JUNIOR DATA ENGINEER
After having lived in Belgium for 24 years and having just graduated, I decided to start working in Croatia to see what life is like there. Here is my experience.
In 2020, I finished my studies at Ghent University in Belgium. After my graduation, I immediately knew I wanted to have an experience abroad. During my studies, I have studied a semester in Sweden. I enjoyed my time there very much and learned a lot about a culture that is different from mine. This is why I have decided that I would want to work and live abroad once again.
I thought it would be interesting to see what it is like to live in Eastern Europe since I have Eastern European roots myself. It was not easy to find a job in another country, especially during the global pandemic. It took me several weeks of searching, but then I found this data engineering company in the capital of Croatia, and that is when my journey at Syntio began.
Getting everything settled for living abroad is never easy, especially with the added uncertainty caused by the pandemic. Luckily, I got so much help from the people at Syntio in taking care of the administrative processes. Since most of this documentation was in Croatian, this would have been very difficult to handle alone. In order to settle in comfortably, I arrived in Croatia in September, a month before I would start working at Syntio. This extra time allowed me to enjoy Croatia to the fullest and see the nature that makes it so beautiful.
I was quite nervous on my first day, mainly because this is my first job. One of the first things you see when you enter the office is the stunning view of Zagreb you have from the sixteenth floor. Also, the office is decorated in a very cozy style, which makes you feel at home quickly. Quite early on, you could feel the amicable atmosphere between colleagues, from having breakfast and coffee breaks together, to hanging out with a beer after work. The topics went far beyond professional small talk and everyone I met had a good dose of humor in them to keep the mood enjoyable at all times. As it is a young, dynamic and data-oriented company and even has a ping pong table in the center of the office, it felt almost as if I had started working at a Croatian version of Google.
The onboarding process was quite smooth, on your first day you get eased into everything gently. I got a tour around the office and got greeted by the many friendly, soon-to-be colleagues. The rest of the day, I got an introductory presentation about the history and workings of the company and got to read some extra information about the practicalities of the job. In the first month, I was trained by one of the senior Data Engineers. He taught me everything from the basics of data engineering to the way of doing things in the company, and I could ask him any questions that I had. This whole process made it easy for me to catch up to speed and start working on my first task quickly, without feeling overwhelmed.
During my time at Syntio, I have worked on one of the new products they were developing. My education as a business engineer was about fifty percent business and fifty percent data and programming topics, so when I heard I would be working in development, I was a bit nervous. Luckily, when I started, the project was still in its infancy and with the help from my amazing team members, I was quickly up to speed. I liked that the mood in the team was always serious enough to get everything done, but never too serious.
One of the things I liked most about Syntio is that they seemed to have found the almost perfect balance between friendship and professionality. You can shamelessly share the silliest memes and jokes in the company’s Teams group, but you can also ask anyone to help you if you are stuck with anything at work. I would consider myself more of a shy person, but since everyone is so approachable, you can easily ask anyone to help you with anything you need. I also liked the fact that it is such a young company. Additionally, I think it is great that they welcome employees from different countries. Having more diversity in the company can help to learn from each other and make the teams more interesting. One thing about the company that can be a positive as well as a negative, is the rapid growth. Since the company is always evolving, after a few months you can almost feel like a senior. If you are someone who prefers stability and routines, this might not be for you. The organization of the teams is something they have experimented with while I was there. This is a good way to find out if there is a better way of doing things, but this also means that the way you work can change from one day to another.
If someone would ask me what I liked about Croatia the most, the first thing that would come to mind is the nature there. I have heard from friends before that Croatia is a stunning country, but even with these high expectations, I was amazed. During the weekends, we could visit many of the beautiful national parks, most of which were only a one-to-two-hour drive from Zagreb. There was a large variety of landscapes: from the seaside and islands to mountains and wetlands. Even the hiking trails on the mountain just above Zagreb were something to look forward to on the weekends.
The culture in Croatia differs from the culture in Belgium in a few aspects. First of all, Croatians are known for their hospitality. Almost everywhere you go, you are greeted with a smile and people are ready to help you in any way they can. I also like the fact that in Croatia, people can maintain a good work-life balance, and I enjoyed the attitude that Croatians have towards life. I feel like in general, they can appreciate the little things in life more, which makes them much happier. And even when things are not that great, instead of just complaining, they can joke about it.
Looking back on my time there now, one thing I would have done differently is that I would have tried to learn the basics of the language before arriving there. It would have made everyday communication and connecting with the locals much easier. If you already have a good foundation in the language, you can naturally pick up much more while living there.
After having lived for four months in Croatia, I returned to Belgium because of family, friends, and my partner. Personally, I loved my time in Croatia. Of course, because of the pandemic, I have not been able to see life there in its full glory, but I am glad I have been able to get a glimpse of it. Regarding my plans for the future, I will look for a job in the field of data back here in Belgium. However, if my life’s circumstances permit it, I would surely like to live abroad once again. And of course, if Syntio ever decided to open an office in Belgium, I would be the first to sign up!
My advice for people who have an opportunity in their life to change their country of living and are considering it, would be to just do it! Surely, it does take time and effort to plan everything, but I think these experiences are very rewarding. You can learn so much about another culture, another way of living, and gain new perspectives on life. And as cliché as it may sound, you can learn a lot about yourself too by stepping out of your comfort zone and your daily routines. To end this blog post on a cheesy note, I would like to add this quote relevant to this topic by Lewis Carroll:
“In the end… We only regret the chances we didn’t take, the relationships we were afraid to have, and the decisions we waited too long to make.”