An Expat’s Guide to Getting an Engineering Job in Germany — Part 2

Luke Shaughnessy
3 min readDec 8, 2020

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Yes, Berlin has Techno, dance clubs, and parties. It also has (in its own grumpy way) one of the most inclusive and open cultures of any major capital. What is it like to work at a Berlin Startup?

During the last interview I had with my future boss, he asked me, “What will you do if we tell you that we can’t proceed with hiring you?” I answered, “I’ll keep looking for a job in Berlin.” I think this was the answer he was looking for because it was the last thing we discussed before he extended the offer. I answered this way because by then, I had done quite a bit of research on the tech startup scene in Berlin, and I was quite surprised by how many opportunities there were for someone like me with all of the new startups that were emerging in the city.

According to a survey from professional services company Earnst and Young, Berlin startups received 3.7 billion Euro in investment capital in 2019, the most of any German city. Every year, about 500 startups are founded in Berlin, and all of them need engineering talent. There are simply not enough experts in various fields available locally to satisfy that demand, which is why so many companies are willing to expand their search globally to find the right people. This represents an amazing opportunity for people looking for adventure and work abroad.

Why Berlin? It’s not the financial epicenter of Germany (that would be Frankfurt), nor is it the old-money manufacturing capital that is Bayern (Bavaria) with its robot animated BMW, Porsche, and Mercedes factories. Instead, Berlin offers something these other German cities don’t, which is a rather un-German attitude of “well, why not?”. Whereas most enterprises in Germany are conservative and risk-averse, Berlin is a place where the freaky, the far-out, and the risque have traditionally found their home in the otherwise disciplined Prussian Empire. The turbulent 20th-century history of the city has only strengthened the sense that with this city something old became new; something scraped to its foundations and ready to be rebuilt. In the words of the former mayor, Berlin was “Arm aber sexy” or “Poor but Sexy!”

It’s the nothing-to-lose sense of freedom that has attracted so many to Berlin, and why so much of the innovation and out-of-the-box thinking has taken root in the capital of the European Union’s biggest economic power. The Mayor may have been right, but with the flow of cash and talent into the local economy, Berlin may not be poor for much longer!

Startup founders arrive not just from Germany, but from Isreal, Turkey, Italy, and from former Communist countries of the east like the Czech Republic and Ukraine. They are attracted not only by the cheap rents but by the fact that so many others are drawn to the city along with them. It’s not hard to convince young, ambitious, and creative professionals to come to work with you when you can tell them they will be moving to one of the most dynamic and rapidly evolving cities in the world.

It’s not just founders that come here, naturally. The members of my current Operations team have been from France, Ukraine, Portugal, Nigeria, Uganda, and the United States. Company-wide we represent more than a dozen nationalities. Working with these talented and adventurous people, one learns about their cultures, their work ethics, their humor, and of course their food! It’s very hard to not grow into a culture of inclusivity when surrounded by such diversity. Almost everyone arrives here from somewhere else, and you know that, no matter how different your backgrounds may be, you still have in common the experience of being a newcomer, the experience of learning (and struggling with!) the language, and the experience of making a new home. It’s sometimes strange and always rewarding to come so far, and find so many that you have so much in common with!

In my next post, I’ll talk about what the process looks like for getting residency in Germany, finding a school, and finding apartments in Berlin. And maybe something about the challenge of finding passable TexMex! Bis bald!

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