From Manchester to Microsoft – missing mum :-(

'SYS Brit Noseflashes' mailing list welcomes migrants to Redmond

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The eXpat files Welcome to another eXpat Files, in which Reg readers tell of leaving home and hearth for career upgrades only available elsewhere.

This time around we're chatting to 26-year-old Dai Rees, who moved on from “a small commuter town south of Manchester” that he won't name “to spite my former headmaster, who actively discouraged my 'disruptive' interests in computing (or 'ICT' as his kind are known to call it)”.

Dai's moved to Seattle, Washington, where he works for a certain technology company that made Redmond its home.

The Register: What do you do and with what technologies?

Dai Rees: I’m currently a software engineer working on the “Chakra” JavaScript engine in Internet Explorer – I’m involved with instrumenting the engine and other data collection tasks, which also involves processing the data and presenting it to the important people nearer the top of the org-tree who then make decisions based on that data. I make dashboard reports using an internal proprietary tool. However, 95 per cent of my tools are dogfooded and exactly the same as what the public can use.

Chakra itself is a C++11 project, but for tooling we use C#, PowerShell and whatever other technologies get results quickly, so we have a few bash scripts lying around too. For source control, we use an unhealthy mixture of Source Depot (Perforce), Local TFS, VSO, and git (via VSO). Collaboration has moved away from Sharepoint (on my team at least) and towards Sharepoint-hosted shared OneNote notebooks. Personally, I’d prefer we all used a git-based Markdown CMS.

The Register: Why did you decide to move?

Dai Rees: I moved because Microsoft gave me a job offer after a successful on-site interview. I already had a large understanding (and appreciation) of the company, I already had many friends already working there, and it’s something I had been expecting myself to accomplish since I was 15.

I had been an expatriate before: as a child I lived in the Philippines for a few years, so I had already experienced the life and had developed a taste for it. Accepting the job was, as the Americans say, a “no-brainer”: I would get to re-live the expat experience, I wouldn’t be losing any connections (thanks to Skype™), I had zero friends from Secondary School (fancy that!) and my friends from sixth form and university had moved all over the UK, so I wouldn’t get to see them anyway. And the pay is considerably more than anything I would get in the UK outside of The City. Microsoft also has a Master’s degree tuition reimbursement programme, so I was instantly sold.

The Register: How did you get the gig?

Dai Rees: I had applied to Microsoft for an internship every year since I was in sixth form. However, I didn’t get noticed until six months after I graduated, when I received a surprise email from a recruiter. After a phone interview and on-site interview, a formal offer was made a week later. I accepted, waited nine months for my visa, and that’s pretty much it. To my surprise, the recommendations my friends already at Microsoft made about me were not considered when I was selected for interview.

The Register: Pay: up or down?

Dai Rees: Up. Considerably, from what it would have been had I stayed. My friends at university described securing “junior” software developer positions or in one case, a manual testing position and we’ve had frank conversations about compensation. It’s safe to say, even taking the varying exchange rate and PPP into account, my starting salary at Microsoft was a multiple of what my contemporaries in the UK were making. Coupled with the lower effective tax rate and the great health insurance plan, it made me feel almost angry about the massive disparity in our circumstances. Especially those who had genuinely worked harder and earned better degrees than my 2:1, but had ended up earning less.

However, they do describe their salaries growing much faster than mine, I expect that right now, four years after graduating, that I’m probably earning around twice what they would be by now, compared to rather more times at the beginning.

The Register: How do workplaces differ between the UK and USA?

Dai Rees: This question is hard to answer as it matters considerably more who the employer is. I know of some pretty terrible places to work in the US if you write software and I know great places in the UK too (I have a friend who works at Google in London, for example). I suppose the only workplace difference between the USA and UK of any significance is that the power-sockets are different and run at 120V, and the keyboards don’t have Her Majesty’s £ sign on them.

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