Looking back on the last five years of my life spent living abroad it is easy for me to dwell on the things that didn’t work out well. That is just the way I seem to be. I’d like to try to spend a little time dwelling a bit on the things that really worked out well, though, because once I start listing them out it will become apparent to me just how many there are. And in the end the events that were good really outweigh the problems that came up.
I learned a lot. Really. All in all, this time has been the most jam-packed learning of my life. In no particular order, I learned:
- to speak German. I could speak it ok before I moved there, but living in the country took it to a different level.
- various forms of formal analysis. Like many things learned at university you won’t be applying it every day, but it completely changes the way you see the world.
- how to give a five minute talk on just about any subject with just a few minutes of preparation.
- how relational database systems work. I missed out on this in my undergraduate degree, and boy, was it an eye opener.
- how to be (a little bit) comfortable not speaking the language. From being out of my depth with German to taking trips in countries where I don’t speak a lick of the language to not understanding someone’s accent, I’ve learned that it isn’t the end of the world and it’ll work out in the end.
- to think about my communication style and how it impacts those around me.
- that it is really hard to overdo it on refactoring and unit testing.
- the fragility of a team.
- that constant improvement is hard but pays off in spades.
- the cooperative learning/teaching potential of a group of like minded people meeting every Tuesday for a beer and a chat.
- that being a stranger in a strange land can feel like you have no connection to those around you.
- that different cats, even sisters who have spent their entire lives together, will end up with completely different personalities.
- that ruthlessly tracking down the real cause of an error can take you to very uncomfortable places that you probably wouldn’t expect to find yourself at the outset.
- how many amazing people there are in London to learn from.
- to understand people with different accents (this was a point of hilarity many times).
- to concentrate on the journey and the destination will work itself out.
As well as learning things I also got to know a lot of people. Each one of them ended up being a great friend and helped my wife and I feel like we belonged where ever we were.
I got to do a bit of traveling. Ate some tasty pies in the Lake District. Found hops growing wild on the bank of the Rhein river. Crossed the channel on an overnight ferry (luxury!). Cycled along Loch Ness on a beautifully sunny day. Climbed a rock face in the French Alps (and then ran away when a storm came in and a rock fell a short distance away). Visited Neuschwanstein when it was shrouded in mist which revealed the castle now and then in its fairy tale splendor. Discovered that Marrakech is an amazing oasis of bustling activity on the edge of the desert.
When I left the United States I was a cocky, young programmer who felt that he had the solution to most, if not all, of the problems in software development. Now that I’ve returned to the United States I think that I’m a somewhat less cocky, not-quite-so-young programmer who feels that he has something of value to add, but has learned that he doesn’t know a lot about a lot of things. For helping me start that transformation I am eternally grateful and indebted to all of my Mitstudenten and Professoren from my degree program (every time I walk into an Apple store I think, “my god, I studied with the guy that wrote one of the programs running on all of these iPads!”). Then for giving me the feedback, space, and incentives to continue down this path there is everyone that I met at XTC and everyone I had the privilege and pleasure to work and learn with at TIM Group. If you ever find yourself in London try to make time for some beers with the XTC crowd and drop the guys at TIM Group a line and see if you can join them for a day, you won’t be disappointed.