Working in Tech: US vs UK

by Correy Cullins

I’ve been in the tech industry for about seven years now. During that time, I also ended up moving from the States to Europe: First to a country called the Isle of Man, a small rock in the middle of the Irish Sea, and then to the UK.

My career started as a help desk support agent at a school software start-up in the Tampa/St. Pete area. I had no industry experience but had been doing in-home computer repair for friends since I was a teenager. After getting my foot in the door, I was able to learn a ton, get promoted, and eventually transferred to an online gambling company in the Isle of Man as a data analyst. I’m now a data engineer at Facebook in London.

It was a tough decision for my wife and I to leave our family and friends behind and take the leap to move abroad. In the end, we decided to take the opportunity while we were still young before, we started a family. A big draw for us was being close to Europe and how cheap airfare is to travel to different countries. While the US is massive and the regions each distinct, we wanted to explore new cultures, soak in the rich history of the old world, and, most importantly, try all of the food!

There are some pretty big differences between the US and Europe in relation to work, at least in my experience. Admittedly, I spent all of my time in the industry in the US at one company, so that experience is a bit limited. But based on conversations I’ve had with friends who worked elsewhere, I think that what I experienced was pretty standard.

Aside from the obvious benefit of free universal health care, the biggest shock to me, after starting my job on the Isle of Man, was around the idea of time off. In the US, vacation was taken in the form of long weekends, maybe piggybacking on a holiday weekend if you wanted to go somewhere farther away. The idea of taking a week or two off to rest and recharge seemed crazy to me. What would happen to the projects for which you were responsible if you were gone for two weeks?! Well, it turns out, the world doesn’t stop spinning, and you just play catch-up for a few days upon returning.

Work-life balance, in general, is much better across the pond. On the Isle of Man, specifically, we had 8-hour workdays, which included an hour of lunch. This meant we were expected to work a measly 35 hours a week! Of course, as a salaried employee, you do end up occasionally going over. But I was never asked or expected to work over weekends. Further, I knew many people who kept a strict schedule of 9-5, got their work done during office hours, and stopped thinking of work when they walked out for the day.

Another benefit in Europe related to time off is sick leave. In America, most people I knew had a pool of paid days off a year. This meant that regardless of why you were out of the office, it was counted against your PTO balance. In Europe, sick days are just sick days. You’re expected to take the time to get well and come back when you can. PokerStars even had a policy of refunding PTO days if you got sick while on vacation!

While time off and work-life balance is better over here, compensation, at least in tech, is better in the US. America has no shortage of VC funding for start-ups, which means more money to entice the best developers to make your site, app, or gizmo better than the next guy’s. This ends up raising pay for developers of all calibers, and means of compensation is your main motivator, the US is probably the better choice.

These are just a couple of differences but were the biggest in my experience. While a return to the US is probably in our cards for the future, we’ve really enjoyed our time here. The experiences I’ve gained from working with diverse teams from across the world have been invaluable for my career. At the end of the day, my wife and I are happy with our decision to move.

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