Berlins and Outs,  Feeeeelings

You Moved to Berlin for a Job, Right? How’s it Going?

Emma is getting scuba certified in Indonesia at the moment, and E is back in Berlin. He’s got a lot of spare time and he’s feeling sentimental, so here’s an update from him!

When Emma and I moved to Berlin over a year and a half ago, it was because I accepted a job as a game developer at an educational software company. A common question I get is, “So, how’s the job going?” Emma also tells me that people often ask her, “So, how’s E’s job going?”

In case you, dear reader, were also wondering how the job is going, I’ve written some words about it just for you.

Friday was my last day at the job.

What?! I hear you ask in dismay and confusion. But, fear not! We’re not leaving Berlin. And I didn’t even leave the job because I didn’t like it. But, I am starting a new job on Monday.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First things first …

“What was the job again?”

a path leading past some green trees to an ornamental church in a city
EIDU rents office space from the Berliner Dom, an iconic Protestant church in the middle of Berlin. See that window, in the middle left of the church there? That’s the EIDU office.

The company (EIDU) is working on a smartphone-based digital learning platform, which is currently teaching math and language skills to 4- and 5-year-olds in pilot schools in Nairobi, Kenya. The mission of the company was a pretty good fit for me – I’d been working in curriculum development at the Museum of Science in Boston for almost 5 years, while also honing my game development skills in my spare time. EIDU represented a great opportunity, and the opportunity was two-fold:

  1. make a career shift into coding professionally, and
  2. live outside the United States.

I was making video games in my spare time not because I wanted a career in video games. I was doing it because I liked it. I ended up withdrawing from the coding classes I took in college because they were more abstract and theoretical than I could get excited about. But, once I discovered Unity (a free piece of software that removes a lot of the barriers to making games), I started teaching myself coding because I could easily see the concrete results of my work. It was mostly a side-effect of doing what I had the most fun doing.

Then, by the time working at the museum was beginning to grate on Emma and me, it began to dawn on me that I had enough skills to theoretically apply to coding jobs. What a revelation!

“Why did you apply for a job in Germany? Why move out of the U.S.?”

It’s a fair question, and I don’t have a really concrete answer. I certainly had never realistically considered living outside the U.S. until I met Emma, and The Great European Adventure (which I notably did not join Emma on) certainly played a part in it.

me sitting on a rock in front of a valley. there are a few scattered buildings in the valley, and snow-covered, rocky mountains rise up beyond.
This is from our trip last Christmas to Schwangau, which is in the Bavarian region of Germany. We went there for the castles and the snow. The mountains were a nice bonus.

It actually wasn’t about the current political situation in the U.S. When the hateful fool in the Oval Office was elected, plenty of people made jokes about moving away, and I probably made a few as well. But, I’ve actually found that I’m considerably better informed about U.S. politics than I was when I lived there. We also joined the recent Climate Strike in Berlin, have attended a few other rallies, and are good about sending in our absentee ballots. And, I have also learned, Germany (and, more so, Europe at large) is not without its own fair share of xenophobic, hyper-conservative hate-mongering. So, had we moved here to just get away from that, we would’ve been disappointed.

The main reasons we’re in Germany are: the job was a particularly good fit, and Germany makes it easier than many other countries to move there from abroad (especially if you’re from the U.S.). Thus, here we are.

“You still haven’t answered. How was the job?”

The job was good! It wasn’t perfect, but not many jobs are.

[Sound on!]
The periodic choir music coming from the chapel – just behind the wall – was a pretty cool, surreal part of the job.
To say nothing of the twice-daily organ music from this organ.

Here are the good things about my job at EIDU:

  • It was an excellent learning experience. Being a self-taught coder, there was a lot for me to catch up on when I started my first professional software development job, mostly how to ask questions to other people instead of just looking everything up online (strangely, I was actually instructed to look less up online and just talk to people instead). I was working in the coding language I’d taught myself (which is called C#), and I was working in Unity, and I was learning a lot of great skills in both.
  • The workplace culture was very good. Even at its busiest, my work at EIDU barely ever came home with me. I worked a few hours on one weekend day during my time there. Having read stories about ‘crunch culture‘ in tech jobs, I was happy to see my co-workers actually using their unlimited vacation time (!), and new parents taking advantage of their year or more of parental leave (!). After having been warned that the workplace culture in Germany was very demanding, I was pleasantly surprised to find that, at least in this case, that was not true.
  • It was culturally enriching. Besides how stark the aforementioned cultural contrast of Germany was with my previous workplaces in the U.S., EIDU was an international company; half of my coworkers and all of our customers were in Kenya. Besides funding the opportunity to actually visit Kenya, being able to work with such a diverse group of people was really great for me, a person who didn’t have a passport until 2015.
  • I worked with a bunch of really cool people. A lot of my closest friends in Berlin are current or former EIDU colleagues. I went out to a rock-climbing gym with some of them just yesterday!
  • It enabled a lot of travel. Travel is a privilege and an extreme luxury, and we’re very lucky to be able to see so much of the world. Living in the middle of Europe has allowed us, with minimal effort and certainly less cost than if we still lived in Boston, to visit Budapest, Denmark, various cities around Germany, Poland, Spain, Kenya, and, most recently, China (to visit our good friends who just moved there, and who came to visit us soon after we moved to Germany).
two people standing by a modern fountain in a courtyard of a museum
From our recent trip to Shenzhen. Eben is balancing on the right, and Emma is overbalancing on the left, accidentally dipping a toe in a fountain that we were pretty sure was clearly labeled not to step in.

And here are some of the reasons I ended up leaving EIDU:

  • It wasn’t exactly what I expected. At the end of the day, my job title was more ‘software engineer’ than ‘game developer.’ Certainly, there were days that I was coding educational games, which is what I expected when I started the job. But, that accounted for less than 10% of the work I was doing. Far more often, I’d be developing new tools for our customer service team to use in our CRM (Customer Relationship Management software), or I’d be writing automation code to send automatic communication to teachers reminding them to use the educational software more often. Oftentimes, it was still interesting and challenging, but it didn’t feel creatively rewarding the way I’d hoped it would.
  • The salary was fairly low (comparatively speaking). I’m certain we could have been comfortable with even less, but I took a pay cut starting this job, and with Emma not working full-time, we’ve been continually eating away at savings since we moved here. Berlin is a particularly affordable city, far cheaper than most other European capitals and most big cities in Germany, but I was still making the minimum the amount I could be making for the German government to allow me to have a residence permit. And that was after I successfully negotiated for a raise.

“What is your new job going to be?”

It’s another game development job! Klang is a relatively new, relatively small (about 50 people) game development studio that’s working on an unreleased sci-fi simulation game (picture The Sims as an online, multi-player, space colony game). It’s not exactly the type of game I’d play in my spare time, but I’m certainly closer to the target audience than I was for that of my last job (not being a 5-year-old), and I’m confident I’ll feel more creative satisfaction with what I’m working on.

an ivy-covered exterior wall of a building
This is not the building I’m going to be working in – I don’t have a picture of that yet. But, the building is NOT as cool as the Berliner Dom, sadly. This picture is from a walk Emma and I took around Schöneberg.

I’m certain there will still be frustrations and things that I don’t like that I haven’t anticipated, but I don’t see a lot of value in enumerating what those might be right now. Right now, I think it’s better to appreciate how incredibly privileged I am to be able to change jobs, much less being able to change to something that pays me more and that I’m excited about.

Of course, changing jobs will mean there’s some work to do regarding our residence permits. But, I’ve already been working with Klang’s H.R. on that, so hopefully it’ll go more smoothly than last time.

Klang will mark a distinct departure from the education-related aspects of my career; as opposed to the Museum of Science and EIDU, Klang’s goal is essentially to entertain. A much less lofty and meaningful goal, perhaps, than educating the children of the world, but I’ll have to see how I feel about this change after some time has passed.

“How are you feeling about the situation?”

I’m feeling excited! But, also a bit sentimental. I’m a bit sad to be leaving EIDU. They were a good employer, and they enabled us to start this new, amazing chapter in our lives. The cake that I baked to bring into the office on my last day didn’t accurately capture the depth of my appreciation.

a man in a down coat smiling at the camera, drinking a cup of tea in a park. an ornamental church is in the background.
A picture of me in the Lustgarten (the park just outside the Berliner Dom), taking a break from work and drinking some peppermint tea. This was taken last winter – I’m a New Englander, and it’s definitely not cold enough in Berlin yet to wear my down coat.

But, as I said, I’m also very excited. This new job holds untold adventure: new people to meet and work with, new skills and coding languages to learn, and the opportunity to actually work on a commercial video game for the first time.

As a child, I never even imagined I could be a video game developer when I grew up. My aspirations were a bit loftier (movie star, which I haven’t given up complete hope on yet), but if you went back in time and told 10-year-old E that he was going to be making video games in 20 years, his face would’ve lit up and he would’ve started asking you tons of questions about time travel.

So, a new chapter begins for me. It just happens to also take place in Berlin.

Ian Burnette moved to Germany in 2018 for a game development job. He gets lost easily and is impressed by scale (large or small).

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