A story of how I moved to Berlin on my own to work as a UX/UI designer
I always wondered who am I to tell stories, but that's exactly the point of it. I'm just a regular girl from south of Brazil who decided to leave everything behind and start all over in a completely different country. And it turns out that's not that common! And it's why I decided to share my story, and it's a pretty personal story, filled with hard work, challenges and a lot of self learning. And this is just the first part.
When I was 29, I left a stable job in a multi-national company, my family and friends in Porto Alegre, south of Brazil, and moved, on my own, with only 3 suitcases, fluent english and a lot of courage to Berlin, Germany.
No, I didn't speak German. No, I don't have and European Passport. No, I've never lived outside of Brazil before. In fact, I had never even traveled outside the country before. And yes, I came with a job, a work visa and a relocation package.
But why did I do that? Well, motivation is something very personal and can change with time. I, particularly, always wanted to live abroad. The idea of learning other languages, meeting different people and traveling all over the world was a childhood dream. And I never could. Not until 2017. My life was always around Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina, the southern states of Brazil. Slowly it evolved to São Paulo, thanks to work. And that was due to the same reasons of almost the entire Brazilian population: lack of resources.
I come from a middle class family. I'm aware of my privileges, but I also know how much effort my parents did to make sure me and my brother had the best study experience possible. And I did took every opportunity I could. And built the ones I didn't have. I am extremely thankful for them, not only for that but specially for teaching me to go after what I want. And I wouldn't be here telling this story if it wasn't for them.
But, not everything is about dreams and what made me finally decide to do it was the recent political, economic and life quality situation in my home country. And I won't deny I was lucky enough to be able to make this choice.
After a sudden change in my life at the beginning of 2017, and with a personal financial situation a little bit more stable, I decided it was time to go after my dreams and discover new places.
"I'm gonna celebrate my 30s living outside of Brasil" became my daily mantra. And nothing better than a challenging goal to motivate myself.
I'm a designer and, if you know a little bit about the tech universe, you know it's trendy and there's a lot of opportunities all over the world. Of course this isn't a guarantee of anything, but it does make the emigration process a lot easier.
At that time I was already a senior professional. I had a very broad experience, including 4 years as an entrepreneur and two years working for a multi-national company. Later I would find out I needed more than an extensive CV. Experience matters (a lot) when you look for a job in a different country, and not only was I searching for a job in a new country, I was also looking to make a change in my career. At that time I was working with marketing, not user experience. I loved my work, I've made friends for life there, but I wasn't working with what I truly like. And I really wanted to change that too.
My career was usually around web design, but I never worked exclusively with user experience. My portfolio at that time was full of projects from the time I had my own agency. It didn't have any mobile app, desktop application, e-commerce, a lot less big deep user research projects. My portfolio wasn't showing my experience and it was also very outdated.
And that's when the first insecurity crisis got me. Impostors syndrome was strong and I thought I would never find a job in another country to work with what I wanted.
Parallel to the career doubts that were all over my mind, I also had another big open question: where do I want to go?
At the beginning I was applying to many places. Netherlands, Sweden, Italy, UK, Spain, Portugal, Canada and US, specially. Some countries due to language, after all living with English or even Portuguese would definitely make things easier. Others, mainly because I had friends there and knew that it would be great to have them around. I also know for a lot of people the weather is an important factor, but to me that wasn't an issue, specially as I'm used to the cold winter of south of Brazil (and I swear it can be colder there than in Germany) and I kinda like the coziness of winter.
But I had no focus. I only knew they were great countries, with its own pros and cons. I didn't research the market, I didn't research life quality and I didn't research the visa processes. I did nothing. And back then I wasn't applying for jobs in Germany yet. For the most obvious reason: I was afraid of the language.
I, whose part of the family came from Germany about a hundred years ago. I, who always loved the german culture and always identified myself with the german way of being: very straightforward and methodic. I, who have a cousin that lives in Munich for 18 years. I, who always wanted to learn German (I love studying languages). I was afraid of it, afraid of living in a country where I didn't speak the language, specially this one, as difficult as it is. And it truly is!
But, and here you can call destiny, the universe got in charge of showing me that I was wrong, that I didn't need to exclude Germany from my wish list.
Around May of that same year I started to think about what I was gonna do to make it clear that I had the knowledge needed to work as a UX Designer. I opened my backups and looked for cases that could be interesting to add to my portfolio. Before, I was applying to random jobs and cities, with no focus at all. But after talking to a friend that lives in Amsterdam and sent 600 resumes to find a job I started taking things seriously.
Between March and June I rebuilt all my work presentation. My portfolio, CV and Linkedin were already in English, but I re-wrote them from scratch. I became a designer for myself and changed everything according to my target audience: companies outside of Brasil that were hiring UX/UI designers.
In the meantime I found out about Toptal and made a big mobile project to join the platform, whose selection process is very hard. That was a wise decision, not only I got in, but I had a new project for my portfolio (and a mobile one), which also gave me a lot of confidence.
Also, in the same time, while rebuilding my portfolio, a post came out in my Facebook timeline about a Brazilian girl who was moving away from Munich and was looking for a UX designer to replace her at the company she was working on. No german required, and a relocation package. I got in touch with her and we talked a lot about the job, the city and the life there. I applied. I didn't get in. But that was ok, I lost the fear of applying to Germany.
And that's when things started to change. I like to call it "the universe way of making things work".
I finished my portfolio and started applying to Germany too. I made a board on Trello divided by country and started counting all the applications I did and which one of them were being replied.
Ironically, I started receiving a lot of replies (not all positive) from german companies. Considering before I was barely receiving negative feedback, that felt like progress, so I began to research about the country and the design market there. And so I decided I wanted to live in Germany.
In the next 4 months I applied, in total, to 99 jobs and participated in 7 hiring processes. All of them trough Linkedin. I applied only to the ones that had a job description in english. I made a small research on each company and wrote a personalised cover letter. All 7 were based in Berlin, except for 1, in Lisbon.
I took 2 weeks holiday from my work to handle all the design challenges. Due to timezone, I woke up between 5 and 6 in the morning to do the interviews. All of them via Skype. I didn't count how many they were, but it was about 4 or 5 per company. Some days I made more than one. Some companies have longer processes and are slower to give feedback, others are more agile and I talked with a lot of people in a matter of just a few days.
There was one process in particular, that took 4 months, that was a huge deal to me. There were many interviews and a big design task. It was a start-up in the gastronomy field and I really loved their business. I worked really hard, but they were growing so fast that every feedback took several weeks. After what was supposed to be the last step I wait 7 weeks for a feedback. And received none. It was extremely frustrating. I didn't know at the time, but It wasn't for me.
I will always remember the hiring process of the company that brought me to Berlin. It had 4 interviews and a minor design task. The first talk was with the HR, the second with a front-end developer.
After half an hour talking she looked at me and said: "I'm also Brazilian, we can speak in Portuguese now". Haha, I laughed loud 😆.
The third was with the Product Owner, a nice french guy. And the last with one of the stakeholders, who was also responsible for marketing. It lasted 10 minutes and right at the beginning he already said everyone really liked me and he just wanted to meet me. Confidence hit me, and so did fear!
A few days later I opened Skype during lunch break to get ready for an interview with another company and there was a message from the french guy asking if I could talk for 5min. I had 10. And I simply knew what he was going to say.
We briefly talked and he gave me an offer. It was exactly what I wanted. The salary I had asked for and a really nice relocation package that would cover my flight and help with the visa and apartment hunting. That's when I froze.
It was October 19th, 2017.
After a lot of sacrifice, in 10 minutes (or was it 10 years? 🤔), everything changed.
(to be continue...)