Swap Desks for a Month: 9 Learnings from my Tech Hub Exchange

Samir Sayegh
Jan 29 · 5 min read

Originally from Venezuela, I am a software engineer living in Barcelona and working for FREE NOW in the Driver Team, the team who focus on the development of the FREE NOW app that our drivers use.

Samir Sayegh, a Software Developer for the Driver Tribe.

Moving from Venezuela to Barcelona was a huge change for me, especially as it was my first visit ever to Europe and I only knew about Barcelona from what people told me. However, to my surprise, adapting to my new life here was faster than I thought as I already had some friends here who helped me to settle in. I also realised that the Venezuelan community is very active and as I used to work with many of them, it helps me to feel like I can be myself here.

I love Barcelona because of how international it is and also the weather; people from all over the world live here and we have sun almost every day of the year. Temperatures are never particularly low, we have a beach and mountains are nearby- in one day, you can do so many different things.

Although Barcelona is a dream city, I have always been interested in learning more about our Hamburg tech hub and experiencing what it would be like to work there. Earlier this year, I was talking to my manager about the possibility of programming with the Hamburg tech hub and facilitating knowledge sharing between the Hamburg and Barcelona tech hubs. Shortly after our Head of Engineering, Florian Myrau invited me to join a one-month exchange programme in Hamburg.

This was the opportunity that I had been waiting for!

Why was this exchange programme so important?
As a company, we are growing a lot and very fast. For me, it was a great opportunity to meet colleagues from the Hamburg HQ and build a relationship with people who could facilitate knowledge sharing so that both tech hubs benefit from optimised processes and different perspectives.

What were the main takeaways from this trip?
I learnt a lot. I got to know a lot of people. It was particularly interesting in terms of the product, as I got to understand better how the driver application works. Up until that point, I had only seen the passenger-overview and didn’t know how it was developed.
Now I understand better which differences we have between the driver and passenger applications, even though we started with the same base code.

During my exchange, I attended different meetings like daily standups from different teams so that I could understand how the teams worked on a day to day basis. Every meeting was an opportunity to provide feedback and review solved issues in the application. Also, I helped in the releases that they did, so now I understand better how they do it and how we do it in Barcelona. Having exposure to sprint reviews was also very insightful as now I understand better what is achieved and processed every two weeks.

The entire experience has helped my work in Barcelona and I have presented my learnings to all the teams when I arrived home, so hopefully, the trip will have benefited not just me but also others in my team and tech hub. For instance, now we are creating tools in the driver application to improve the release process with some of the insights that we got from the exchange.

Exchange trips are made for surprises
How similar the culture in Hamburg’s office is to Barcelona’s office; when you come into the office, the vibe is the same and how people act and conduct meetings are very similar. During my trip, I felt like I fitted in from the beginning. Likewise, if someone comes to the Barcelona tech hub from Hamburg they fit in very fast because we have the same culture.

Adapting to a new city: an exercise in exploration
Everything was quite challenging; that’s to be expected as I had never lived in Hamburg before. Also, living in Hamburg for one month is not a short trip- you have to adapt quickly to a new city, which was a challenge but was also really exciting.

The whole exchange was a great exercise in exploration; working in a new city, meeting different teams and different managers. This time, I tried to limit the attention that I paid to work in Barcelona so that I could focus on working in Hamburg. Although this was difficult, it helped me to be more present when I was in Hamburg.

My recommendations for anyone considering an exchange
I would highly recommend it! It is also very important for the company to facilitate this. The information that is shared, the connections that are built and overall, the shared understanding internally is so valuable. It’s like having internal consultants who know the company inside-out and can recommend ways to optimise and can feedback quickly.

How did I get settled in?
Finding a flat was a bit of a challenge but I asked for help and Julie, our office manager in Barcelona, kindly helped me to find accommodation. The flat was fully furnished and easy to live in so it felt more like home. I stayed near Reeperbahn, which is the party centre of Hamburg. I was living close to Christmas markets, so I got to try Glühwein. In Barcelona, you don’t drink hot wine but during chilly Hamburg winters, it’s a nice drink to warm up with.

During the week, I made sure I was active and I made sure to attend every after-work event. These events were a great way to get to know people and understand the local culture. I even went to a table soccer event with my team- that was fun!

Team Building event with the PAS-SAK team.

Creating relationships and friendships during the trip
Definitely! Now being home, I definitely write to them in Slack more often.
Also, when people come to visit from Hamburg, they know me better and can ask me questions ahead of their trip.

When I left, I almost cried during the last meeting that I did for the team — they bought me presents as a thank you for all of my work and contribution during the exchange.

Preparing for the exchange
I took the time to think about the trip. What was I going to do? What was I going to get out of the trip? What would be my main focus? What expectations did I have? What goals did we have? Once I had set these goals, it was a lot easier to focus once I was there and then afterwards, it was much easier to assess the outcome of the trip.

Hamburg highlights
The fish! I have never eaten so much fish before.
Also walking to work and walking alongside the river every day- that was special. Also, I was very impressed with the public transport- it was very punctual and reliable.

Are you interested in experiencing similar knowledge-sharing opportunities at work like Samir? Check out the opportunities available in our tech hubs in Hamburg, Barcelona and Berlin here.


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