Israel vs. Berlin — IT Work Culture Differences
I worked 14 years in IT in Tel-Aviv area in Israel, and 3 in Berlin, Germany.
I am often asked about the topic, so I decided to write my thoughts about it.
I noticed some major differences in the work culture between the two countries. This is, of course, only my opinion, and neither does Berlin represent whole of Germany, nor my employers represent the country. The idea is not to stereotype (see section below on that), but to summarize my experience and give you an idea about what to expect.
Work / life Balance
In Berlin, you work 40 hours per week, or 8 hours per day. So, if you have a 1 hour lunch break, you’re 9 hours at work in total. I did not see “punch cards” of any kind. Time at work is not tracked.
I arrive to work at 8:30. On my first week in Berlin I stayed until 18:30, an extra hour per day. My team lead asked me whether there was any emergency or something that I absolutely could not delay to tomorrow. When I said no, he asked me to not work longer than 9 hours.
In Israel, you work 45 hours per week, or 9 hours per day, formally. But work days tend to reach 10 hours. Usually, employees have to use card or fingerprint to report enter and exit as time is tracked.
In both countries, people who come early to work, tend to work longer than the ones coming late.
“Can I get your mobile phone?” I asked my team lead in Germany.
“No, why?” he replied, surprised.
No one wants to have your mobile number or private email in Germany. You will not get calls after work or on weekends. Even if you’re coming late and everybody is waiting for you, they will not call.
Notifying that you’re sick is done via email or Slack.
In Israel, you’re expected to share your mobile phone and you can communicate with your manager or coworkers freely, both ways.
In Berlin, you get 24 vacation days per year.
In Israel you start with 12, and every few years you get one more day per year.
In Germany, rest days are Saturday and Sunday. Berlin has the least holidays among German federation states— 9 in total. Bavaria leads with 13.
In Israel, rest days are Friday and Saturday. There are 9 holidays.
In Germany, in general, there is 1 year of paternity leave, and it can be split by both parents as they wish. The mother is on paid leave a few weeks before the due date.
In Israel, the mother has 3 months of maternity leave, with option to extend to 3 more, non paid.
In Germany, there is a “Probezeit” — a testing period of 6 months. The notice period is 2 weeks during it, and 2–3 months afterwards.
In Israel, there is a trial period of 1 month. The notice period is 1 week during it, and 1 month afterwards.
Perks & Fun
In Berlin, it’s pretty uncommon to have “real” perks, besides fruit, chocolates and drinks, including beers. Companies advertise “flat hierarchy”, “brilliant coworkers” or an up-to-date computer as a perk.
Some companies contribute to a private retirement plan, offer German classes and contribute to gym subscription.
Relaxation zones, ping-pong and kicker tables are common, and drinking beer is allowed in the evening (and encouraged in official weekend beer o’clock), but you can see people drink even before.
You may receive a gift for Christmas, from T-Shirt to iPad in extreme cases.
I’ve heard of some successful companies taking the employee for 1 week of vacation in exotic destinations.
Relocation assistance is normally offered, as well as 1 month of accommodation.
In Israel, you normally get a big contribution for lunch, gym subscription, and a leasing car with unlimited gasoline is to be expected. Additional insurances, such as disability insurance, and retirement plans are always offered, as well as a savings account. Severance is paid in both cases of firing or resignation.
Fruit, cereal, chocolates and cookies are common, but not beers.
It’s common to have fun workshops, like chocolate or cooking workshops, which have nothing to do with work. Sometimes even events for children and parties with spouses. Company trips of 1–2 days or more are common. Holidays are celebrated with some food and drinks. Twice a year, on major holidays, you receive cash-worthy coupons in the value of up to 150€.
On birthdays, there is some gift.
Relaxation zones, ping-pong and kicker tables are common also in Israel, but no drinking out of the official Thursday happy hour after work (if exists). Some gym equipment may be present.
It took me some time to realize and to get used to this difference, and I’m not talking at all about the German language. Work language is English.
In Berlin, when someone says “suboptimal”, they don’t mean that it’s almost optimal, but rather, that it’s bad or wrong. “Interesting” means “no”. Suggestion usually comes as a question “how would it be if we…?”
The language is more polite and passive. Passive-aggressive is also common, e.g.: “had you been at your desk right now, you would have already seen my reply”.
In Israel, communication is way more direct and often lacks the politeness.
“Your idea is bad because…”, “you should to X and Y”. It’s not offending, but rather very clear communication.
Many IT workers come to Berlin from all over the world. I had colleagues from Brazil, Colombia, Peru, USA, England, South Africa, Australia, Russia, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, France, Tunisia, Turkey, Poland, Norway, Ghana, Egypt, Austria, Ukraine, Canada, Portugal, India, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Afghanistan and more, even Germany!
This can be very interesting — talking about religions, politics, history and culture, learning a lot and getting perspective on your own country and way of life.
But this can also get dramatic, especially when it gets to football and politics.
In Israel, most workers are local, or have been living in Israel for a long time, so the way of life is common to everyone.
In Germany, work has a relaxed atmosphere, even when there are urgent things, a lot of things to achieve or some bad news. Work can always be continued the next day, unless there’s a true emergency.
In Israel, the atmosphere stressful by default, with occasional emergencies. Staying very late to finish something is common.
My personal feeling, is that achievements are similar, but in Germany can be done in less time. In other words, more productive.
In Germany, coworkers are not so pushy and have more patience.
In Israel they are, as they wish to get things done quickly.
In Germany, “langsam aber sicher”, “slow but safe” rules the work. No quick-and-dirty, less “we will come to this later”, but rather will to make things perfect from the beginning (but not prematurely optimizing).
In Israel, speed is appreciated over quality more often than not.
Maybe because Israel is an immigration country for decades, stereotypes are uncommon. I’ve been working with people originally from Germany, France, USA, England, Belgium, east Europe and Asia, and cannot recall any racist or culturist comments.
In Berlin, maybe because immigration is relatively new, stereotypes are widely expressed. I will not mention them here, but you can imagine what I’m talking about. Many times, behavior of an individual is explained by their country of origin.
Personally, I have no problem with making fun of my religion, or the lack of it, my language, origins or any other stereotypes, but I assume that most people are more inclined to be offended.
In Berlin, home office and remote employees, normally in similar timezones, are very common. Almost all meetings are done via video calls. Berlin is also more open to freelancers.
In Israel it is very rare. Home office requires approval.
In Berlin, the default is to use up-to-date practices: mandatory code reviews, GitHub (or others) to manage pull requests, refactoring and technical debt stories, small commits and pull requests, Build Servers (CI), one button deployments / continuous deployments, git, test oriented (always writing unit, functional and integration tests), monitoring systems, etc.
In Israel, this has traditionally been a struggle to use these mentioned practices, either due to costs or the need to deliver fast. The situation is improving lately, but there is still room for improvement.
In Israel, salaries are higher. For example, a software engineer with 10 years of experience in Israel, may earn up to 80-90,000€ per year, plus various savings and insurances (named “social benefits”).
In Berlin, the same engineer will earn 45-60,000€, even though I hear lately that it goes as high as 80,000€, due to employers wanting to attract talent.
Taxes are lower in Germany, but not significantly. In Berlin the cost of life is significantly lower, which means, adequate life quality + saving.
Bonuses (Boni) are employer dependant.
In Berlin, I saw in many places the following process:
1. HR phone screening
2. home challenge
3. technical interview
4. second technical interview or CTO interview or onsite trial day
In Israel, it is more:
1. HR phone screening
2. technical interview, usually whiteboard session or a written test
3. second technical interview
I don’t know if it’s only my experience, or maybe a new trend, but in Berlin management is very transparent, regarding strategy, plans and state of the company, as well as explaining decisions. “All hands” meetings are very popular.
In Israel, I often wondered about management decisions, and was not exposed to strategy.
Berlin has excellent public transportation — underground (U-Bahn), buses, light train (S-Bahn) and trams. Most people don’t own a car.
I believe that in average, commute is shorter than 30 minutes per direction.
In Israel, and especially Tel Aviv area, public transportation is not very good in regards to connections and frequency, so many use their cars to commute. There are traffic jams, and one can spend over 90 minutes in each direction. In these cases, people are already tired in the morning, and exhausted in the evening.
People love this profession, and take pride of their work. Those who don’t, usually leave it despite the higher pay.
The majority of the employees are proactive and willing to continuously learn and improve.
Most employees are university graduates or undergraduates, but also a lot of autodidacts. That means, that employers prefer people who can do the job over people with papers.
Innovation, introducing new methods, tools and technologies as well as contributing to open source projects exist in both countries. I think the Hummus Manifesto is quite out of date, even though .NET and Java are probably way more common in Israel than Ruby and PHP.
Conferences and meetups exist in both.
Clothing is unofficial in Israel and in Berlin, but that’s probably untrue for other cities, such as Frankfurt or München. As a colleague told me on my first day: “You can show up in a pink dress and it’s totally fine, this is Berlin”.
Socially, situation is similar and depending on the people — hanging out in the office for beer o’clocks, going out for drinks together after work or karaoke are common. There are also groups of interest, such as photography, football or bouldering.
Women are sadly outnumbered in IT positions in both countries.
I experienced a culture shock in the beginning in Berlin.
One evening, I was walking down the street with my wife and kids, and suddenly saw the VP of engineering. I wasn’t sure it was appropriate to introduce my family to him, so I avoided. The next day, I approached him, apologized, and asked whether it was ok. He replied “I am Spanish, and you’re also Mediterranean. We are warm people, of course you could introduce your family.”
There are cultural differences. I was telling one of the HR personnel about it, and mentioned the “American-Israeli” cultural dictionary that was distributed in a big Israeli company that was acquired by an American one. He told me that he has written a German-Polish cultural dictionary.
Remember, in the end it all comes down to the people.