I'm Stephen, soldier to web developer. I love sharing knowledge. Moved to Scandinavia without knowing the languages; AMA!

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Can you tell a bit more about your backstory? Your title seems interesting but I want to know some of the details.

The title was originally longer, but that 128 character limit is really teaching me how to write teasers!

I'll try my best not to ramble: TL;DR: I went from meaningful work to feeling unfulfilled and back to being extremely happy with work and life.

US Army 12 years, then decided it was time to try new things.
Tried my hand at as a business developer and project manager in DC but didn't find the job very satisfying despite all great things on paper.

Many find the initial transition from military difficult, I was no different. Going out with colleagues was always awkward. They tell stories about their interesting lives and if I want to share something I always have to relate it some mission or something else in the military and I'm sure it got tiresome for them, so I stopped sharing.

I spent so much time outside the US that it didn't really feel like home anymore so I thought I would try to find 'home' by seeking work in other countries. Denmark was a natural choice as my fiancee, now wife, is Danish.
@andy , hence Scandinavia, we met on my last mission in Sri Lanka. I heart Sri Lanka.

I thought my mil experience, MBA and PMP would get me far, but I quickly found out that military experience amounted to very little outside the US so the job seeking was very disheartening. But after a year, and almost turning in visa paperwork for my fiancee to the US, a job offer crossed my path for a town in central Denmark. It was a done deal the minute they hit send, (but I didn't let them know it.)

I poured my heart into learning my new job and assimilating to Danish life. I went to language class 3 times a week. My first meeting with a major production partner was completely in Danish and I sat there thinking, please send me back to war or throw me out of an airplane, anything but this.

The first year was tough, I almost took my ball and went home but if I want to be a viking I needed to tough it out and kill a bear with my own hands (there are no bears in Denmark and raccoons are too fast so I failed that part).

I started to really get the hang of my job, but I was unhappy so I started looking at idealist.org for meaningful things to contribute to. I saw a lot of non-profits needing web development work and I had basic front-end knowledge from my uni days so I did a few easy refreshes and it felt great. I was up til 3am one night just doing some front-end stuff and watching videos and my extremely insightful wife says, 'Why aren't you doing this for a living instead?!'

That's when it hit me. Thanks to military benefits, I went to a bootcamp in Denver. It took a solid year from beginning to end to land 2 competing job offers. Just when I really started picking up Danish (we speak it at home now primarily) I now have to learn Norwegian and c# as my experience was in Java. Apparently I don't like doing things the easy way.

Luckily Norwegian has many similarities with Danish and Java with C# respectively. Look for the patterns and hold onto them for dear life until you get good enough to let go.

I really am grateful to my English and Latin teachers as knowing the parts of speech really helped learning new languages and, for me, that carries over to tech languages as well.

I'm not going to lie, it's been really hard (also had a newborn daughter during this period) and I almost gave up many times. Call it pride, fear of going home with my tail between my legs, or call it my Chinese upbringing and fear of shaming my 'clan', I just kept at it. I'm not super smart, the only thing that comes easy to me is focusing and working hard.

This is also where I learned to be generous with my time and what knowledge I happen to have with those who ask for it no matter if they are a junior dev or an entrepreneur. I never expect anything in return (life's not a ledger), and yet it always comes back in unexpected ways that have been incredibly educational or otherwise beneficial.

At any rate, if you're a dev.to member and curious about Norway or Denmark, send me a note and if you're not too weird, there might be couch or spare room available!

Amazing story! Thanks for sharing it and great insight from your wife ;-)

Thanks! My wife is proof I am capable of making good decisions.

Wow your story is very motivating, kudos. Also I am super interested in learning more about Norway and Denmark. Mind if I get in touch :D

Of course, just send me a message and I'll answer what I can. Or if you think it will be useful to others, you can ask here too.

Very inspiring story!
Are you based in Denmark now? I'm a linguist turned coder with a love for Scandi languages and I wanted to move to Copenhagen in the next couple of years.
What's the startup situation there? How innovative do you think are companies when choosing stack, etc?
I'm kinda used to having a huge array of trendy tech/cool new companies to choose from because I currently live in London (perfect tech hub!), but I'm madly in love with Copenhagen.
Any tips or insight?

Thanks!

I'm in Norway right now. The decision between Copenhagen and where I am now is based on family needs. The startup situation is booming in Copenhagen and Aarhus, there's a lot of innovation being nurtured there and shouldn't be underestimated.

Checkout TechBBQ and theHub.

There's a lot of Java and .NET jobs in Copenhagen, but mainly .NET in Aarhus it seems, but I'm no expert. Trendy startups are great, but they are also strapped for cash in the early stages and I'm not sure how Brexit will affect your status.

For me, a non-EU resident, I had to come on a work visa that required a minimum salary. It's a great idea on paper to protect foreign workers, but it can also make you more expensive to higher. But once you get your visa, it gets easier to move companies, etc.

So my advice to non-EU candidates trying to land a job in Scandinavia: be realistic about your competitiveness in them market, be humble or flexible about compensation (not too humble) if you're going for a startup, but know your legal requirements before it's too late...maybe sacrifice a little for the initial entry ticket. Sometimes, you got to ride a horse to catch a horse.

What a journey! I did 8 years in the Marines and followed that up with a CS degree/coding bootcamp, and can relate on several levels (transitioning, finding fulfilling work, life balance). Yet on top of that, you learned new languages and moved countries. Must say i'm a bit envious and inspired =)

Thanks brother. It has definitely been a wild and weird journey so far!

Assuming you didn't know danish before the move, how hard was it to learn the language? I'm especially curious about understanding the language when spoken. As I speak swedish (and live in Sweden), I understand written danish quite well as the languages are quite similar, but when spoken I find it close to impossible to understand.

Since both Danish and English are Germanic languages, reading came a lot faster than speaking of course.

The first year I found myself asking my vendors to just write me on email because it was so hard to understand over phone.

Now that I've become used to Danish, I find it easier to understand than Norwegian. Norwegian (Bokmål) is extremely simlar to Danish except a few grammatical changes and word differences. However, it's been hard to take the potato out of my mouth and speak like a Norwegian!

It's hard to say, but I probably would have felt the reverse had I moved to Norway before Denmark. Perhaps Sweden will be the next on my list :D

Did you have an offer or just picked a Norway from the map and gave it a shot?

What are the main cultural differences in terms of works ethics, comparing to your previous country of residence?

@Perikils, I actually went to Denmark first then ended up having an offer in Denmark and Norway. I picked Norway mainly because the city had more to offer a growing family despite having to somewhat start over in language and culture.

In one way, working with Norwegians does somewhat feel like I'm working on a real team again, and that's something I had been missing since I left the military. No one is looking to out maneuver the other or get ahead by standing out. They really care about cultural fit and dedication to the team as a whole.

On the other hand, I come from a culture where I work as long as it takes to finish the job, weekends, night, you name it. Here, you can't do that. And you shouldn't do that. I really learned the value of unplugging and taking time off. The work-life balance here is amazing. I don't feel like I'm going to get fired if I need to come in later because it's my turn to drop off the kids or I need to go see a doctor.

I do violate one rule that most people should try to adhere to. I eat most lunches alone, not because I don't want to socialize, but that's my time to catch up on other things and to reset my mind after grinding my gears trying to solve a programming problem.

I haven't learned a new language in a while. Any notable similarities between learning a new language and learning new tech?

Most definitely, in fact, I think the fact that I can learn programming languages stems from my past experience with learning languages (I'm on my 7th).

Knowing the parts of speech and their purpose and where they go really go a long way in building that flexibility with differences in grammar.

Then, like coding, it's all repetition to get the vocabulary and advanced grammar down.

Bold move! No pun intended...

Anyway, any particular reason you chose Scandinavia?

Reason 1 is my fiancee is Danish and I've seen much of Asia and the Middle East, but none of Europe.

Reason 2 Denmark and Norway are the 'happiest places on earth' but hard for non-EU citizens to move to, challenge accepted :P

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