‘Life would be difficult if I didn’t speak any German’
James Hobson is the director of software development at the Berlin offices of dmc, a digital media consultancy. He is responsible for an international team of software developers building e-commerce solutions.
I would say that German isn’t a required starting point, but anyone planning to live and work in Berlin for more than a few months should look at picking up a decent level of the language. Not because it’s required, but because it makes such a big difference to feeling a part of the team, to not always be the lost guy asking what everything means.What are the key differences practising your profession here and your home country?
As anyone will tell you, Germany is efficient but bureaucracy-crazy. It’s hard to tell if those facts are related. An implicit “customer said it was ok” doesn’t fly here, everything needs to be printed, signed and freigegeben [approved]. But other than minor things, I think IT is one of the most international careers, and things vary much less than in other industries. Anyone used to working for a software company in London would very quickly feel at home at any of the places I know here in Berlin.
I am a chemistry graduate, which many Germans find incredible. The idea that someone here can change careers seems shocking. It has never been a problem for me that I have the “wrong” qualifications, but I regularly get asked about it.
What are the best and worst parts about working in Germany?
Salaries are much lower here than in London, but due to the cost of living differences I don’t think that is as much of a big deal as it seems on the surface. The best thing is of course having someone pay me to live in the best place in the world. I have the life many people dream of and it’s all paid for by a job I love. I am very fortunate to be in this position.
The worst part? That’s a very difficult question. I find the bureaucracy difficult, constantly finding that I cannot do things because someone somewhere has to approve or sign something first. In London I was expected to be a Swiss army knife, constantly picking up anything that needed doing. Here this is looked upon with a degree of suspicion – why are you doing that? it’s not your job!
Do you plan on staying?
Yes, absolutely. Like most of the people who come to Berlin, I did so because I love the place. I love the arts, the creative and the musical scene here, I love the people and I love the language. I love being surrounded by the history and I love the freedom here. I can get anywhere in Berlin from anywhere else in about an hour, I can have a great meal for less than €10, and I can see the concerts from the world’s greatest stars every month.
I think the “poor but sexy” brand has been overused, but to some extent it’s still true. Many of the problems of Berlin, the high unemployment for example, are key to keeping prices down and allowing the arts scene to develop.
I don’t believe my home-town, London, will ever have the raw excitement of Berlin; it’s too grown up. London wears a suit, works in a bank, and drinks in a wine bar. And I love London for that, but after 30 odd years, it’s time for a change, and Berlin is my new home.