The eXpat Files Welcome to The eXpat Files, a new weekend Reg regular in which we chat to an IT professional who's decided to seek his or her fortune in another land, so you can learn how to follow in their footsteps.
This week, we chat with Piers Goodhew, an Australian who spent the last two years working in London, but is about to head home.
The Register: What kind of work do you do and with which technologies?
Goodhew: For about 10 years now, I've been helping to build systems that let groups do post-production, which is everything that happens to video after it's been shot: editing, graphics, audio mixing... In practice this mostly boils down to installing really big really fast storage, deploying fleets of Mac workstations, specialist support of specialist apps and all manner of esoteric integration. I say "esoteric" a lot. And "orphaned".
The Register: Why did you decide to move to the UK?
Goodhew: I work in a very small pond, and there wasn't a lot left to challenge me in Australia, particularly without having to move into areas I don't find as interesting. The offer to move came, and it was now or never in terms of the age of my kids. And also, apart from purely work reasons, who wouldn't want to change countries now and then if they could?
The Register: How did you arrange your new gig?
Goodhew: I was lucky to have worked on a project with my UK employer in Australia. When that ended they made me an offer which I wasn't quite ready for, but after a few more years I did feel like I had gone as far as I could in Australia, so I asked if the offer might still stand and they kindly agreed.
The Register: Pay: did it go up or down? In absolute terms and in buying power?
Goodhew: On paper, the pay stayed about the same (actually a few per cent less), but I went from working at a public broadcaster to a company with 20-30 employees. Rent started out being nearly the same as we were getting for our Sydney place (i.e; slightly terrifying) but dropped as the AUD did.
Actual buying power is really hard to determine. A lot of grocery items are much cheaper here in the UK, but our weekly bills came out pretty similar. Eating out is a bit more expensive in the UK, cars are much cheaper but I don't buy them all that often.
But there's a lot more here to spend money on: You can get to Paris in less time than it takes to get from Sydney to [the sleepy coastal town of] Ulladulla, but a weekend in Paris is considerably more expensive. We came to see the world, not to save, and we're coming back neither richer nor poorer.
The Register: How do workplaces differ between Australia and the UK?
Goodhew: I'm certainly looking forward to working a few less hours a week when I go home, like maybe 10. The old clichés about Poms being too polite to actually ask for what they want are occasionally true, but overall it felt pretty familiar. Everything's bigger of course: there's more, nicer kit; snazzier rack rooms. And inside and outside the workplace, London is diverse, you've got Britons of every sort mixed with every kind of European. It's still a world capital.
The Register: Will your expat gig be good for your career when you move home to Australia?
Goodhew: On the one hand our client list was so good, my resume almost looks like an obvious forgery. On the other I'm going to be overqualified for everything [in my field] apart from the jobs that only come along every 2-3 years. I think I'll end up working in and out of Australia in the future, so good.
The Register: What will you miss about the UK when you go home?
Goodhew: Cheap unlimited fast internet, Amazon, Netflix, (or whatever cool thing comes next that the geo-barons make Australia wait for), the closeness of Europe, the closeness of everywhere except south-east Asia – Pho and Pad Thai, I miss you most of all! – effective supermarket competition, BBC 4, abundant public transport (though not cheap), cycle lanes almost everywhere and drivers who mostly try not to kill you. I even like the politeness which seems to belie a greater level of mutual human respect than I've seen anywhere else.
The Register: What's your top tip to help new arrivals settle in to the UK?
Goodhew: They speak English, they have a Prime Minister, they even have the same lady on the back of their coins. If you [Australians] can't fit right in here, give up. My one tip: "Ale" is meant to be served flat and at room temperature. I thought I was being given a glass of self-parody.
The Register: What advice would you offer someone considering the same move?
Goodhew: Just do it. The more of the world we all experience, the better. There is no downside – unless you count the total bath you take moving your stuff over and back.
The Register: And because this story does, after all, run in our weekend edition, how did you spend your weekends as an expat? What fun things to do could you do in/from the UK that you couldn't do at home?
Goodhew: You can be in another country where they don't speak English in an hour, or if that's too much you can go where they do speak English, but weirdly; you can go and see all the loot the British empire took from everywhere for free; see thousand-year-old castles, 2,000-year-old Roman things or even Stonehenge.
The eXpat Files will return in future Weekend Editions. If you are an expat, or know an interesting one, let us know so we can share their globe-trotting tale. ®