Forging a Swiss Lens: 3 Ways Zurich Changed My View of Silicon Valley
There we were, floating down the Limmatplatz on our makeshift inflatable pizza raft. One by one we peeled off the sides, shooting alpine water at one another while ensuring our raft didn’t pop. Stares accompanied our shrieks while we nearly capsized our boat through a turbine. This would only serve as a minimal precursor for the wasps, sunburn, and my almost-lost passport that accompanied our virgin outing of our “Italian Crusader I”.
Our outing was an end to my time living in Zurich, and working in the Swiss tech sphere. Starkly contrasting the rain and stress that had greeted me on my first day in Switzerland, this day felt lighthearted. Drinking beer on a pizza, followed by eating a pizza, and eventually simulating a pizza at Seat 3, Gate 75 in Zurich Airport, all distracted me from my recruiter’s lingering responses to my questions at at my new job in Silicon Valley.
“Intense,” my recruiter responded to my question about my new hours. “And with a lot of responsibility. Occasionally people work weekends here.” He added, “We’re composed of small teams. If you pull hard, people will notice; but be warned that if you mess up, people know where to point the finger.”
People work weekends? Even during crunch-time at our startup in Switzerland, the office was vacant outside of workdays.
“Is there over-time pay for working weekends?” I asked. “No overtime. Vacation days are given out on occasion, but no guarantees.”
I couldn’t help but question my own actions pertaining to my return back to the States.
On one hand, living in Switzerland felt artificial and forced. My hasty departure from the States landed me in an awkward visa situation, granting me permission to live in Luxembourg and long-term sublet in Switzerland. The spoken language carries a heavily localised dialect, rendering it difficult to pick up without costly courses. My nationality hampered my ability to obtain medical treatment or open a bank account in Zurich.
But on the other hand, living in Zurich forced completely unanticipated personal growth. Weekends once filled with work and JIRA tickets were now occupied with impulsive SCUBA trips off the Italian coast, ibex-spotting excursions in southeast Switzerland, and under-the-bridge “nature raves” a quick train-ride away from Zurich proper. Being able to remove myself from the constant specter of work made me more creative and driven; in fact, this replenished focus led to developing the research that landed me and my co-publishers a spot at the European Conference of Computer Vision in 2016. Zurich, with its initially cold and unwelcoming air, proved to be filled with incredibly inviting and skilled individuals that force-fed life into our startup. Tucked away in the Swiss Alps happened to be a large village of congregated intellectuals pushing the frills of science without the warping magnet of fiscal motivation eroding personal development.
Would returning to the States — with weekends working, long commutes, and a culture of outworking others as a sense of social validation — be worth the effort?