A first-hand experience of Nmbrs’ exchange programme in Lisbon
Thijmen Alkema, Product Owner (PO) for three squads at Nmbrs’ Amsterdam office, recently spent four months living and working in Lisbon on a Nmbrs exchange programme. The programme has been specially created for eligible full time employees and it is aimed at improving the lines of communication between the Amsterdam and Lisbon offices. Here, Thijmen explains why he jumped at the opportunity to do the exchange, what he expected from the experience and his main take-aways. He even throws in a few do’s and don’ts for anyone considering following his example, which he strongly recommends by the way.
Bridging the cultural divide
As an international company with offices in Amsterdam and Lisbon, I think it’s inevitable that cultural differences will influence the way that employees work together. The beauty of the exchange programme created and offered by Nmbrs is that it makes it possible for employees to bridge that cultural divide, bring us all closer together and thus strengthen our collective culture.
I had several work-related reasons for wanting to go to Lisbon and participate in this exchange. The obvious one was that I wanted to experience working closely - face-to-face - with people I’d otherwise only collaborate with at a distance. I’m PO of three squads, mostly divided between Amsterdam and Lisbon, and I believe that cultural differences can make us react differently to situations. Working face-to-face can certainly benefit the outcome of a project, and brainstorming is so much more effective when you’re better acquainted and can look one another in the eye.
I also wanted to involve the whole squad in establishing complete solutions to our problems, as opposed to implementing what might be seen as half-baked ones. If everyone is behind a solution it’ll be reflected in the final result. The proof of this is that we are really proud of the results of our last few projects. It also makes it easier to ensure that every solution update really adds value. Breaking down a solution into smaller parts, even when this seems impossible to do, makes it much more manageable. That’s what we do, and are good at.
Of course, I also had a few personal reasons for going to Lisbon, such as exploring the city and meeting new people. I’ve never lived, studied or worked in another country and this exchange was a great opportunity to embark on a new adventure and challenge myself. In the meantime I can safely say I’m now familiar with most - if not all - of the bars in the city’s central Bairro Alto district. Lisbon really is a fantastic, vibrant city. Every day of the week, right into the early hours, you’ll see people of all ages walking the streets and enjoying each other’s company in bars and restaurants. For me, all these aspects quickly made the switch between the two cities much more fun and much less of a challenge than I had expected.
My stay in Lisbon opened my eyes to so many things. Such as the difference in working environments, for example. The Amsterdam office is very lively, which contrasts sharply with Lisbon, where people tend to wear headphones and work in silence. The time I spent there showed me the best way of communicating with colleagues about specific problems and potential improvements, and, importantly, the best moment to do so. Being in the same room makes it so much easier to visualise a particular problem together and solve it by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable parts. Furthermore, when designing new features, it’s easier to fine-tune how things need to work and there’s less chance of “crossed wires”.
Being in the same room makes it so much easier to visualise a particular problem together and solve it by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable parts.
The only slightly negative aspect of all this is that, as a foreigner, finding accommodation can be difficult. However, if you're willing to settle for student accommodation, platforms like Uniplaces, in Lisbon, as well as the relevant Facebook groups, can certainly help. I was lucky. Having opted for Uniplaces, it automatically meant that I could socialise and go out with the other people who were staying in my accommodation. And, of course, our Nmbrs colleagues in Lisbon are great fun and they do a lot together outside work.
Setting an example for other companies
I think every internationally operating company should have an exchange opportunity like the one offered by Nmbrs. In addition to letting employees see first-hand how things are done elsewhere, making them more aware of different ways of working and contrasting dynamics and cultures, it’s also a wonderful experience that they will never forget. Speed is of the essence though. My advice for companies offering such an exchange is not to let an applicant wait too long for a decision. Similarly, any employee thinking of doing an exchange should act quickly. Sometimes a delay of just a few months can mean circumstances can change to the extent that it will no longer be worthwhile.
Finally, here are five useful tips I learned that you probably wouldn’t get to read on Trip Advisor!
- If a developer is wearing headphones never approach him or her from behind. Do it from the side.
- There’s no better way to finish lunch than with a “bica” - a strong coffee - at a roadside café while soaking up the sun.
- Morangoskas are delicious; they are too much. But four morangoskas in the same evening really is too much!
- A Portuguese salad consists of rice, French fries and an egg.
- Never, and I mean never, ask the locals purely out of interest whether they prefer Benfica or Sporting!