The dream ends

13 September 2013
In a week or so, I start my new job. It is not in New Zealand as I intended, but back in Europe, and as I spend my last few hours in Auckland's Koru lounge I think back to the difficulties faced in the whole process. Many of the underlying issues related specifically to job-hunting are ones that I faced in the past before I secured by previous job in Bristol, but the added dimensions of being overseas wear you down in a very different way to the pressures of job-hunting in isolation. A major motive for doing this whole adventure was to see and feel first-hand what my overseas friends had gone through coming to the UK, and the main thing I realised is how hard it is maintaining focus. It also colours my whole view of the debate on immigration (and to a lesser extent, the EU) back in the UK.


Ultimately it was an issue of time. Whereas in the UK not hearing from a company within a week or two pretty much means your application is dead, whereas in New Zealand it is not unusual to hear nothing for 6-8 weeks. Maybe I could have gone right to the wire with the visa, but I decided a few extra weeks was not worth the extra down-side costs. Ironically I had to turn down one interview with a simple I am leaving the country tomorrow, and I could hear the tone of disappointment coming over the phone. That may have been my lucky break, but by that point the costs (financial and opportunity) of a few extra weeks I had already decided were too high.

No support

A common theme. Although there is only so much friends & family (assuming you have any around) can do, local friends often simply do not have the understanding needed to give proper emotional support. You a truly on your own. When you are 20 million meters from your home-town and more-or-less living out of a suitcase (or three), burning savings like coal and with a visa ticking away like an alarm clock attached to a bundle of cordite sticks, the feeling of isolation is incomprehensible to people who have not been though similar things. I now truly understand what my overseas university friends went through.

Lack of foundations

The hardest part was the sheer extent your life is on hold, and for me this was most noticeable in the way that you need to avoid investing, and this extends to more than just money. Most people in this situation have already uprooted themselves at least once, and the background possibility of having to do it again is ever present in the mind, so there has to be a conscious effort to avoid committing to things just in case you have to drop them all at short notice. Eventually not being able to even build a proper base, let alone do any major life planning, becomes overpowering.

A further aspect is that people who have come out this far have typically given up a lot, frequently in a process far from painless, which means that going back invariably means going backwards. For me it is mostly a very expensive disappointment, but I have met several people who I suspect have been bought to the brink of ruin. Oddly enough, Irish pubs seems to be where where all the despondent English end up congregating.

Skill set

People outside of IT simply do not comprehend how prescriptive the industry is for "skills", and by that the real interest is not skills, but technologies. C, C++, and C# are considered as distinct by recruiters as French, German, and Japanese. The problem I had is that the type of desktop C programming I did at my previous company is pretty much non-existent, and what jobs there were that wanted C are all embedded ones wanting experience with specific chip-sets. There are lots of insanities that come out of this prescriptive attitude, and to be fair they affect the British IT market as much as the New Zealand one. The last interview I had in New Zealand was for a company that was interested in generating synthetic HTTP traffic, which given my background in both traffic modelling (part of my Ph.D) and the grubby details of HTTP (writing RTSP servers & clients), I should have got quite easily. However in the end they also wanted the extensive C#, which based on what the recruitment agency manager told me, was a 1-in-1000 union of skill-sets.

Rats from sinking ship

People down under and beyond realise Europe (& America) is a sinking ship, so Europeans are a dime a dozen. I have come across some anecdotal evidence that exploitation is going on, although the worst cases I have heard are those who got somewhere in Australia and then came to New Zealand when they got dumped. The typical fob-off is the lack of local experience, which has to be said returning Kiwis have also faced, so it is not about racism. There is clear favouritism going on, but for jobs I was interested in it is more to do with the very informal nature of job recruitment.

Choice of city

While New Zealand is doing well overall economically, Wellington itself was at a 14-year high in unemployment due to mass layoffs from current and former public sector organisations. There are various small start-ups scattered around, but on the whole the place is dominated by the state. I suspect having four magnitude 6 earthquakes within as many weeks also helped to slow down Wellington's private sector job-market. Auckland and Christchurch are where the real action is.

Aversion to relocaton

From what I have seen there is also quite an aversion to relocation, which is most explicit with Christchurch companies who often specify must already reside in Christchurch, and I suspect this aversion is quite strong elsewhere. New Zealand's relative international isolation plays part of it, but I was still surprised at how much localisation there is even within Wellington. Practically no-one in Kitty O'Shea's had heard of the Realm, which is the equivalent of no-one in Bristol's Greenhouse having heard of Penny Farthing.

So what now

Too much crystal ball territory. I feel that having another crack at New Zealand is inevitable, and that having first-hand knowledge of the place will help with it, but at this stage I cannot say how things will pan out. Any such attempt is a multi-year project, and a lot can happen in that time.