So, clearly I’d had France on my mind what with it being a goddamned rocketship and all. But actually moving to France? That’s quite the hump to get past, the thought of immigrating. Hell, the logistics of moving house and family are alone enough to give you pause, never mind what’s waiting for you on the other side (spoiler: paperwork, lots of it, all in French).
Needless to say, I wasn’t going to pull the trigger on move for just any job, for just a whim. After all, wasn’t I already riding a rocketship with Slack? The deal had to be significantly better for my family to be willing to take the leap (spoiler: It was).
The lure of the mundane
Paris is seductive. If you’ve ever visited, you know what I mean. There’s this conversation every couple who visits has on their last night of vacation: “You know, we could move here…”. Such raw architectural power.
But the real reasons to live here aren’t apparent on such a cursory investigation as a vacation. Obviously, the cultural experience of living some place totally new, learning a new language and customs, these are things that appealed to us. You can get that kind of experience on vacation of course, but there is no feeling like being able to take an evening stroll to, I dunno, the Louvre just because. That’s gold right there.
But in fact it’s the more boring things — the things you can’t experience on a vacation that excited us the most. (Is this ironic? I can never be sure anymore. Thanks, Alanis.) Consider:
Housing is more affordable, which means that we can live closer to work, in a neighborhood central to everything. Where I once commuted 90 minutes by bus from El Cerrito (or merely an hour on BART), I now ride a mere 15 minutes on Metro. Or I walk. Or ride a bike. The icing: Transit here is more frequent, more efficient, cheaper, and, despite what you may have heard, cleaner. (Imagine, if you can, the sheer joy of knowing you don’t have to worry about sitting in someone else’s poo. I love you, BART, but man.)
Quality education is, unlike other places, not a matter of winning a (literal) lottery ticket or paying through the nose. Our daughter will be attending a state-funded international private school where she’ll not only learn math and science and whatnot, but she’ll be immersed in the French language, culture, and customs (even dining etiquette). Amazingly, this school and others like it cost about one-fifth the cost of equivalent private schools in the Bay area. And when it comes time to look at university, the French system is both world-class, and free. The concept of student loans is such a foreign notion here that I have difficulty explaining it to my co-workers.
And of course, although many Silicon Valley startups offer very generous insurance and retirement incentives, in France these things are simple facts of life — we’ll never have to worry about losing insurance if we change jobs, or choosing between putting into our pension versus saving for our daughter’s college education.
The lure of the job
What got us to our feet and selling off all our belongings on Craigslist (yep, still a thing), however, was Sqreen. After several interviews with other Parisian companies, it was clear that their core product stood out like a strawberry in a bowl of peas. It gives web applications the superpowers to protect themselves against hackers, and remains unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Like how I feel after eating that last slice of bacon, it left me hungry for more.
Really, though, it was the team that won me over. The founders took the risk of bringing me over, considerable in its own right (for all of us). They were also offering me the chance to dig into considerably expanded responsibilities—the team is small, and there is a sense that they want to do things differently than many French companies are used to, and they were looking to me to help define a new direction for engaging with the developer community. There’s a lot of work to do here at Chez Sqreen, and there’s a lot of work to do in building the French tech ecosystem generally, and that excites me.
More importantly, they showed their commitment to me, and their empathy for each other in the way they supported me and my family through this difficult decision and transition. They followed through in a way I’ll not soon forget: by engaging legal experts whose advice cut through l’Administration Française like a hot knife through butter, by extending a hand when our French skills were not up to the job, by making sure that everything we needed was in place for when we hit the ground. And they enthusiastically greeted me and and my sleepy family (and our pets!) at the door when we finally arrived. The folks at Sqreen have gone out of the way to help France feel a little more like home.