leave Jersey, you got this beautiful airport. Glamorous Jersey city –

[0:02:29.6] DA: That’s like the opposite of many companies like most engagements in Stride don’t have any travel but you know, that is the case that sometimes you have to travel a little bit of the time for assignment. This is a different thing altogether, this is going full in.

[0:02:45.8] WJ: I think Stride is sort of unusual as a consultancy in that there isn’t any travel. Most consultancies travel part of the deal. Maybe not international companies but even if you’re not in a consultancy, even if you work in your product company, most are. Oftentimes if it’s a larger company, it’s a rapidly growing company, they are either already overseas or they’re trying to go overseas.

[0:03:11.6] DA: Yeah, that’s true. I have heard, I’ve meet a  lot of people who are working for small companies that are rapidly growing and they need some kind of follow the sun capacity where they need the support or manpower in different places and so, there’s opportunity to – I think we talked about like engaging with those people in your day to day basis like as remote team members but you can actually be a part of that remote team.

[0:03:41.8] WJ: Yeah, I did that, I was on a client, I was on a fashion tech client and they were in an office in Spain and want to help them. I mean, one for training, sharing the culture. and they were not that big and they were really growing fast but I think it was a lot what you’re saying for one of the ability to follow the sun, they wanted to you know, bigger hiring pool.

But I mean, it’s definitely not for everyone. I remember there were a lot of people who did not want to go on that assignment.

[0:04:11.2] DA: As surprising to me, it seems like it would be a blast, it sounds like a total perk.

[0:04:15.7] WJ: Wait, weren’t you on that project, Dave?

[0:04:18.5] DA: Yeah. Nobody asked me if I wanted to go.

[0:04:22.4] WJ: What are you talking about? You were totally invited. Everybody was invited.

[0:04:28.4] DA: No.

[0:04:30.4] WJ: You opted out didn’t you, you opted out because of your girlfriend, I bet.

[0:04:35.0] DA: No, I don’t think they would have given me up that easily. Anyway, like somebody had hold down the fort when you were gone.

[0:04:43.5] WJ: That’s a factor on deciding whether or not you could even want to accept an overseas assignments like do you think that you can leave your team in a good position? Or are you too critical?

[0:04:54.0] DA: I definitely felt like the time wasn’t right. But you know, that’s a good point about life commitments and you know, your family situation. If you have a couple of kids, you probably wouldn’t be like yeah, maybe I’ll go to India for a couple of months.

[0:05:11.6] WJ: Right, yeah. I’m forever alone, so it’s super easy for me. A friend of the show Dane O’Connor from - what episode is that?

[0:05:25.4] DA: Yeah, I think that was episode number 76. 'Stop Talking about tech Debt.'

[0:05:29.7] WJ: Yeah. He was going to be on the project and ended up opting out because wife and kids and you know, he was sick and like the timing was wrong and all those things. I just can’t relate to it at all.

[0:05:50.0] DA: Just in perfect health.

[0:05:51.0] WJ: I’ve managed to avoid the prison that is adulting.

[0:05:56.7] DA: On burden with sickness and babies, diapers. What kind of challenges do you think somebody who is taking overseas assignment might face?

[0:06:09.8] WJ: Well, I remember when I was in Spain, there were a lot of issues  with collaborating with the main office, it’s like, kind of interesting experience to have which is normally in the headquarters, be on the other side and see how often leaving people out of key decisions.

[0:06:32.9] DA: That’s empathy though, that’s a good thing. You know, we’ve talked about that before on the show.

[0:06:38.2] WJ: Time zone difference.

[0:06:40.5] DA: Actually still collaborating with people back in the main office and kind of living their life.

[0:06:48.5] WJ: There was also on control with it.

[0:06:50.5] DA: Yeah. That’s pretty huge.

[0:06:54.7] WJ: Even better than I do when we expected.

[0:06:57.3] DA: Yeah, my first overseas working experience was in India. I did it twice actually. Once kind of like as a new person to the business and once again as like a more established person. Yeah, it was interesting, there are a lot of striking differences from New Jersey and India. I can tell you that.

[0:07:21.1] WJ: Barbecues, by the lines.

[0:07:25.2] DA: Yeah, also like kind of besides the cultural difference like it feels a little bit isolating because there will be like language barriers that are hard to bridge and you know, the things that other people have like pop culture and whatnot are quite different. Although I’m sure, everybody’s watching Game of Thrones over there right now, at least pirating it.

[0:07:53.9] WJ: Yeah, I’ve got to brush up on Bollywood. I actually have to learn any amount of Bollywood. That’s all fine.

[0:08:01.3] DA: Maybe.

[0:08:04.4] WJ: I was warned that I was going to need to practice with the accents.

[0:08:08.7] DA: What do you mean by that.

[0:08:10.9] WJ: Even if sometimes if you’re speaking English to someone who speaks a dialect that’s very different to a native speaker it would be unintelligible at first. I don’t know if you encountered this.

[0:08:24.5] DA: Yeah, it’s funny how even like changing the rhythm of how you speak really changes your perception of it, like your ability to hear it completely and I think also for communicating, there is kind of like a little bit of a code switch that can happen, even like if you spend a lot of time there, you know, it’s not like that person who says, yeah, "I spent a summer abroad in college. You know, in London and whenever I get drunk now, I just go into a British accent."

That’s completely ridiculous thing but if you’re communicating with someone, you kind of naturally mirror things about the rhythm and cadence that they talk and you kind of take some of that into you and make it easier for them to understand you as well because as foreign as your cadence and the way that you speak is, like the way that they speak is that is also very foreign for them and hard to understand, how you are speaking.

[0:09:26.7] WJ: Yeah, I think you picked up some phrases that I never heard before – come in.

[0:09:31.6] DA: Yeah, prepone, that’s a good one.

[0:09:33.7] WJ: Which one?

[0:09:35.6] DA: Instead of postpone, it’s prepone.

[0:09:39.6] WJ: My god. That’s amazing, I had no idea. I was thinking of the needful.

[0:09:44.8] DA: Yeah, doing the needful. That’s important, you know? You got to ask yourself if you’re really doing what’s truly most needful. I think that’s a [inaudible].

I think particularly with India, we talked a little bit the other day about how for cultural differences, one of the big ones as kind of the culture of saying no. Which you know, there are some people in the US that say yes to too much but in India, in some ways it’s like kind of a cultural thing where you know, people will say yes.

Even when they’re just acknowledging that they’ve received your message.

[0:10:25.0] WJ: And don't intend do the thing that you ask for.

[0:10:28.2] DA: Right, yeah.

[0:10:30.1] WJ: Very confusing. Yeah, then there’s some like American specific stuff like we use sports metaphors basically constantly.

[0:10:37.0] DA: Yeah.

[0:10:38.1] WJ: Knock that one out of the park.

[0:10:39.7] DA: Sports metaphors, always a home run, with the kids.

[0:10:43.3] WJ: Yeah, this is a slam dunk, yeah. Real one with – I’ve talked to people for – basically everyone outside United States, even other pretty similar countries like the UK, Australia. Where things are just go ham on these sports metaphors.

[0:11:02.6] DA: Yeah, we’re just always going into overtime. Double jeopardy, I don’t know, wait, is that sports metaphor, jeopardy’s not a sport. Maybe it is, I don’t know.

[0:11:12.7] WJ: I think that’s when you get tried twice for the same crime. Another culturally specific reference. Did that not come to Jersey? Cultural barriers here?

[0:11:27.9] DA: Possibly, I’m googling it.

[0:11:34.3] WJ: I mean, how do you be successful in a situation like that? You did this, you did it well enough that they called you back and the second time you came back, you were the head honcho, you were the big kahuna.

[0:11:44.3] DA: Repeat business. I mean, I had pretty short time over there. Only a couple of weeks, so I had really meticulously planned out, you know, what I was going to be doing every day that I was working there and also every day that I was not going to be working there. Because it is part of the perk is like making up an experience the culture and the country and the sights and all that.

[0:12:10.9] WJ: I thought you were there for months.

[0:12:12.8] DA: Second time it was only for three weeks.

[0:12:15.3] WJ: I see. First time was —

[0:12:18.4] DA: You know, I was just a college graduate so I was a lump. No need to be impactful there. Yeah, it’s good to be prepared and like, be structured with the time that you have. Make sure that it counts for something.

[0:12:34.2] WJ: When I went to Spain, part of the value that we were providing was bringing over some of the culture from the main office but we also wanted to be respectful of the local culture, the local office culture and the country culture. We did a certain amount of simulating, we tried to speak Spanish in the office and with the team, we did culturally appropriate things.

[0:13:01.0] DA: What is the cultural appropriate Spanish thing? Tapas?

[0:13:05.5] WJ: Well, in Madrid, yeah, definitely tapas and cider is a thing.

[0:13:12.3] DA: Interesting, it’s not just for the Mormons.

[0:13:15.8] WJ: We try to assimilate but at the same time we also tried to bring the best parts of our culture and I think that that was appreciated.

[0:13:24.4] DA: Yeah, I guess the culture of teamwork is pretty universal. Like being a good person and a good collaborator has a lot of the same components no matter where you are on this earth.

[0:13:38.2] WJ: Yeast, I think that American culture is many things that make it counterproductive about it but they’re certainly one thing that American culture has in spades and that is the freedom to fail. It is okay to make mistakes and it’s encouraged to try bold things even knowing that there’s a risk.

[0:14:01.5] DA: Yeah, that’s true, learning from failure. Core American value.

[0:14:08.0] WJ: Yeah, we do a lot of failing.

[0:14:10.6] DA: Hopefully we do a lot of learning too.

[0:14:13.8] WJ: You got any war stories from your overseas office assignment?

[0:14:18.1] DA: Yeah, I think that’s one of the reasons why you take it, an overseas assignment, is to get those crazy stories. Besides stories from just traveling or it had very little idea what I was doing and like you know, had this impression that I wanted to travel to visit a desert in Rajasthan and ended up like driving for an hour and a half with a bunch of rando strangers in a truck until they drop me of by this kid who took me on a camel to his suburban house and then — absolutely insane day.

I think you kind of learn a lot about people too, see a little bit more about what sets your culture apart like we’ve been talking about. One thing that was kind of striking to me when I was – I came over to meet these people like obviously like they treated me very well since I was a guest and you know, I was there to teach them and talk to them about different ways that we can improve.

You know, they’re giving me a lot of respect that made me a bit uncomfortable so I just want to be one of the folks and one of the couple of moments for like I like sitting on the floor and I sit on the floor or like I make a spill and then I grab a towel and mop it up. People will be like, "My god, why are you doing that?"

[0:15:55.2] WJ: This is very confusing. Seems like mopping up the spill is wrong?

[0:16:02.0] DA: Yeah, this is dangerous, got to get that done. You know, since I was a guest, it was like, you shouldn’t have to do that, you’re a guest.

[0:16:11.2] WJ: I see.

[0:16:12.3] DA: You shouldn’t have to be uncomfortable and sort of like sit on the floor because you’re a guest and I’m like, this is very uncomfortable.

[0:16:23.3] WJ: I remember when I was in Spain, I had to interview a candidate, do a technical interview.

[0:16:29.8] DA: Did he know the right words for a REACT component in Spanish?

[0:16:35.6] WJ: Also, it was supposed to be in English and you know, very quickly we realized, this was not going to be possible, to conduct this interview successfully. You know, I made mistake of being like yeah, we'll just do it, we got this. Did not have any —

[0:16:56.5] DA: It did not cover the duo lingo section on interviewing topics.

[0:17:00.5] WJ: Yeah, the technical jargons is very different but I was able to call in, got an interpreter in Spanish —

[0:17:08.3] DA: You got an interpreter. I remember Kimberly talking about that too. She was saying that pairing in Spanish is a very different experience than pairing in English. It uses a different part of her brain.

[0:17:23.1] WJ: Fascinating.

[0:17:24.2] DA: Well, it’s good catching up William. I hope you have.

[0:17:28.1] WJ: Yeah, it was good catching up with you too.

[0:17:29.3] DA: I hope you have a bon voyage.

[0:17:31.1] WJ: Thank you.

[0:17:31.9] DA: And you get all kinds of fun stories to share when you get back.


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On behalf of our producer extraordinaire, William Jeffries and our amazing host, Michael Nunez who is out being a dad and me your host, Dave Anderson, thanks for listening to the Rabbit hole.


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