Comparison of working in tech in different countries: personal experience
What are the main differences that you find working in tech in different countries? How does the recruitment process work in various locations? What is especially important to consider when moving to a new country? Oleksandra Chudner, Head of ESG, Social Impact & DEI at EPAM, answers these and other questions.
In this article
— I have been living in the United States for almost 9 years. For a long time before that, I worked for a Danish company and interacted with many Scandinavian countries. I am originally from Ukraine. I should note that when I compare the USA and Ukraine in this article, it's important for you to understand that my direct work experience in Ukraine ended quite a while ago. Although I currently work with colleagues from Ukraine, there may be things that I am not aware of.
Organization and structure of work
— If we compare the work organization in Ukraine and various European countries, it is more structured in Ukraine. There, you will find a hierarchical structure with a clear manager-subordinate relationship. Such a structure also exists in the United States, but it is more flexible. As a result, the feedback process is generally much smoother in America, and employees can have more influence on project changes.
In Ukraine, though, there is a certain flexibility about work roles. One person can take on multiple roles and tasks. In the United States, people tend to be more focused on their specific position and field of work. What does this mean? When I worked on Ukrainian projects, an engineer could be an engineer and also a QA specialist, a business analyst, and more. In the United States, individuals are considered specialists in a specific field with narrower expertise.
Another significant difference is found in the methods of teamwork. In the US, a large number of people may be involved in a decision-making processes. In Ukraine, decisions are more often "handed down" from the top, and everyone adheres to them.
— In Ukraine and Scandinavian countries, the primary focus when selecting a specialist is on their technical expertise. In the United States, both the hard and soft skills of the individual are evaluated. This impacts the hiring process. When I worked with clients from Ukraine and European countries, I observed that during interviews, candidates were given various technical tasks and asked to provide code examples. In the US, a significant amount of time during interviews is dedicated to assessing a candidate's soft skills, their ability to fit into a team, and so on. I know of cases in which a developer with exceptional technical skills was not hired as a result of insufficiently developed soft skills.
The ability to work in a team comes with experience. This is applicable not only to work but also to life in general, and to the transition to a new environment and culture. When Americans say, "Hi, how are you?" at first, relocators may start telling them how their day really went, how their family is doing, and much more. But for Americans, the question is an act of politeness. They don't really expect elaborate answers. In the United States, when you are asked to do something, they generally say "Could you..." or "Would you..." In Ukraine, however, if you say, "Would you be so kind as to..." it might come across as a sign of uncertainty. You will find that you get used to the people, the team, and the communication style not only at work but also beyond it.
Another characteristic of hiring in the United States is the "love" for referrals. This is especially prominent in large companies. You can send your resume or submit an application via LinkedIn a million times and not be called for an interview. But if someone from within the company recommends you, your chances of being invited for an interview are much higher. This is particularly true when someone recommends a person to join their own team.
In the US, the concept of community service is prevalent — cleaning up the ocean shoreline together, helping elderly people, and so on. This can help significantly with adaptation and networking. Today, you're doing something together to support a cause, and tomorrow, one of the other volunteers might recommend you for a job somewhere. In Ukraine and European countries, on the other hand, technical skills are assessed first, before an employer considers how the person fits into the team.
— Salary is a crucial aspect of our livelihood. When comparing European and American salaries, you will find that American salaries are often higher than those in Europe. If we compare European and Ukrainian salaries, in relatively recent years when I lived in Ukraine, they were generally high and close to European standards. In Ukraine, there is strong expertise, and if a company wants to attract the best talent, it needs to offer competitive salaries.
It's important to be aware, however, that during the hiring process and salary negotiations in the United States, the focus is on the annual salary, whereas in Ukraine, it is typically discussed on a monthly basis.
In the US, significant attention is given to the employee benefits package, which includes:
- Health insurance: This is essential for living in the US. Each company that offers health insurance works with a specific insurance provider and offers employees the opportunity to enroll in the coverage. Usually, the company does not cover 100% of the cost of medical bills. Instead, there is commonly a cost-sharing arrangement between the company and the employee. Some companies may offer a high salary but provide inadequate health insurance coverage. When considering the big picture, even individuals with seemingly generous salaries may end up with less take-home pay due to the astronomical cost of medical care in the US. In Ukraine, health insurance is not very expensive, and individuals can decide whether to get it or not.
- Benefits package: In addition to health insurance, there are other perks and benefits that may be provided by employers. These include partnerships with various companies that offer services to employees and their families. In the US, these additional benefits often come at a significant cost, so when a company provides extra benefits, it is considered a great perk.
The United States is a country consisting of 50 states, each of which has its own state laws in addition to the federal laws. When we talk about insurance and the number of vacation days, each state may have its own laws about specific conditions that must be included in the insurance coverage or regulating your time off.
Another notable aspect of work in the United States is the taxation system. There are various taxes at both the federal and the state level, and the state taxies vary from state to state. For example, Florida is one of the states that is advantageous because it does not impose a state income tax. Individuals who relocate there only pay federal income taxes. California, on the other hand, imposes a relatively high state income tax in addition to the federal taxes.
— If you browse through Instagram or TikTok reels, you can find many humorous videos showing Europeans contemplating where to spend all of their many vacation days, while in the US, a poor, overworked individual apologizes for being late to work because they were hit by a car but brushes it off, saying that everything is fine. The difference in the number of vacation days is colossal. In the United States, not only are there fewer vacation days, but there are also fewer public holidays. Additionally, the number of vacation days can vary from company to company, sometimes based on the length of service with the company. In Ukraine, employees were typically granted 20+ calendar days of vacation per year.
In addition to limited vacation time, it is rare to see someone closing their laptop exactly at six in the evening in the US. The work must be completed — that's the main principle. Europe, on the other hand, embraces more of a "Dolce vita" lifestyle.
Another distinct aspect is the time difference when working with colleagues from Europe. I live in California, which has a significant time difference from Europe. I have to wake up very early to catch up on what my European colleagues have accomplished during their workday, and then smoothly transition to work related to the American side. Therefore, I cannot afford to start working at 9 a.m. since doing so would cause delays in decision-making and processes on the European side.
Pros of working in the USA
— On the positive side, people who are focused on intellectual work and personal development will find the United States to be very comfortable. Major IT conferences and meetups happen much more frequently here. There are ample opportunities to interact with professionals working in large companies, gain experience, brainstorm ideas, and participate in hackathons.
The option to pursue additional education at top universities worldwide is also an incredible experience provided by the United States. When we talk about how individuals here take the initiative to make decisions, raise their hands, drive projects, and foster innovation, they learn this in universities. In Ukraine, if you want to become an engineer, you go to university, and your five years are pre-determined, with a set schedule to follow. In the United States, there are core subjects, but there are also a wide variety of elective courses that you can choose from. This fosters independence and proactivity.
Tips for future relocators
- It's important not to confuse tourism and relocation. If someone is interested in moving to the United States, I would recommend that they consider different states, evaluating each state’s laws, climate, education system, and other important aspects that are personally relevant. Besides the state, it's essential to consider cities within the state as well. New York State may be appealing, but it's a large state and it’s not all like New York City — there are many other cities in the state to explore.
- It's crucial to carefully consider the benefits package and insurance provided by the company to ensure that it meets your needs.
- It's important to understand that you'll learn many things on the go, such as how to pay taxes, how the education system works, and more. People with children are often tied to a specific city or neighborhood because of the schools. The educational system has school ratings up to 10 points. A rating of 10 indicates an excellent school where a child can receive an excellent education. Many people try to live in areas with good schools. This significantly limits parents' choices of location because of school bus routes, which have a limited coverage area.
- It's important to make a list of what you're accustomed to, what you love, and what you're willing to sacrifice on one hand, and a list of new opportunities on the other. Then, evaluate how satisfied you are with the balance. It's worth noting that various beauty services are often better in Europe and Ukraine than in the United States. You may earn good money, but the quality and prices of these services may reduce your overall enjoyment in life.
- Developing soft skills 24/7 is crucial. The most amazing experience I had was studying in the United States. All skills are honed at an incredible pace.
- Develop a plan to address issues that remain for you in your previous country. When I moved, I had parents in Ukraine who didn't have anyone to help them. It was quite challenging for me to handle certain matters remotely, and it consumed a lot of time and resources.
It's important to acknowledge the challenging aspects of moving to a different country and working there. Many people might have the misconception that relocating to another country is easy and fun. However, moving is never easy. It's valuable to read about the stages of adaptation in a new country to be mentally prepared for them.
No matter how many years you live in a country other than the one you were born in, you can't erase your identity. Much of who we are is shaped during childhood. If a person is open-minded, though, the process of adaptation can be much smoother.