Relocation Guide: Why I Left NYC for Berlin
For some, relocating for a job is a hurdle, for Sarah - it was the goal. Today we hear from Sarah Varki, Senior Product Manager, on why she was happy to trade the Empire State Building for TV Tower and her advice for those looking to do the same.
Could you please introduce yourself?
I’m Sarah Varki. I’m originally from California, but I spent the last few years working in New York before moving to Berlin in July 2017. I’m a Senior Product Manager and I mainly work on the Native Apps team, along with other projects.
What does being a Product Manager entail?
A Product Manager role is a little bit of everything. Generally, we decide the roadmap, what’s going to be built, and in what priority. This involves asking ourselves a lot of questions:
- Why should we do this?
- What are the customer’s needs?
- What should we be measuring?
- What can we learn from that?
And working with Design and Engineering to figure out the how:
- How does it solve the user’s problem?
- How does it function?
- How does it look?
- How do we build it?
Before Berlin, you worked in NYC. What brought you to NYC from the Bay Area?
I previously worked in Silicon Valley, but I wanted to try something different while I could, so I moved to the East Coast for business school. I knew based on my experience in San Francisco that as long as I was living in a bigger city with public transit and things to do that I would adapt pretty well. So, after business school, I found the right role and opportunity in New York.
And now NYC to Berlin. What made you decide to look for roles abroad?
I took a 6-week trip through Asia. I'm really lucky to have traveled so much (she's visited 41 countries!), but aside from a 3-month stint here and there, I had never lived abroad. I loved New York, but I loved the idea of being an expat more.
One of my old mentors used to say, "when you’re comfortable, you’re not learning," and I was really comfortable in New York.
So, what came next?
Once I decided I wanted to work in another country, I started doing research. I wanted to know if I would have to join a massive company that would relocate me or if I could do it on my own, from scratch.
I talked to people from Berlin, London, Stockholm, Edinburgh, Dubai, Dublin, Singapore, Rio, Sao Paulo - basically anywhere that had an up and coming tech hub.
What did you research?
A lot of the research I did was around cost of living. I used a tool called Numbeo and this helped me understand the cost of living relative to NYC. Glassdoor also helped me get more information about the companies I was applying to and better understand the potential range of offers/know what to ask for.
I also did a lot of research to find out where the funding rounds were happening. Finally, since my goal was to stay with a smaller company, I researched visa processes for different countries to see if moving somewhere, like London for example, was better if through a big company.
How did you find GYG?
I was looking for jobs in Berlin through Berlin Startup Jobs and found the role. Then I looked through my network and found someone here who I was connected to.
What has been your experience adjusting to life in Berlin - the good and the bad?
I have a list of observations I’ve made because sometimes I don’t know if something I've observed is a European thing, a German thing, or a Berlin thing. I’ve been told comparing Berlin to Germany is sort of like comparing Austin to Texas.
I had expected to feel out of place because of the language, but it actually surprised me just how much English is used here. Everyone at home makes fun of me because of how little German I know, but it’s been hard for me to learn since I'm speaking English at work all day.
I will say the cash-based society is something I’m still getting used to, but overall it was a much easier transition than I expected. Everything I've experienced here is very cool, but also like other big cities in terms of the mass transit, diversity, and the number of things you can do at any given time of the day. If you’ve lived in a city before, you’ll find your way.
How is the tech scene in Berlin compared to NYC?
The tech scene in Berlin is still young, so there's a lot of potential. There are a lot of events but they aren't competing with each other every day like in NYC or the Bay Area. I've noticed the companies that do have meetups are really interesting, and I've been able to build a network of PMs from other companies, either through people I know or Slack groups like Women in Product and Mind the Product that have large Berlin channels.
What are the perks of working in Berlin?
Berlin is incredibly diverse and the tech scene is very international, which is a huge perk. My team has engineers from Russia, Italy, Spain, Brasil, and Portugal. Personally, I’ve expanded a lot and learned not everyone communicates or thinks like Americans do, of course!
Pushing myself to be in a different culture and in different situations expanded my horizons as a person and product manager. There are countless stories of a non-diverse workplace producing software that isn't accommodating since it’s just not a part of their process. The less you experience, the less this is part of your understanding and what you consider. Living in another country forces you to think about these things.
It's also been nice to be exposed to non-US centric tech events and tech culture. There are tech conferences based in Berlin and big events all over Europe. I recently went to Mind the Product in Hamburg, and a Google Event in London, for example.
What advice would you have for someone interested in GetYourGuide but unsure about relocating?
If you have the time and ability, definitely come to Berlin and get to know the city a bit. I decided on Berlin after being here for a total of 5 days, and there are others who came without even visiting! But, as I mentioned before, if you come from another big multicultural city, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is being here.
Whatever you like to do - whether it’s tattoos, techno, knitting, or even just sitting in the park - you’ll find everything. If you’re afraid you won’t know what to do or won’t make friends, there are so many avenues to do that. A lot of my friends are from GYG, but I’ve also found friends at the gym and through expat groups.
If the fear is around the logistics of moving, our HR team is amazing. They helped me with everything, even translating and clarifying my apartment contract. Relocating with the help of GetYourGuide, I was never alone in the process.
Thanks Sarah for sharing your experience moving from NYC to Berlin and the research you did along the way. Interested in helping shape our product? Check out our open positions.