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What I Learned Working in Greek Tech (& Why I Would Do It Again)

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By Andrew Keenan Wong, who moved to Greece in 2018 to work as a Content Marketing Manager at Blueground.

Picking figs on a lunch break, biking to work in shorts for 7 months of the year and walking into a kitchen full of those Name Feast Day desserts every week — working in Greek tech isn’t just defined by having a vibrant tech ecosystem located in a Mediterranean climate. Greek tech is a confluence of world-class talent, emboldened to find cutting-edge solutions to constraints brought on by austere (but evolving) economic and infrastructure conditions. But of course, being located in an EU country in the Eastern Mediterranean also has its work-life benefits that no Greek abroad or non-Greek interested in emigrating for a tech position would be able to resist.

I must admit that I’m still embarrassed that I didn’t think of Greece as a tech destination before coming across Blueground, a real estate tech startup specializing in furnished apartments, on LinkedIn while leisurely job hunting from Germany. My two years as Content Marketing Manager there have made me privy to major players in tech, looking to propel Greece’s profile as a tech hub. For those considering a relocation to Greece, others who are simply curious about what Greek tech has to offer, and for those already employed locally who need a reminder of what makes their contribution so special, here are my nine takeaways.

1. You’ll find yourself surrounded by driven, industrious and scrappy teammates

The unfair perception abroad by which all Greeks are broadly painted as disinclined to work is so far off the mark. Working in a real estate tech startup, it was apparent to me in my first week that I found myself integrated within a team of hard workers. Part of that credit goes to the inherent boot-strapped nature of startups, but comparative data also speaks to this contrast. OECD data on average annual hours worked by country in 2019 put Greece at a robust 1,949 hours per annum, nearly on par with South Korea at 1,967 and far ahead of Germany at 1,386.

Moving to Greece to work in tech, or working for Greek tech from abroad, also means that you’ll be amongst many of the EU’s brightest minds. A decade of suppressed employment prospects matched to free tuition at Greece’s public universities has translated to a highly educated strata of Greek society embarking on the early stages of their careers. A 2018 Eurostat study also found that Greeks were also studying in STEM fields at levels slightly above the EU-27 average (with Natural sciences, math and stats accounting for 9.1% of graduates and Engineering, manufacturing and construction accounting for 16.1%).

2. You’ll be met with open minds and a warm embrace

When I first signed to move to Greece to work in a startup, I always held it at the back of my mind that finding a job as a foreigner in a country with high rates of youth unemployment was both a privilege and made me a potential target for accusation of job snatching. Again, my fears were unfounded and in fact such accusations never once came up. Within my team, I was seen as an asset and I also felt valued as a change agent.

I would credit this inherent warmth and welcome (or xenophilia, if you will) to both the country’s outward-looking nature and ever-strengthening relations with foreign visitors to Greece. For Anglophones and those who are used to working in English, the proficiency level is superb and outside of the office if someone has even basic skills, they’re more than happy to try it out on you. (Full disclosure: I do highly recommend you learn the language, it’ll earn you abundant praise with everyone you meet –starting with your first three-word sentences — and makes your expat experience that much richer.)

3. You find yourself quickly brought into the fold of the local tech scene

That aforementioned friendliness means that networking within the Greek tech scene is effortless. I found that working in Athens’ tech scene was a pretty close-knit affair where within my first month, I already felt like I was part of a community. New acquaintances more often than not would know a colleague from my office, and soon enough people even knew of the Canadian expat at Blueground before I had even met them.

The youngest generation of Greeks are reaching for tech as an alternative to working for old-fashioned institutional employers and excited by the prospect of rebranding their country with its innovations worthy of the world stage. This transformation is being nurtured by no fewer than 23 VC funds and 32 accelerators, at last count. Groups like Endeavor Greece are also working directly with promising Greek startups by connecting them to the right resources to scale up, and creating a tech ecosystem where they can thrive.

If that all sounds a little too stifling to you, don’t forget that Greece is also a hot digital nomad destination as of late. You can find diaspora Greeks and vagabond tech entrepreneurs hot desking at some of Athens’ coworking spaces like Stone Soup and Impact Hub or at any of the rapidly proliferating tech meetups throughout the year.

4. Tech intersects with the country’s major industries in innovative ways

How tech modernizes bedrock industries within a country’s economy is not endemic to Greece. But the creative products and applications to come out of this country are. Take shipping and the maritime industry as an example. With Greece’s long history of merchant ships and an advantageous location where the EU touches the Eastern Mediterranean and the Suez Canal, it’s no wonder that shipping accounted for over €11 billion of Greece’s economy in 2019. Bridging this quintessential economic driver with the modern age are startups and products like Signal Ocean, DeepSea and Procureship. Shipping companies can now make more accurate, faster and data-driven decisions on procurement, vessel performance and cost savings, thanks to these advancements in tech at sea. Athens-based Marine Traffic is also bringing a 21st century innovation to shipping. Log into this open-source community for ship tracking and marine intelligence, and behold a mind-boggling visualization of real-time and historic traffic across the seven seas.

And it’s not just in shipping that Greece is leveraging its domestic demand and specialized workforce to develop new tech products for a global scale. You can name any of Greece’s main industries and there will be a tech innovation, like agriculture (with Augmenta’s crop yield optimizations through machine learning) or tourism (with FerryHopper’s ticket search and booking engine that’s simplifying island hopping itineraries). Greece’s position as a frontier country also means that locally developed tech “plugs and plays” well in other countries with developing tech infrastructure. Such was the case with BEAT’s expansion into Latin America, where market conditions in Colombia, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Mexico proved to be well matched to their ‘Made in Greece’ taxi-hailing mobile app.

At the same time, Greek company Hellas Direct has reshaped the insurance industry domestically and is planning to expand to Romania in the near future. Music rights company Orfium is offering technology solutions for rights-holders and has transformed the music industry both in Greece and in the United States. Lastly, Hack the Box, based in Greece and in the UK, has shaped the largest online community of hackers, where they can test and advance their cybersecurity skills.

5. Young Greeks value their Made in Greece products

The Greeks I’ve met have a palpable pride in the latest generation of tech startups, and you don’t need to look much further than their phone home screens to see how fervently these brands are being adopted. From taking a “Beat” downtown to ordering an e-Food meal to the office (or your work-from-home station), there are even more B2B brands and startups serving institutional clients that you might benefit from without knowing their names. Let’s not forget that the on-going pandemic and subsequent lockdowns within Greece are speeding up the rate at which the country is logging on to transact. Time at home has meant rapid development for startups like InstaCart and Workable who need to keep up with fresh demand. Price comparison and referring platform Skroutz has also seen record growth since the pandemic, allowing it to enter the “last-mile” delivery space with its recent acquisition of MyJobNow Delivery, operator of SendX courier service.

6. The infamous bureaucratic red tape is being peeled away

Though still far from perfect and far from being completely online, the country’s public service is modernizing. Helped on by a dedicated Digital Transformation Ministry, pandemic restrictions have also made online services a public safety necessity. Looking back to my time in 2018 running from office to office with a dozen pieces of paperwork to file my residence permit, I would never have imagined that within two years, the same process would be offered completely online — even now with an online appointment reservation system replacing hours spent queuing to wait for offices to open.

Facilitated through gov.gr, at the time of its mobile app release in mid-December 2020, the centralized government service portal had already processed over 772,000 digital documents, and had conveyed 6.6 million prescriptions and 2.3 million medical referrals.

7. Salaries are getting more competitive (and don’t forget the “gifts”!)

Now let’s talk about salaries. Frequently one of the drivers for emigrating Greeks and a barrier to their return, salaries in the tech sector are looking up. A 2020 Randstad Greece report found that an IT business analyst could look to earn between €1,800 to €3,200 gross monthly, and a Product Owner from €1,800 to €3,500 gross monthly (multiplied by 14 paychecks). For employees abroad not used to the Greek payroll, depending on how you look at things, the 13th and 14th monthly paychecks (translated into English as ‘gifts’) are nice ‘bonuses’ too.

Cities like Athens and Thessaloniki offer expats and repatriating Greeks the opportunity to save and live comfortably — but also to splash out on the premium conveniences and other luxuries available to them. From my experience, groups of friends in Greece do socialize most often by going out but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily blowing their week’s spending cash all in one go. Another way to enjoy yourself on a small budget is to shop weekly at the farmer’s markets where local produce from smaller farms are picked at their peak and sold at very friendly prices.

8. It doesn’t hurt that you’ll have bucket list destinations at your doorstep all year round

While those abroad dream of a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, honeymoon or grad trip to Greece, you’ll have Santorini at sunset and the monasteries of Meteora available to you on any given long weekend! In fact, one of the best parts about basing yourself in Greece is having abundant time and unpublicized recommendations from friends and colleagues. Yes and there will be an invite to visit their favourite off-the-beaten-path island too. Dreaming of having dinner with a view of the Acropolis? Sounds like a Tuesday night social with colleagues to me!

First read at Endeavor: https://endeavor.org.gr/what-i-learned-working-in-greek-tech/

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