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Making the Move to Amsterdam: Bilal Aslam


July 12, 2019 in Culture

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While we are proud of our Berkeley roots, Databricks now calls many cities around the world our home. In addition to offices in London, Singapore, New York and our headquarters in San Francisco, we have one of our major engineering hubs in the fast-growing European R&D center, Amsterdam. Databricks offers the exciting opportunity to relocate to one of our global offices and we are proud to say that we have been able to help our employees navigate through that transition. In this blog, learn more about what inspired me to make the move from Seattle to Amsterdam.

Fun team activity

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a Director of Product Management at Databricks in Amsterdam. I work on Databricks Runtime with a group of talented individuals. I like to think that my team helps make Databricks the fastest platform for big data. On December 14, 2018, just before Christmas, my wife and I made the improbable but ultimately delightful move from the suburbs of Seattle to Amsterdam, with three young children and two old dogs.

What were you looking for in your next opportunity?

For my next opportunity, I wanted an international experience. To build great products, one must understand and incorporate voices from various cultures from all over the world. Second, I wanted to join a fast-growing technology startup where I could have a chance to build the organization and the product from an early stage. It had to be in a place where I would be challenged to leave my comfort zone. My background is in big data, ML and AI, so I wanted to narrow my search down to companies in this space.

My wife and I also share the goal of traveling more exposing our children to new cultures. We wanted our children to have the opportunity to learn a new language and experience a different culture from the one they grew up in. Like many immigrants to the US, our families are spread out all over the globe. We talked frequently about wanting the kids to be closer to their cousins, but schools, sports, and activities kept getting in the way.

How did you choose to go to Amsterdam and Databricks specifically?

We wanted to choose a city that was safe, centrally located for easy international travel and had excellent educational and cultural opportunities. Amsterdam quickly bubbled to the top of our list:

  • The Netherlands is an incredibly safe country. Per capita crime rates are some of the lowest in the world.
  • Amsterdam is centrally located and is a hub for major airlines. Many European capitals are less than an hour by air. Much of Asia is within 5 to 6 hours. The train network is superb, with comfortable, rapid travel throughout Europe.
  • Culturally, the Netherlands is one of the richest countries in the world. Amsterdam has many world-class museums.
  • Amsterdam is incredibly friendly to expatriates. Many highly-skilled workers, such as software engineers, qualify for the 30% ruling, which exempts 30% of your salary from taxation for up to 5 years.

Joining Databricks was a no-brainer. Databricks is the only Unified Analytics Platform in the world. It solves a very difficult problem with a really delightful product. I have been a customer of Databricks at two different companies and so I was truly excited to work at a company I respected so much. I've found our Amsterdam office to be a great place to work. It is nerdy in the best kind of way; I am surrounded by some of the smartest people I know. People here also love data and data science - you will see Databricks Notebooks on most screens. Weekly lightning talks are a great way to learn about everything, from advances in query optimization to underwater photography.

What was the biggest challenge you faced when relocating to Amsterdam, and what lessons did you learn from it?

To be honest, the move seemed impossible at first. How do you uproot from communities you have been part of for more than a decade? There are so many big and little things that make Seattle special - friends, schools, professional relationships etc. This seemed like a really big hill to climb.

However, the only way to reduce uncertainty is to start planning, so we made a project plan and wrote down a list of everything that needs to happen to make the move successful. We were also lucky to work with an excellent relocation specialist who arranged everything from shipping furniture to arranging schooling for the children (including choosing between so many great options!). What seemed like an impossible move started looking more possible day by day.

Once we were in Amsterdam, it took us a while to get used to living in the Netherlands. The Dutch are incredible hosts, but it took me some time to start picking up cultural nuances in communication and work style.

What has been the most exciting aspect about living in Amsterdam?

One of the most exciting aspects for my family, about moving to Amsterdam, was that this was an adventure that allowed us to spend more time doing what we love: travel. We have traveled to France, Greece and the United Kingdom in the last 6 months, with Scotland on the horizon.

Another aspect that I’ve enjoyed is the accessibility and accommodations offered in Amsterdam. A typical day in Amsterdam starts with the children getting ready for school. They are all enrolled in Dutch schools, and the transition to a new language and culture was very smooth, thanks to the Dutch education system which offers special language classes to help newcomers. Instead of being driven to school, our children bike to school like locals. My wife and I also bike to work, with our commutes taking under 15 minutes. We live in an apartment in Amsterdam and enjoy walking to neighborhood cafes.

*For more information on the Dutch education system, read my follow up blog: Moving to Amsterdam: All about schools.

While we work hard at Databricks Amsterdam, we also like to have fun. Amsterdam and its surrounding areas are beautiful - we take every chance we can to do boerengolf and go boating in canals. A weekly highlight is homemade Thai food delivered fresh by a local entrepreneur every Tuesday.

Playing boerengolf

Databricks has grown tremendously in the last few years. How do you see the future of Databricks evolving and what are you most excited to see us accomplish?

I believe Databricks has a very bright future ahead of it. Data, ML and AI are the backbone of a new economy and we are the only data platform that brings all three together in a single unified platform. In the coming years, I anticipate strong growth in the Amsterdam office. We are hiring as fast as we can in almost all disciplines - software engineering, product management, customer success and much more.

Celebrating a teammate's birthday

What advice would you give to people considering relocation?

Moving to Databricks Amsterdam was one of the best things we ever did as a family. It was a challenging move, but we grow when we challenge assumptions about where we are happy and comfortable. We are continually surprised by how flexible our children were and how enriching it has been for them to travel more, learn a new language and spend more time with their cousins, aunts and uncles. My advice is simply this: don’t be afraid to dream. And while you do that, also create a project plan!

Interested in joining Bilal’s team in our Amsterdam office? Check out our Careers Page.


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