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Impressions from Belgrade – Part 3

18 February 2015
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Reading time: 3 minutes

After living and working in Serbia’s capital for more than a year it is time for the third part of my insights. Especially as the last part was published back in May 2014. We have achieved a lot since then…

People

One main task of Aleksandar, our General Manager, and me is recruiting. We have grown to a team of almost 20 engineers within a year. We conducted over 400 interviews in 2014 and attended several events for university graduates – such as OpenIT and Job Fair.

Especially our peak weeks with up to six interviews per day were extremely exhausting. Although our quite sophisticated interview process may sometimes surprise Serbian candidates, we received great feedback from them.  We have already received an award from the most popular job advertisement platform (based on candidate feedback) as second best company regarding the hiring process. Plus we often got referrals from denied candidates, which is an additional proof. And apparently we are not the last Swiss IT company coming to Belgrade.

However, it is not quantity that counts, hence also our thorough hiring process. I am quite proud of the cool team we were able to put together – not only in terms of engineering skills. Also the team spirit and working atmosphere are great. And we really live the Zühlke culture here. The best compliment to this is when our colleagues from the other countries start to work with us and confirm that it felt “like Zühlke” from day one!

Projects

Although we grew constantly, the utilization was quite high. There were hardly any engineers not working on one of the numerous projects – together with our Swiss, German, English and Austrian colleagues. That also meant a lot of coordination and coaching from the management side, hence I wasn’t idling either. The diversity of both customers and technologies are still very high and challenging. They range from a huge web portal for a multi-national insurance company to a small and agile Google Glass project.

We also hosted various customer visits so far. They were impressed by the skilled team, the high engineering standards and our efficient premises. And of course we could also treat them with city tours through nice Belgrade, (big portions of) good food and excellent drinks.

Although we abstract the distribution overhead for our customers completely if desired, they want to know who is working for them abroad and “feel” the atmosphere. It does not come as a surprise to me at all, as it just proves once again: software engineering is people’s business!

Events

For both skills and great atmosphere the following saying is true: Nothing comes from nothing! Therefore we organize regular events to foster both aspects. One fixed date in each year’s calendar is our education camp. We then gather for some days on a nice place out of the office and focus on certain engineering topics. Last year we spent beautiful but challenging days near Athens in Greece. During the day we focused on topics in the area of big data with the tool stack of Hortonworks. After work we enjoyed the beach nearby while playing volleyball in the sea and sipping exotic cocktails or ordinary beers.

Volleyball in the Greek sea after an exhausting education day.

Volleyball in the Greek sea after an exhausting education day.

And there were a lot of other possibilities to socialize, besides pair programming: a go-kart event, a rainy barbecue, joint dinners and after work beers. And there was a special gift for all employees on Christmas: A tabletop soccer, which is already heavily in use and closes one of the last gaps in the Zuhlke-location-tabletop-soccer-map.

Personal

For me personally, more than a year has passed by since I started my journey 960 kilometers away. It is still an awesome trip and a great experience. Although I am still struggling with the language I am getting used to the increased bureaucracy, the frequent law changes and the rather pragmatic driving style in Serbia.

Looking back to November 2013, when we started our adventure with four engineers in temporary offices, and comparing with our current state I am really proud what we achieved – as a team – within these 15 months!

I can already say that this was one of my best years. If you will ever get a similar chance to work abroad for a limited time – seize it!

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