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MY GERMAN CAREER

INTERNET

‘Life would be difficult if I didn’t speak any German’

In the next instalment of our new series My German Career, The Local profiles the Berlin-based software developer James Hobson.

'Life would be difficult if I didn't speak any German'
Photo: James Hobson

James Hobson is the director of software development at the Berlin offices of dmc, a digital media consultancy. He is responsible for an international team of software developers building e-commerce solutions.

What exactly do you do?

Our head office is in Stuttgart, where we have about 250 people across the full range of web disciplines but always directed towards e-commerce, which basically means online shops. Whenever you buy something online there is a reasonable chance we have been involved somewhere along the line. The place I work, dmc 030 was created as a subsidiary company to take advantage of the wonderful creative, international and exciting start-up culture of Berlin. Although the business in Berlin is over two years old, I have only been here since the middle of last year when I was brought in to help keeping things moving in the right direction.

What brought you to Germany and how long have you been here?

Quite simply, I came to Berlin because I love the place, and it feels like my home. I found myself looking for a new job, single, my brother needed a place to live (meaning he could take over my apartment) and everything just seemed to point in the direction of now or never. So I took the plunge towards the end of 2010 and never looked back.

Since I learned German at school I had dreamed of one day moving to Germany and spending a few years in this exotic foreign land. Clearly my views have changed somewhat since I was 14, but Germany has always had a special place in my heart and Berlin especially has always had a great attraction for me.

How did you land your job and do you have tips for anyone seeking similar work?

I followed the time-honoured route of looking on Xing, mailing the guy with the most interesting advert and following up by telephone. Luckily for me the process at dmc was very straightforward, we had a telephone discussion, followed by a face-to-face interview and an offer was made and accepted on the spot. The telephone interview was a friendly chat about my background, what I was looking for, and how I saw myself fitting with the new company. It was conducted in a mix of English and German, but I never felt any pressure to use one language over the other, I now know that we conduct something like 25 percent of all interviews in English.

The face-to-face interview was very thorough and aimed not just at my technical skills and background but also me as a person and how I would fit with the team. This was a key to me accepting the role – the people in the room cared about me as a person and how I would interact and work with the other people both already here and in the future.

Do I have advice for people looking for a similar role in Berlin? Well firstly call me, we are hiring! The key things are the same in Germany as they are anywhere else, but I think it’s worth stating some of them again.

Have a plan before you arrive. Berlin does have high unemployment and even in sectors like IT Berlin is not the hottest market in the world. Do your research. I won’t hire someone who doesn’t know what they applied for. Make a proper application, in IT it doesn’t matter so much if it’s a German Lebenslauf or a CV, but do ensure it is well written, understandable and tells the company what you have done and what you can do. Include a picture in the application. I know it seems weird to most of us foreigners, but in Germany it’s best to play by the German rules. Use Xing. LinkedIn is a distant second in Germany. Even if you don’t use it to look for work, employers will check your profile. Network – as with most places in the world the best jobs are found through word of mouth.

Is it important for you to be able to speak German in your position?

Yes and no. While technically I could work here if I didn’t speak any German I think my life would be much more difficult. People are happy to translate, to work in English and to make life as easy as possible. But I do think that for more senior roles, even where everyone speaks English, it is important to be able to take part in German conversation, to pick up the little comments and jokes that aren’t always translated, and to feel like you are really part of the conversation.

I would say that German isn’t a required starting point, but anyone planning to live and work in Berlin for more than a few months should look at picking up a decent level of the language. Not because it’s required, but because it makes such a big difference to feeling a part of the team, to not always be the lost guy asking what everything means.

What are the key differences practising your profession here and your home country?

As anyone will tell you, Germany is efficient but bureaucracy-crazy. It’s hard to tell if those facts are related. An implicit “customer said it was ok” doesn’t fly here, everything needs to be printed, signed and freigegeben [approved]. But other than minor things, I think IT is one of the most international careers, and things vary much less than in other industries. Anyone used to working for a software company in London would very quickly feel at home at any of the places I know here in Berlin.

I am a chemistry graduate, which many Germans find incredible. The idea that someone here can change careers seems shocking. It has never been a problem for me that I have the “wrong” qualifications, but I regularly get asked about it.

What are the best and worst parts about working in Germany?

Salaries are much lower here than in London, but due to the cost of living differences I don’t think that is as much of a big deal as it seems on the surface. The best thing is of course having someone pay me to live in the best place in the world. I have the life many people dream of and it’s all paid for by a job I love. I am very fortunate to be in this position.

The worst part? That’s a very difficult question. I find the bureaucracy difficult, constantly finding that I cannot do things because someone somewhere has to approve or sign something first. In London I was expected to be a Swiss army knife, constantly picking up anything that needed doing. Here this is looked upon with a degree of suspicion – why are you doing that? it’s not your job!

Do you plan on staying?

Yes, absolutely. Like most of the people who come to Berlin, I did so because I love the place. I love the arts, the creative and the musical scene here, I love the people and I love the language. I love being surrounded by the history and I love the freedom here. I can get anywhere in Berlin from anywhere else in about an hour, I can have a great meal for less than €10, and I can see the concerts from the world’s greatest stars every month.

I think the “poor but sexy” brand has been overused, but to some extent it’s still true. Many of the problems of Berlin, the high unemployment for example, are key to keeping prices down and allowing the arts scene to develop.

I don’t believe my home-town, London, will ever have the raw excitement of Berlin; it’s too grown up. London wears a suit, works in a bank, and drinks in a wine bar. And I love London for that, but after 30 odd years, it’s time for a change, and Berlin is my new home.

Want your German career featured on The Local? Contact us at: [email protected]

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TECH

Fact check: Is Germany’s internet really that bad?

It's not uncommon to hear people complaining about slow downloads and patchy connections in the Bundesrepublik. But is the reality of using the internet Germany really as bad as people say it is?

Fact check: Is Germany's internet really that bad?

Germany’s never-ending quest to move into the 21st century is the punchline to a lot of jokes. For years on end, successive governments have promised to supercharge the country’s internet connections and build up online services – but digitalisation is a goal that never quite seems to be reached.

When The Local surveyed its readers about their biggest culture shocks in Germany, numerous people said they’d been dumbfounded by the country’s old-fashioned way of getting things done. 

“Bureaucracy, poor digitalisation, poor online services – I was expecting Germany to be much more efficient on the online services front,” one Italian reader told us. Others said they were shocked at how inefficient things were. 

READ ALSO:

But it’s arguably the speed of the internet that gets people the most riled up. This especially true since the pandemic, when people have increasingly relied on a good connection to be able to work or study from home. 

In the latest move to improve digital access, the government recently passed a bill that enshrined the right to fast internet in law. But there are some serious questions about whether their definition of “fast” – a rather measly 10 Mbps – is really adequate for today’s internet users.

So, what’s the internet situation like at the moment and how is it affecting people’s lives? 

Here’s what a recent survey had to say about the experience of using the internet in Germany. 

How bad is the internet in Germany? 

According to a recent YouGov survey carried out by Frankfurt internet hub DE-CIX, more than a third of people in Germany feel their lives are slowed down by unreliable internet.

The survey revealed that 38 percent of people experience noticeable delays in using the internet several times a week or even on a daily basis. Only eight percent of respondents said they never experience issues. 

Woman uses internet on phone

A woman uses the internet on her phone at home. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

Somewhat surprisingly given the switch to remote working, respondents to the YouGov survey felt their internet had even got worse since the second year of the pandemic. In a comparable survey last year, only 33.5 percent of respondents reported problems – almost five percentage points less than the current figure.

Young adults and home office workers were the most likely to be impacted by a patchy service. But more than a third (34 percent) of over-55s nonetheless reported frequent internet connection problems.

Are there differences between rural and urban areas?

Interestingly, people in urban areas (cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants) were slightly more likely to complain about a poor internet connection than the population in rural areas (places with less than 20,000 inhabitants).

While 41 percent of people in big cities say that they experience delays in internet use daily or several times a week, just 38 percent of people in small German towns and rural areas say the same thing. In contrast, only 35 percent of residents of medium-sized towns (20,000 to 100,000 inhabitants) complain about poor network quality.

READ ALSO: ‘We’re running late on this’: Deutsche Bahn promises better Wifi on German trains by 2026

What kind of problems do people have?

Most often, respondents said they noticed problems at the end of the day when video or music streaming with services like Netflix, Spotify, YouTube are jerky and slow (35 percent).

Around a fifth (21 percent) experience speed issues when working from home, for example during video conferences, webinars or the use of cloud applications (21 percent). 

The issues weren’t restricted to activities that take up a lot of bandwidth, however. In fact, 18 percent of people said they experienced delays and other interruptions when trying to carry out everyday activities like online shopping or banking online. 

How does Germany’s internet compare to other countries? 

Looking at the latest statistics, the perception that Germany’s internet is slower than in other places doesn’t appear to be a figment of the imagination.

According to data published by speed-testing service Ookla, internet users in Germany experienced average speeds of 51.03 Mbps while on their mobiles and 67.15 Mbps while on a fixed connection in the early months of 2022. 

This is well below the global average of 113.25 Mbps on fixed broadband and 63.15 Mbps on mobile. By way of comparison, people in neighbouring Switzerland can expect speeds of 136.7 Mbps on their smartphones and 229.96 Mpbs while surfing the web at home. That’s almost three times higher than the average German household.

Woman on smartphone

A young woman browses the internet on her smartphone. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

The silver lining in all of this is that there has been some improvement recently: according to Ookla, Germany’s mobile internet speeds increased by an average of 17.5 Mbps in 2021, while broadband speeds increased by around 12 Mbps 

100 Mpbs is generally considered a “fast” internet speed since it allows multiple users to connect to the same network with few delays. 

READ ALSO: More than half of Germans regularly experience bad mobile coverage

Why is the internet so bad in Germany?

The problems largely have to do with a lack of investment in the infrastructure that would enable faster internet speeds. 

Fibre optic cables enable the most impressive speeds of up to 2.5 Gbps, followed by cable internet (up to 1,000 Mbps) and, lastly, copper wires (up to 100 Mbps). For a long time, Germany kept one foot in the past, attempting to lay more fibre-optic cables but at the same time not really disincentivising copper either. And, as usually happens, progress in laying new cables has been reliant on both the whims of state governments and the support of telecoms giants like Vodafone and Telekom. 

All of this has created a situation where internet speeds vary massively in different regions of the country. For example, a 2020 study by price comparison site Verifox found huge discrepancies in the prevalence of fibre optics across each of Germany’s major and medium-sized cities. 

Munich city centre

A birds-eye view of Munich city centre. Munich has some of the best fibre-optic coverage in the country. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Felix Hörhager

According to Verifox, Cologne, Munich and Hamburg come out top with fibre-optic coverage of 80 percent, 75 percent and 72 percent respectively. On the other end of the spectrum were cities like Berlin, which, despite its reputation as a burgeoning tech hub, had just five percent fibre-optic coverage at the time. 

For a large number of respondents to YouGov’s survey, busy networks were seen as the most likely culprit for their internet woes. More than 40 percent said network congestion was the reason for delays, while 32 percent cited a bad network in their area and 19 percent said that their internet provider didn’t offer enough bandwidth. 

Just one in 10 respondents said their own technology – such as outdated laptops and smartphones – were to blame, and 12 percent thought the issue could lie with the streaming services themselves. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany is trying to tackle its slow internet problem

What can people do about it? 

As a first port of call, experts advise consumers to try and resolve issues in their own networks. 

In large apartment buildings, for example, Wifi routers can interfere with each other’s radio signal. One remedy to this is to connect your PC or smart TV to the internet using an Ethernet cable. Internet users should also check that their router is not transmitting on an oversubscribed channel.

Popular routers such as the Fritzbox offer an “auto channel” feature that automatically searches for and connects to a suitable radio channel.

Fritzbox wifi router

A Fritzbox Wifi router. Photo: picture-alliance/ dpa | Uwe Zucchi

If none of this works, households could look into getting a discount on their monthly internet bill. Since December 2021, if internet speeds are permanently lower than advertised, consumers only have to pay for the speed they actually get from their providers.

With a speed test from the Federal Network Agency, you can check whether the internet connection delivers what the provider promises. But the test does unfortunately take a bit of time. In order to obtain a legally binding measurement protocol, you’ll need to take a total of 30 measurements on three different calendar days. 

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