I moved to the United Kingdom (UK) from Greece five years ago. I left my friends behind and packed up my family for tech opportunities in cloud, machine learning and High Performance Computer (HPC) engineering. As an expat, my personal life will always be inextricably tied with my work. And as a dad, those ties are even more complex. Throughout the last five years in the UK, I’ve learned firsthand what it means for a company to uplift those ties, and how it feels when that support falls.
When I first moved to the UK, I immediately began the search for a primary school for my daughter. Unfortunately, the school offered to her was 10 miles from our home. I distinctly remember hurrying across the old Wokingham roads to make the appointment on time to appeal the school’s decision. Running right alongside me, just as eager and winded as me, was my manager, Dan. He’d heartily agreed to attend the appeal with me as a chaperone.
When the proceedings began, the principal sat down and opened the meeting for questions. Dan jumped in with question after question. Unrelenting, he barely gave the principal time to breathe. He told the appeals court how he’d struggled to find candidates who spoke English, German and French. Candidates who specialized in Linux. How valuable my skillset was and how important my family was to the local community. I watched the principal stutter and drop his papers. The appeals team shifted uncomfortably in their seats. The room fell silent.
In a week I received the decision: my daughter joined our local primary school. I had won the appeal— and my manager had helped me achieve that.
My manager became a legend in my eyes. He changed the future of my child. He helped my family feel more confident in our own neighborhood. He showed up for me as an advocate and a friend. I later learned that his son had special needs. He was intimately familiar with leading tough conversations with school boards, appeals courts and advocates.
After a year, another company acquired us. The larger organization had hundreds of thousands employees. Their culture was built on rigid procedures and processes. To confirm an HR document, I had to open a ticket with HR and wait over a week. My new manager couldn’t pronounce my name correctly for 6 months. I was told I couldn’t work from home anymore. Without that scheduling flexibility, I’d have to hire someone to look after my young son, who was out of school every third week due to a health problem. I was suffocating. Something had to change.
Eventually Discover reached out about a role in Farnborough. I felt afraid. I knew Discover was a big company in financial services. I didn’t want to jump into procedures and rigidity again. Luckily, that’s never been the case.
A week after I joined Discover, just before the holidays, my manager, Will, travelled from Chicago to visit my team in the UK. We spoke a lot about our families. At the end of the visit he gave me holiday cards handmade by his daughters. I felt a similar kindness that I had in my first role. I knew then that Discover was a place where I could show up with my full self.
It’s been a year since I joined Discover. I’m on the AWS Networking Services team. We deliver cutting edge technology while growing our skillsets. We routinely adopt all new cloud platform features after they launch (and are approved by our cyber security team). As an engineer, it’s exciting to get to consistently work with new tech.
I meet with Will every other week. He knows what bothers me— work related or not. Our AWS cloud engineering team is like a small startup inside a bigger organization. We’re a group of 22 and have the warmth and familiarity of a family. We know and support each other as people. I’ve made true friends both here in the UK and in the US.
I remember what it’s like to move to a new country, completely unfamiliar with the habits and local cultural differences. It can be isolating and scary. Though I’ve now adapted, I see some of my co-workers going through similar challenges as they move internationally for roles. The global friendships I’ve made at Discover are especially important for all of us who aren’t born in the country where we now work and live. We don’t have parents, siblings, or relatives living here with us. This emotional gap must be filled by other strong relationships. The friendships we build at work help to fill in some of those gaps.
And most importantly— there’s a healthy integration between my working life and my family. I’m able to prepare breakfast, drop my kids off at school in the morning, and pick them up in the afternoon. And my leadership team stands by me.
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