How I earned a free* ticket to Germany

As all of you might have noticed, I recently moved to Germany as I got a wonderful offer from trivago along with Blue Card Visa. And the relocation expenses including Visa application cost and flying tickets were completely handled by trivago itself. So technically, I only had to spend money on other stuff required to move to a new country, such as a luggage, some clothes etc. If you’re interested in my journey (not the flight journey) here, keep on reading. If not, click on that x button on top!

germany-flag

Background

It all started in March 2017, when we got that long-awaited “the letter” from my previous company.

“We know you worked very hard and contributed a lot. But with the current status, this is the best we can do”

Since their “best” didn’t even come near my “good”, I’ve decided to look for other opportunities.

But it was not just about money. For some time, I felt that I’m not learning anything new. I’ve spent more than four years in university and uncountable extra hours of learning new things, but I sensed that I barely use them. I stagnated at the same level of knowledge for a considerable amount of time and didn’t see any good opportunity within the company, and I was certain there won’t be any!

And on the other hand, since I was getting old, I also had some plans to get settled. But in Sri Lanka, you need $$ to do that. Since I was coming from a financially under-privileged (yeah yeah.. “poor”..) family, I had a lot of work to do to first get my family stable. And it was also required to impress some parties to get some things settled. Plus, I have three younger siblings who are still going to school and I have to help them as well. Simply, the salary was not enough to carry out everything on my list. It could have been a relief if I at least got a raise or another job with a higher pay. So I started to look for jobs. Everywhere!

How I started

Well, after I got “the letter”, I was so upset and depressed. Along with the pressure coming from outside, I had to look for options. So, I officially started looking for jobs in April 2017.

I was doing freelancing work on fiver and I was earning some money for my personal expenses. However, it wasn’t enough to reach my dreams, so had to cut some time off from that and start looking into jobs.

There were two favorite options.

  1. Look for opportunities in other “well paid” companies within Sri Lanka.
  2. Go to Singapore and find a job there.

We all know what could the first option include. So I applied for two famous companies, one company is the one I was always dreaming of working in. The other one was the company which I never wanted to work in, but since it pays well, so I tried anyway. But I knew, even if I get selected for either of them, I have to struggle a lot.

I didn’t have any backup to cater the second option. Because, if I go to Singapore and try to find a job, that means I should be able to handle expenses for at least two months, but I was so broke which I couldn’t even consider that option.

But I started to try the least favorite option among people, which many people claimed that it’s very hard and mostly a dead-end. It was to apply for jobs online, especially European companies. Some suggestions were MonsterJobs, LinkedIn, Stack Overflow and Glassdoor. So I prepared a nice CV and a cover letter and started to apply for almost all the jobs which had the term “Software Engineer”. But since I had industry experience only in C++ and Qt, it was so hard to even to find vacancies for those skills. Then only I realized how blunt I have become working with in-house tools and libraries.

software-engineer

I applied for jobs as a crazy person. Right after I come home after office, all I did was looking for jobs online and applying for them. But, I had zero responses.

I took a step back and thought why. I didn’t have any clue. Then I started to read articles and watch videos on how to prepare a CV and especially a cover letter. It was very clear. We should not submit the same cover letter, and sometimes the same CV, to all the job vacancies. We have to read the job description very carefully and make a new cover letter (sometimes a CV) for that particular vacancy. So, I ended up with 50+ customized cover letters PDFs and countless online applications.

Then I activated the LinkedIn Premium, which had helped me to apply straight to the companies without filling out countless forms, and writing tons of emails.

Then I started to get some feedback from the companies. It would have definitely passed 200+ application submissions on LinkedIn, Stack Overflow, and Glassdoor. But I only got around 10-15 positive responses. But it was something 🙂

it's something

Notes

  • When applying for jobs, I always looked for vacancies in Europe, which provide Visa sponsorship (which is very very rare). And I have tried some of the Singapore jobs, but I only got one positive response among them.
  • And the jobs posted on Stack Overflow are more technical and expect some hard interviews!

Interviews

Many companies does not directly call you for interviews. They mostly will send you a case study or an assignment to complete. Here are some examples.

  1. think-cell – Complete a given C++ program by adding a function to use vector operations efficiently.
  2. Optiver – Write a Java program to parse a .txt file and create an inheritence heirarchy.
  3. EMBL – Write a program to use RegEx to find some number patterns.
  4. Cinnober – Implement an Order Book including insertion and matching functionality (stock exchange context)
  5. GrabTaxi (Singapore) – Write a program to find the number of balanced binary trees with a given number of nodes.
  6. tomtom – An online C++ MCQ test. After writing it, I (in fact, “we”) realized that I/we don’t know C++ as well.
  7. Phonexia – Read a csv file and implement a complex algorithm to calculate the monthly bill.

And the results were not surprising though. For different reasons, almost all of them rejected me even though I had the correct answer for their assignment. Some companies said, even though I completed the assignment, they had to favor the candidates who already have the work permit!

Meanwhile, I had a discussion with Microsoft Norway office for an opportunity and even had an interview. But my luck was so strong, even though they thought I’m eligible to proceed, they got that position filled internally.

And I tried for several Australian companies, they don’t even bother because I don’t have Australian PR. So, don’t even bother if you don’t have it.

Even though Cinnober was a competitor of the company I worked by then, I applied to it anyway and completed their assignment in the best possible way (because that’s what I was working on my job by then), they did not reply for more than one month I submitted the answers. According to their response, I figured it had something to do with they’re being competitors with the company I worked by then. Bad luck!

interview

Meanwhile, it was evident for me that I don’t know (or rather had got blunt) with algorithms and C++, I took almost one month off from applying and only focused on polishing up my skills. I stopped doing Fiverr jobs, stopped going out, stopped watching TV series and movies. It was tough, I was almost near to burnout, but I had bigger motives which kept me going.

However I somehow got through the tomtom assignment, and Phonexia (obviously) as well. This is by July 2017, after almost 4 months.

The Grand F**k-Up

And then I faced two interviews of tomtom. The interviews were tough, but I nailed the first (HR) and especially the second one. I was so confident about the last interview! I felt all my dreams come true in front of my eyes. I made plans and every problem seems to fade! But life has these wonderful ways of f***ing up your plans at the climax! I did not do well in the third interview and two days after I’ve got a call from them saying that I wasn’t selected. I was so down, the plane that I was supposed to be on, crashes, and burns to ashes ( as in When I’m gone by Eminem). It ruined many things. So many things!!!

screw-up

I was so depressed. Hopeless and depressed. It was the end of August and I spent my birthday crying! But I knew that there is no point in crying over it.

“When life gives you lemon, grab salt and Tequila!”

I took a few steps back. I knew many of the goals I planned were way gone, but I didn’t give up! Because, regardless anything else, I have to take care of my family. And by then, I already have made up my mind to leave my company, and especially Sri Lanka! Now I couldn’t look back!

I applied to the previously mentioned two Sri Lankan companies and got interviews in September. After the first 2 interviews out of 7, the first company said that they can continue the rest of the interviews, but they will only hire me as a Software Engineer, but not a Senior Software Engineer. Even though that “Senior” hasn’t added any true value to my career, I declined because I did not want to degrade my career level (especially because it was in Sri Lanka itself). The interview of the second (high-class) company was humorous. Even at the start of the interview, I mentioned that I do not have any previous experience on web or cloud development, so I will reply in the conceptual level. But they didn’t seem to understand that. I gave up the idea right after I finished the interview, Well, after three weeks of wait, they had selected someone with JavaScript experience. So, Sri Lankan companies went out of the scope.

I took some time off from almost everything and started to work on myself, not just technical stuff, but getting my sh*t together. If you had seen me by September 2017, you would have asked me if I’m sick! Well, I survived.

Silver Lining

After fixing up myself and re-orienting my goals, I started to apply again. But this time, I did not apply like a mad guy. I only applied a handful of companies. I got positive responses from two companies: Phonexia and trivago.

silver-lining-clouds

This time, I did a damn deep research on companies and the people who are going to interview me. I was reading almost all the news article, blog post and LinkedIn posts they have made. And also, I read the blogs of the interviewers beforehand, then I would know their mental state. Since I was already hyped with tech and algos, it was just a matter of playing the right card!

As I mentioned before, Phonexia interviews were not so hard. Maybe because I was super motivated and geared up with all possible algorithms and STL sh*t. Somehow, I got to the last interview with the CEO of Phonexia. I knew I would nail it because I CAN talk (All hail Toastmastering)!

Meanwhile, I was facing the trivago interviews. There were three interviews: first one was a technical one along with a coding task (piece of cake). The second one was with my current lead and my colleague. It was a bit tough one along with another programming task. Nailed it! The third and the last one was THE ONE. It was super hard. It was with my current lead and a product owner. So it was literally about balancing technical and SDLC. I got my a** ripped off with the questions related to internal implementations of MySQL, Java and JVM, Middleware and so on. I thought I almost screwed it. But fortunately, I have read an article by my lead: “How to Master the Tech Interview in These Easy Steps”, and so I did 🙂 I was so hyped and even asked for a “big” salary! (yeah yeah, they agreed 😀 )

And both the interviews ended at the same time frame (November 2017) and Phonexia was the first one to give me the offer. But I had one week to accept/reject the offer. By now, I was more interested in trivago, I would finally get a chance to use my Image Processing and Machine Learning knowledge on real-world application. So I requested trivago to give the confirmation soon, and they made an unofficial announcement on the same day which my Phonexia offer expired. So I selected trivago. And after so many confusions and almost thinking that I lost the job, they finally made the official statement 1st of December to offer me an unlimited contract. After 8 damn months of effort, finally, I’m going to Germany!

Getting ready to be Germanized

After all the hassle, I found I was left out by some people around me. They must have thought I was incompetent or a loser. But at least I got the (initial) motivation from them, so I should be grateful (only) in that aspect.

Germanized

Suddenly I felt all my goals are fading back in, but in different shades. But it was not bad as I expected. I was finally, strong, independent, refreshed, and most importantly had a job in Germany.

Since Sri Lanka is so efficient, I started applying to Visa and it took an entire month for me to get all the documents ready. I started 2018 with so many hopes for my future! I finally applied for German Visa on 11th January 2018, and resigned from the company I worked by then!

trivago people were so helpful in arranging everything. They even arranged an apartment for me to stay during my first months. I got Visa on 9th March 2018 and after that everything went so fast! My life changed. I started changing myself to leave the loved ones. On 4th of April 2018, I left Sri Lanka and landed on Germany the next day. Now, I am a Software Engineer at trivago, working in the Visual Content team, which is responsible for almost all the images you see on trivago.com website!

Wrapping up

When I look back, I see everything had fallen into the correct place. All the sad moments lead to an ultimate fortune. So, I should thank everyone who were there with me, and especially who weren’t there!

There are some important things I would like to mention if you’re also trying to migrate (especially to an European country) for a job.

  1. Prepare your mindset to leave the country
    • It’s not simple as it sounds. You have to leave almost everything behind!
  2. Create your own unique CV and a cover letter.
    • Do not use a template for your cover letter, they will throw it away at the first glance.
    • Try to make your CV attractive, but not in a stupid way. Read this article for more info.
  3. Don’t over-estimate your skills.
    • You’re surely ranked as dumb in the eyes of these companies. Because, these guys look for people with practical and deep knowledge, not parrots.
  4. Look for the international companies
    • Even though many companies say that they will sponsor for your visa, they will favor the ones who already have.
    • So, always target the international companies, because they need people from other countries and cultures.
      • i.e. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, trivago, tomtom.
  5. Polish up your technical skills and most importantly the non-tech skills
    • Be up-to-date with newest trends. At least know the terms.
    • Be good at algorithms. Practice.
    • And there is no point of being good at something if you can’t express it. So you need to be a good communicator!
  6. Prepare for the interview
    • Preparing for an interview is not just about looking at technical stuff.
    • Read more about the company and what they do.
    • Look at their products and try to find some improvements you can suggest (works like a charm).
    • If you already know who will do the interview, do research on them. You will find a lot more than you’d expect about how they perceive things.
    • Look at the previous interview questions and get ready for them anyway. (Glassdoor is the best place to do so)
  7. Be prepared for a lot of heart-breaks and stress
      • It’s not easy to getting ready for these kind of interviews. It takes time. A LOT OF TIME. Be ready for that dedication.
    • You may have to miss many things, but it will pay you back!
  8. Never give up
    • Easy to say, hard to do!
    • If you feel down, take some time off, but never leave the ring!
    • Now you have made up your mind to leave, so there is no going back!

I hope this long article did not bore you to death. I have skipped many things, which I thought less important or not related to this topic. However, if you reached this sentence, I hope you at least have an idea about how I got here.

* NO, it wasn’t free! I had to pay a lot, not with money, but with time, tears, heartbreaks and many more…

If you need any further info or help, don’t forget to buzz me! Cheers!

FAQ

  1. Q : Isn’t trivago a hotel?
    A : NO! trivago is a search engine for hotels.
  2. Q : Does trivago develop software for hotels?
    A : NO! See Q1!
  3. Q : How is life in Germany?
    A : Things are good around here. Well organized.
  4. Q : What are the job opportunities available at trivago?
    A : See the careers page.
  5. Q : Is it hard to get a job?
    A : Of course it is! Don’t expect everything to be easy!

05 comments on “How I earned a free* ticket to Germany

  • Gayan Sri Garusinghe , Direct link to comment

    Opening body and conclusion perfect. You definitely took me to Germany within these few minutes. All the best bro. Keep rocking. Miss you here ?

  • Eranga Gunasekara , Direct link to comment

    Hi Praneeth, I do not know you personally nor do I know you through a friend. I saw this article and read it and one go. reading through your story I realized that I can relate to you at so many points. It was inspiring to know someone has gone through shit in life and have finally come out on the other side. I hope the grass is much greener on the other side. Thank you so much for this. Best of Luck buddy. Cheers !

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