My way to Stockholm
2020 is a magical year. With Covid-19 raging around the world, people’s work and lifestyle have changed a lot. But the opportunities still exist, and my career ushered in a tremendous change. I moved from southern China to Sweden🇸🇪 and became a software engineer at Spotify.
I have always wanted to move to Europe. I want to try to live in the beautiful European cities of the fairy tale, at least make myself enough time to travel all over the European continent.
For the pandemic, everything has changed too fast. It is four months after joining Spotify now. I finally had some time to write my experience down, about the interviews and relocation, when the memories in my mind have not faded away.
Next, I will record my experience in several parts. Some are about life experience, and some are about work. Some may be verbose, while some may be irrelevant. But I am trying to write down everything in my memory.
Life in Stockholm
- Daylight. It is just the beginning of October. The daily sunset time in Stockholm is around 18:20. And after two months, it will be around 16:00, shorten the daylight time to less than 8 hours. The biggest challenge for someone traveling from a city near the equator.
- Weather💨. It is not raining much and not cold indoors, though the temperature has recently dropped to around 15 degrees, and a long sleeve or a jacket is enough. I don’t know what the weather will be like in winter, but it’s not as warm as my hometown for sure.
- Humidity. The humidity in my hometown is very high. While it is especially dry here in Stockholm, causing my skin problem in initial.
- People. Only one million people live in the whole Stockholm area. However, in my hometown city, the population is over five million. That is a totally different scene, way fewer people on the streets, and much less crowded shopping malls. But on sunny weekends, people scatter around, walking the dog, enjoying the beautiful sunshine🌞 with family, or boating🛶 on the sea. And it is also a great joy taking Fika in the cozy cafes.
Work in Stockholm
- Work from home. I still need to WFH, even if I finally relocated. That means I haven’t been to the office and meet any of my colleagues. But my colleagues would share the impressive office building, the leisurely cafe on the top floor, and the crowded elevator during our video conference. It is not conducive to teamwork. But on the other hand, it saves the commuting time and reduces the chance of getting infected.
- Work-life balance. Companies in China often offer less than 15 days of annual leaves. While in Sweden, you can get around 30 days off annually, which is a huge advantage. You have more spare time to learn new things, travel, and be with your family.
- Company culture. The company encourages you to concentrate during work hours only. It comes weird when my manager asks me to take days off or take a vacation. Something you can never imagine in China where working overtime is often taken for granted. But there’s an exception sometimes. A performance problem occurred and needed the whole team to stay on and find a solution. Finally, we got it fixed before 9 pm.
- Growth. My current position gives me a platform to be more comprehensive, and I turn into an Infrastructure Developer, become more knowledgeable about CNCF, including Kubernetes and Google Cloud. Previously I only have good command in Java, but now I can write Go, Java, Python, TypeScript, Bash, etc. As an international company, Spotify has so much to offer to a newcomer to learn.
How I Got the Job?
It took about six weeks from headhunting to the final. It was in middle Feb. when a Spotify headhunter approached me through Linkedin. She asked if I was interested in this position and then made a 20-minute call to learn more about my current situation, expectation, etc.
Then came the interviews, which consisted of two rounds.
- The first round is the online algorithm test.
- The second round is the behavior questions and developers coding.
In the first round, I faced two interviewers via Google meetings.
The algorithm question is not tricky, but need to pay attention to the edge cases. There may be situations that require optimization after your answers. But take it easy since you can talk to the interviewers during the process, and sometimes tips will be given.
Below is my task.
Give you an int array represents some number, add one to this number and return the result as an array.e.g.int arr = [9,8,1]// 981+ 1 = 982return [9,8,2]
After you complete the coding, the interviewer would ask some questions based on your resume if there’s time left. It mainly examines your ability to solve problems.
For example, I was asked about Redis performance tuning. If a service method is very slow, how do you debug it?
The second round took four hours and had four parts.
It was supposed to be an on-site interview, which I would prefer, but changed to an online one for the pandemic. Both the interviewee and the interviewers were in a hurry and tension.
If it was not for the COVID-19, you could fly to Stockholm and have a tour in the office and meet the interviewers face-to-face. Have a nice lunch in the cafe and get to know Stockholm.
- Behavior questions. The PM asked various questions about your work experience. Such as
- How to face the difficulties encountered at work?
- How to coordinate conflicts with colleagues?
- Who can you learn from, and why?
The question asked this time was about the sorting of music albums. It involves regional and global, which can be solved by PriorityQueue or HashMap. Like always, there was an optimization request from the interviewers.
- Case interview. Spotify values employees’ ability to solve problems. This question may be multifaceted, involving the network, code optimization, database, and so on.
Here’s the question,
Suppose an advertising service is not available in Europe, but works in North America, and then what kind of issues there may be.
If you are preparing for the case interview, I think this is something you should pay great attention to.
- Communication is very important. It requires you to ask questions, such as what data monitoring or what database traffic is required, what kind of stats you want, and so on. So you will keep communicating with the interviewer, maybe you know whether you are on the right path.
- You are omnipotent. Don’t limit yourself to a DevOps or a developer’s view. Diverge your thinking, and anything is possible. Even if you think it is impossible, you can put it forward, maybe it works.
- Knowledge of cloud services and networks is helpful. Spotify’s service is based on the GCP. If you have a good understanding of cloud-native and networks, it will be helpful to solve the problems.
- System Design. Generally speaking, this is the most difficult. But there are also many ways to prepare.
The question I encountered was
Design a user’s Playlist and store a cover image when all the users’ followers can share this Playlist.
The usual thought is that the system goes from simple to complex, and storage goes from DB to cache and CDN. It is worth noting that you will no longer have a whiteboard because it is online, so drawing with online tools will be challenging. For me, it was kind of a disaster!
After the interviews, your coordinator will follow up and keep you updated. And my coordinator is very conscientious. She kept me informed every day during the torturing waiting. Luckily, I got the offer a week later. 🎉🎉🎉
If you want to know more about the interviews, leave me a comment. I’ll write more details about how to prepare a technical interview in the future.
Because of confidentiality, I can’t be very specific, but I will still talk about it.
- Salary. Spotify benchmarks against its peers, such as eBay, Twitter, Zalando, etc. The amount you get is based on your work experience and interview performance, so focus on your interview and prepare well.
- Stock Options. Spotify gives stocks to every employee. You will get your stocks every month, and you can choose cash if you want. Choosing a radical plan or a conservative one depends on you.
- Other benefits. There are many different benefits, such as private medical care, food allowance. Spotify cares much about its employees.
In my opinion, Spotify’s salary is satisfying, no matter in Sweden or other countries. It is at the forefront of all IT companies.
As to the tax part, you should never ignore it. Maybe I should mention this in the relocation section, but I still want to say in advance. I only pay about 15% of my annual salary every year as tax back in China. It is around three times in Sweden!
As I mentioned before, the difference between southern China and Sweden, the weather, the environment, the work pace, is what we can’t skip when considering moving to another country, especially from the low latitudes to the high latitudes. But if the company is attractive enough, you can overcome all the other difficulties.
Spotify has an excellent relocation policy to help you settle down.
- Agency service. There is an agency to help you with every step, from work visa application to air tickets, from temporary accommodation to the final apartment rental.
- Work visa. The whole process is straightforward. By providing you and your family’s passports information, the agency will follow the entire process.
- Temporary accommodation. The agency offers a one-month temporary residence for you. Before my departure, I was offered five choices, all of which are lovely downtown apartments. If you want to search for a flat yourself, you can get cash instead.
- Apartment searching. The agency helps you find a suitable apartment according to your budget and location preference.
- Swedish ID & Bankcard. ID is most vital in Sweden, and the agency will take you to apply for ID and open a bank account.
- Others. If you have any problems, contact your agency. They will try best to help.
Relocation compensation. A 57% tax reduction is made before you get the amount. That’s insane!😭
Pre-move trip. The three-day trip is flying to Stockholm to visit the office, meet with colleagues, and for you to have a better understanding of Stockholm. But I give it up for the current situation.
Thanks to Spotify’s thoughtful arrangement, my relocation went smoothly. I got on the plane, and after 15 hours, I met this amazing city.
Anyway, I’m in Stockholm and will move to my new apartment soon. The long winter is coming❄️. Wish me good luck. I’ll try to write more about my work and life in Sweden in the future.
Thanks for reading.