Leaving Luxembourg, lovely country, lovely people but a small and limited IT market IMHO.

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So it is time, after 10 months living and working in Luxembourg, we are leaving. Packaging, arranging relocation, lots of emails, contracts, papers, some anxiety, waiting - it just May 2015 again for me, when we decided to leave Greece. I wish this is my last relocation for the upcoming years, so wish me luck.

I have mostly kind words to say about Luxembourg. It is a small but very well organized country. You are in the center of Europe, you get to be exposed in an central European environment in terms of different people from different countries. You get to visit other bigger countries in a matter of minutes (car or train). It has very good public services (like transport but it seems lot of people are lazy enough and don't use it), it is small so you are not getting overwhelmed by the city size. It seems that it is a very good choice for young families, lots of benefit's from the government - (if you work of course) and a very very nice environment to live.

Of course there are some negative points as well, very expensive country to live, high housing prices in case you want to reduce (or eliminate) your commute time. Being single workers with low salary you will find it difficult to preserve a good quality of living (it is far better when you are a couple). Small opportunities in terms of jobs in certain markets, e.g. the I.T market.

So things were mostly good, why have you decided to leave?

I get to have a lot of people asking me this question lately. It is strictly related to job opportunities and career development in the IT sector, and IMHO, after working and searching for a job here (I had to) I concluded that my career dreams will never come true + I wont be able to improve my profile and skills as the time passes by. I realized that at this stage of my life that no matter how nice a place is, if you don't have an interesting and fulfilling job no-matter if you get to live in a nice place you can be miserable from 9 to 6. For me that was something that was affecting my quality of life. Again, this does not imply that all of the people should feel or prioritize like that.

At the same time the amount of time you need to spend in order to find an interesting and promising (job) is very big, along (of course there must be some interesting jobs) with the overall and actual opportunities out there :

So some things to consider - strictly personal opinion - so please do not get mad at me.

  • A large (I would say the largest almost 70%) portion of job opportunities in the country is related to consulting ( body shopping) for the various E.U organizations (namely the European Commision, DIGIT, Eurostat, the European Investment Bank and CDT ). Despite the fact that you might get lucky and be placed in a new project within some of these organizations, the norm would be to just replace someone on an already established ( some times legacy project), with a technology stack already predefined by a central committee, most of the times limiting your ability to actually get involved with the future of the project or make your personal contributions. If you are the type of software engineer that you want to work with new technologies, you want to regularly have the opportunity to stand and contribute to the project, if you want to try new things or be exposed regularly to new things, this is not a job for you. On other hand, if you wish to lay low and focus on other aspects of your life ( e.g. family), follow low risk and sometimes not exciting project, work in a relaxed (or very relaxed environment), reduce the risk to be exposed in challenging situations where you will need to exercise or sharpen your skills, then yes this might be it. it's all about choices for me, and both of them are equally important and respected.

  • Based on the above, I would like to make a note, since some of the agents - recruiters here, were eventually pointing particular companies (those providing services to E.U institutions), as the reason that the job market can not be easily diversified in terms of opportunities and offers. As they claim, and is true, since most of the these jobs offer usually better salary packages comparing to the other opportunities in the private sector, most of the people choose to give up some of their career development needs or dreams for a far better salary and most of the times a more relaxed environment ;). So they claim that the rest of the market is not easily picking up on new talent, sometimes that is the reason that they decide to give up and not further develop teams and projects. Well I totally agree with their finding but there is a catch. Having gone through offers from both worlds (true private sector and EU related body shop jobs) - I have seen that for some reason the real private sector here in Luxembourg is not offering very competitive salaries (or they keep degrading in absolute numbers) if you take into account the very high cost of life of the country. So for example for expats (or not frontaliers) it is almost impossible to consider to join a firm here with a medium or bad salary offer - while it is very easy to join one of the many body shop teams and work for a European Institution with a decent salary. If you ask me this is very reasonable, there is no reason to have a career here without a decent salary package - you can not afford it simple as that.

  • The Banks! It is really funny, lots of people even now days they have stories to tell for people working in the local or international financial institutions 10 years ago, most of the stories are about their huge salaries etc. Some people believe that those salaries and opportunities still exist. I might be wrong but I have to say that the banking sector here is sort of shrinking - due to the recent law changes regarding tax avoidance and other E.U provisioned standards. That means that their I.T operations as well are shrinking and that means that a lot of institutions nowadays, try to recruit on non permanent basis. Most of the jobs are contractor opportunities for certain amount of time - while the local teams are just satellites for other remote teams, many times off shored to (see eastern Europe or India). I got to review - some offers on this sector and I was not very pleased neither with the actual jobs nor their salary package. Maybe I did not search enough or I did not get to know the right people, but IT jobs in banking here Luxembourg are not as they used to be and unless you are willing to work as a contractor in mostly legacy and old systems - then it is not the most exciting place to be (of course there must 1-2 exceptions hidden somewhere ).

  • The start-up scene. Yes Luxembourg is trying to introduce and setup an IT startup scene, and I truly hope that they will make it in the upcoming years - provided that they act accordingly and on a realistic path. Since the country is trying to diversify it's service offerings, from a country that was mostly known for the various financial / banking services and base for European organizations to a new IT fintech hub. This really makes sense and anyone would say that since the country has a vibrant financial sector (not only banks, funds, regulators, accounts, insurance institutions) why not fuse some of this business expertise into the IT world and come up with some new breed of companies and offerings. Currently this is just the beginning and I truly hope in a few years time to be materialized in a true and vibrant market. Some of the thing they need to adapt are the following:

  • Make it even simple for new companies to start - and reduce their cost currently there is still a lot of start up cost.

  • These companies, based on the very high cost of life, unfortunately they will need to offer competitive salaries in order to attract talent. There is no other way unfortunately - unless the cost of life falls (but this is unlikely to happen).

  • The government need to police even harder IT companies that they still look out to leverage the flexible tax and financial environment and do not really want to invest on teams and do some innovation. Cases where companies come and go, because they could not save the expected tax amount of money - is not helping to build a solid start up hub.

  • True software development and innovation versus consulting. While this might not be an accurate phrase, since you can do consulting and software development, what I am trying to say is that in order for the IT market to become more vibrant and interesting, the companies and organizations need to embrace the development of software solutions and innovative products - rather than relying on ready made stuff, procuring maintenance jobs that eventually do not really attract new talent.

As I said, please treat all the above as a personal opinion and nothing more. I might be wrong in some cases, maybe I should have to spent at least 2-3 years to actually really evaluate the potential of the local IT market. I decided that I would not like to do this, but it's a personal decision based on my recent experience and my gut feeling. There are opportunities in here and talented people as well, you just need to spend a lot of time in order to find them, something that I was not willing to do - since I already believe that I decided to leave my country - late enough. I should have relocated from Greece 8 years ago- at least. If by any chance the market was closer to my standards or expectations, I do admit that I would not relocate, because as I already elaborated the place and the country are more than nice :).