This month marks the beginning of my fifth year in London. I thought it would be a good time to look back and talk about how the experience has been up to now, and how it looks to develop in lights of… pretty much everything else going around us. It’s not the first time, but given in the past few years things have changed significantly, it’s worth a refresh.
As I said when I moved to London in the first place, I was looking to meet more people, since in Dublin I would only hang around colleagues and other techies immigrants. In London that changed quickly. Not only I ended up meeting my wife at a metal concert, but playing Pokémon Go was a great way to meet neighbours and other folks who I wouldn’t have met through work at all. This was even more important during the lockdown: we have a very local Pokémon Go group, for just our local development area, and that meant we could coordinate not just the local game mechanics, but know when the local Sainsbury’s was restocked, and what we could be expected to find. We even managed to shop for each other from time to time.
The other big difference between my time in Dublin and my time here in London is the amount of events. It’s a lot different now that the pandemic has both reduced the amount of events, and pretty much scared us from taking part in our usual yearly calendar. Even with the vaccine, it’s scary to think of being in the usual Comic Con areas, and that’s something that is going to take us some time to get used to. If ever. But even without those, we have managed to see again No Such Thing As A Fish as our first event after the lockdown, nicely bookending the Corona crisis for us, as the last event we have been to was the recording of QI Radioactive episode.
Given that the event shave split into concerts and nerdery, I’m the one bringing my wife to nerdery, and she’s the one organizing good concerts and musicals for us. I do miss going to Broadcasting House and the Radio Theatre to listen to the recordings of programs such as Museum of Curiosity or Ellie Taylor’s Safe Space. And we both miss the pre-theatre thrill before seeing The Lion King or Sarah Brightman.
Despite the lack of events in our calendar, we still managed to meet up with friends, even across London. That included a number of dinners at Coco Ichibanya in city centre, a few outings to Kew Gardens, and also an afternoon or two completley unscheduled with acquaintances we hadn’t seen for the duration of the lockdown.
In the previous post I also noted how the professional jump of the island didn’t help out. Indeed, as you may have noticed by now, I have changed jobs. Previously a Site Reliability Engineer in Google, I’m now a Production engineer at Facebook (or to be precise in WhatsApp.) This was a significant improvement to my quality of life, even though the workload in the past few weeks have been a bit hectic, due in no small part to the slightly visible outage that the company suffered. I still don’t quite know why Google Dublin and Google London felt so different, but I do think that all in all, Google London was not a good fit for me.
My last manager in particular had brought me to burn out, and I’m still dealing with some of the triggers left from the experience. Having a good, supportive manager now gives me the ability to focus on what I want to achieve in my career, which works quite well with my reflection on senior engineering. And I feel very lucky with my teammates, including because turns out that the world is small, and I had a few connections already with the teammates, which made me feel less alone and lost.
Now, the obvious problems with all of this is that between the pandemic, the lockdowns, and the whole other mess that is Brexit, the situation is not all roses. Having had to move apartment in the middle of it didn’t help, although the current apartment we’re in is fairly good to us (I should write another post about having finally installed a water softener.) Cost of living has definitely increased, and we can actually see that already in some of our regular expenses, even excluding the whole mess that is the energy market right now.
Now I would be lying out of my teeth if I didn’t admit that working in tech has the privilege of shielding us from this increase. It still does not feel good, because it still means that we can see it impacting our friends, and acquaintances. In a world where you are friendly to your neighbourhood’s shop and restaurant owners, seeing the impact on their business of this whole downturn does not “feel fine”.
And adding to this, both me and my wife have family in the Continent. The pandemic has definitely made us think again about how quickly we can go and see them in case of something happening. Part of the issue has been the border lockdowns, but more of it was the differences in documentation needed for the UK compared to the rest of Europe.
Just this year we had to miss two weddings, of our dear friends. These add to the one we already had to miss last year. These are people that are close to be family to me, and having missed their happiest day is still a wound to me, even though I understand that this is nothing compared to the people who lost their loved ones in a foreign country, with no way to spend time with their families.
Does this mean we are leaving London, and the UK? Probably not in the medium term. London is still a vibrant city and the UK is still the only country in the English-speaking world where we would be considering living at the moment. But it will be part of the discussion in a few years, particularly as remote work positions start becoming available, and the option of being closer to family and friends will be back in alculation.
So, all in all, what do I think of the past four years? I think I made the best decision of my life to leave Dublin. Much as I miss a number of my Dublin friends, and the late nights at Al Vesuvio with the other Italian techies, there is no comparison with having actually built a non-work-related network of friends in the neighbourhood, or having met my wife, or having finally shaken hands with Dirk Maggs (twice! and the second time by utter chance being at the same event!)
As for others considering this jump, or deciding between Dublin and London? Well, that depends a lot on you what they are looking for! Dublin is still a good place, if expensive, for those that are looking for a place to raise a family, I guess. The city is a lot more like a small town than a metropolis. But for me and my wife, who grew up in small towns (of different character), the big city is what calls to us.