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Maryna Cherniavska in Berlin: 7 surprising differences between working as a software engineer in Ukraine and in Europe

(Editor’s note: This post about the differences between working as a software engineer in Ukraine and in Europe is part of our Tech Tuesday series. Dispatches covers the tech scene across Europe because so many of our highly skilled internationals are developers, engineers and physicists.)

You read a lot of posts like this. Ten things that millionaires do and other people should start doing. Seven differences between successful people and losers. Twelve habits that will make you rich. Five books that you have to read this year.

This one is not about getting prosperous, though.

It is just a personal experience of a software developer from Ukraine, who settled in Europe, looked around, and found some differences.

And I am hoping it might be interesting to other people in a similar position or considering this kind of move. Or, well, just to the curious. So, in no particular order, here goes.

No. 7 The parties

When I was still in Ukraine, the software company that employed me threw huge, and I mean HUGE, parties on all the major occasions: Christmas, Halloween, and the company day that was something like a corporate birthday. The company day was I think the biggest of all, and sometimes included taking all the employees on an overnight trip to some countryside hotel that was fully booked for two days of festivities.

The entertainers were hired, contests planned, gargantuan feasts prepared and team-building events like paintball or laser tag or beach volleyball organized. Often, people also got swag for these events or wore costumes.

Halloween party at the office. This one was small and didn’t have a fancy venue. — Photo from the author’s archive

For Christmas parties, employees were dressed up to the best of their abilities, including (for women) long or sparkly gowns, jewelry, elaborate hairstyles, professionally done nails, and makeup. The food was plentiful, and the venues fancy.

The server prepared the table for the Christmas party at the restaurant. — Photo from the author’s archive

The company was pretty small; it only had about a hundred people in Ukraine.

When I told my sister in the United States about one of these events, she said: “Wow. Here, only a company on something like the Google level would be able to afford something like that.” She was right; after I moved to Europe, I also hadn’t seen celebrations of this kind. Not ever.

No. 6 Product over outsourcing

This is more business-related and less personal. Historically, Ukraine has been a significant tech hub, probably one of the most competitive alternatives to India. I will not go over the differences between Indian and Ukrainian software developers here because obviously, as a Ukrainian dev myself, I am far from objective; also, I don’t want to start a holy war.

But the reason it happened was economical: Ukrainians were cheaper. And it’s not because they’re underpaid (more on this in the next paragraph). It’s because the taxes are very lenient. So, Ukraine has become a major outsourcing hub, and there have always been way more jobs in the outsourcing companies, rather than in the product ones.

But there are also great product companies in Ukraine — Grammarly, to name one. It has headquarters in the USA, as probably most tech companies do, but it’s founded by Ukrainians and employs many developers that reside in Ukraine.

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

No. 5 The income

So, let’s elaborate a bit on the income question.

As stated above, Ukrainian developers and other IT employees are by no means underpaid.

In fact, when I went to Europe, I took a significant pay cut in my net wages. (Gross salary was higher.)

Moreover, an IT salary allows a Ukrainian to earn well above the median income — just because mostly, the clients are paying in US dollars, and the exchange rate is very, very favorable. So the IT people are not just the blue-collar workers — they’re the elite of the office workers; they reign supreme.

In Europe, you earn well, but you’re on par with most other office workers. Income-wise, you don’t stand out; you’re just middle class. Some Ukrainians I know found this a welcome change; for some, it was a big adjustment.

Photo by Alexander Mils on Unsplash

No. 4 Employee over an entrepreneur

This is another tax-related topic, but we’ll make it short. In Ukraine, many employees work as contractors to minimize taxes. So, the outsourcing company might hire 200 developers, and they’ll pay minimal taxes as private entrepreneurs (and those taxes the company will often compensate by topping up the payouts accordingly).

This is done because when people are hired as full-blown employees, the taxes are much higher for the employer, and actually, for the employee as well. The tax authorities usually overlook these schemes, because software developers are Ukraine’s valued resource and the government doesn’t want to make them flee the country.

Not so in Europe.

Germany mainly offers employee contracts, and it’s also better to have such a contract for visa reasons since one usually needs an unlimited contract to get a permanent residence permit here.

Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash

No. 3 The cookies

This isn’t about the actual cookies; more like, all the bonuses that come with the job. And Ukrainian IT companies jump over each other to attract people.

Among those bonuses, the most coveted and quite well spread are:

  • free hot meals at the office;
  • private medical insurance;
  • English lessons on-premises or paid English courses (these are a professional requirement since this is the language the clients speak, but it’s also a great personal bonus);
  • gym on premises or paid gym subscription;
  • massage services on-premises (nope I am not kidding);
  • fancy offices with table tennis, table soccer, etc.;
  • off-site team building events, including different group activities.
A team building that didn’t happen on a good day, but it hasn’t stopped anyone. — Photo from the author’s archive

In a European company, one can count on free drinks and snacks at the office, and sometimes the hot lunches are covered by the company. Some companies also pay for language lessons, but often for a limited time, say a year.

And, sure enough, no massage.

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Unsplash

No. 2 The dress code

This is a pretty interesting topic since it’s very different gender-wise. But what I’ve noticed is that in Europe people dress very simply. They don’t do it to impress.

I’ve seen two extremes in Ukraine: people who dress too formally and people who overdo it on the opposite side, wearing “athleisure” to the office. Tracksuits, especially white or beige, or expensive yoga pants with super-cool sneakers are very often seen on glamorous girls, combined with a tan, fake eyelashes, and a full set of makeup and jewelry.

In Europe, IT males and females have mostly the same uniform, consisting of jeans, t-shirts, or long sleeves, with hoodies or sweatshirts. Light puffer jackets or coats, when the winter comes. No fur; no tall boots, almost no skirts.

There was no formal dress code in the companies I worked for, but people mainly followed the code of not sticking out. In Ukraine, people often want to be noticed.

I’ve also seen males wearing super short shorts to the office on hot summer days in both countries, of course, and that’s always an unwelcome sight; but no one said a word in either country, so I’m not sure if that’s such a faux pas.

No. 1 The attitude

This is the ultimate difference. I’ve found the European attitude to be best expressed in two words.

Who cares?

The answer is, no one does. And it takes a lot of pressure off you.

In Ukraine, people always measure you up to some standards. If you’re a certain age, why aren’t you married? Why do you wear a man bun (or cut your hair short if you’re a woman)? Why don’t you have a kid? When’s the second child coming? Why do you still rent an apartment? Why are your shoes so scuffed? The whys and the side glances never end, and they’re tiring. But here, no one bats an eye.

The crayons need to be different, otherwise, we can’t draw. Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash

This difference is of course not only relevant for the tech people; it’s omnipresent. But the tech people are very movable and therefore experience it more often. And we notice.

In my current company, there’s an official Source Code that has a few very simple rules. One of them is “As YOU, Are”.

We all come in different shapes with different interests and skills. We all have an accent. Celebrate it. Just come as you are.

And this is what, ultimately, many of us do.


Read more about tech here in Dispatches’ archives.

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Maryna is a software developer from Ukraine who now lives in Germany. Maryna also writes a programming blog to share her knowledge. She sometimes speaks at conferences, though being an introvert, writing comes more naturally. She says she’s not a professional writer but writing is something she likes, “and I think I can do it pretty well.”

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