Life as an expat Atlassian in Sydney

It’s been nearly three months since I was last on US soil. My final memory of San Francisco was at a dumpling restaurant send-off from friends, and my final memory of Seattle was this Amtrak Cascades train that whisked me along the Pacific coastline up into Vancouver.

http://instagram.com/p/vbSi7at5FM

Since that day I exited the States, I have bounced around Asia for a bit and eventually “settled” in Sydney, Australia where I have begun working for Atlassian. It’s been quite a journey; here it is represented using IATA airport codes:

SJC > SEA > YVR > ICN > GMP > HND > HIJ > MNL > SYD > TPE > SYD

This is actually not the longest bout of travel I’ve had – that record was set in the 5 months after graduating from college uni – but it does represent the longest continuous time I’ve been outside of the US. In this time, I’ve experienced a lot: culture shock, sensory overload, getting way too hungry,  getting way too full, tourist exhaustion, fear for my life, serenity in a hot spring, nausea from too many hot springs, and much more. I have always enjoyed travelling, but these last few months have been extreme even by my standards.

Now that I’ve had a chance to settle down in one place for a bit, I wanted to answer the questions that so many folks have been asking: What’s it like in Australia? How is working for Atlassian?

About Sydney and Australia

First – happy belated Australia Day!

I actually visited Sydney on holiday about 5 years ago (perhaps sowing the seeds for my current situation), so there hasn’t been a huge drive to see all the famous tourist attractions again. Instead, I have been focusing on starting my new job and living like the locals do – so my observations are mostly about people and city life.

If I were to describe Sydney by comparison, I would say it’s a blend of:

  • New York City’s hustle
  • Los Angeles’ sprawl
  • Vancouver’s waterfront property
  • Singapore’s culinary diversity
  • Toronto’s public transit system

This city really does seem to draw inspiration from other great cities around the world. Overall, I think the combination works – the high desirability of Sydney is justified, though the transportation network could really use some work. 🙂

The following are a just a few of my initial observations from the people I’ve met so far.

Surprisingly not racist

Before I arrived here, I was a little concerned about what appeared to be a growing trend in Australia – racist attacks on trains. I didn’t recall anything like this happening on my first trip to Sydney, so I figured they were one-off occurrences.

Fortunately, the good nature of Sydneysiders seems to have prevailed, since I haven’t seen nor heard of anything like this happening ever since. In fact, the opposite happened after a terrorist incident at Martin Place. While many people in the US have been known to turn against those of Muslim faith in similar situations, the citizens of Australia fully embraced them – setting an example for the rest of the world to follow.

Everyone’s well travelled

Frequent travellers know – wherever you go in the world, you’ll likely run into somebody travelling from Australia. Maybe it’s the gap year that everyone takes before uni or the four weeks of paid leave that’s standard here – but everyone I’ve met so far is full of stories of places they’ve been and cultures they’ve experienced.

Edit: I’ve been told that one of the big reasons is that Australia is such a young country, so there is not much variety in culture and history here. Hence, exploring the rest of the world is a much bigger draw than just travelling domestically. Makes sense!

She’ll be right

Australian English has plenty of colourful slang that’s used to a varying degree – maybe less so in cities with a lot of expats like Sydney, but it’s still prevalent enough to catch me by surprise on a near-daily basis. Sometimes the slang is a manifestation of the people’s philosophy here, which seems to be true of the phrase, “she’ll be right“. It’s the equivalent of “no worries,” suggesting that everything will be okay in the end regardless of how things seem at the moment.

You can take this to mean that Australians have an apathetic attitude towards life, or a perpetually optimistic one. I like to think it’s the latter, and it’s quite refreshing to hear in comparison to the freaking out that Americans (including myself) usually do in stressful situations. 🙂

She’ll be right” may very well be one of the reasons that Australians live longer than Americans on average.

About Atlassian

Starting a new job at a tech company is always an exhilarating experience – there’s so much to learn, so many people to meet, and so much planning to do for new software. 🙂 Atlassian is not your typical Silicon Valley tech company, though – and I think it’s actually better in a couple of ways.

Strong values

Every company eventually comes up with a list of values for their employees, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen employees adopt and integrate them into their daily work as well as Atlassians have done. I hear things like “don’t f*** the customer” or “be the change you seek” in normal everyday conversation, and it’s always meant in earnest. That’s impressive, and it means that the values came from the employees themselves and not top-down.

One of the values that was more surprising to me was “build with heart and balance” – because it seems to be actively encouraged/enforced here. Sure, software here is built with just as much passion as it is at any other tech company – but everyone knows when to call it a day and leave the work… at work. At 7pm every day, the lights in the office all turn off – gently reminding anyone in the office to make the conscious decision of how much longer they want to stay. And even though there is food for lunch provided in the kitchens here, most Atlassians opt to grab a bite outside of the office for the change in scenery. Everyone is also always up for a coffee run, and I have discovered that walking in the Sydney CBD makes for the most enjoyable 1:1 meetings.

This is all in stark contrast to Silicon Valley practice, which is typically to stuff the office with so many perks that people never want to leave work. I appreciate both types of work environment, but for now I am sensing that the Atlassian way is probably the healthier option.

Blogging culture

Obviously I like to blog. I did it both internally and externally at Box, and I do think it’s a great way to disseminate information and share one’s perspective with others without needlessly sending mass emails (and always forgetting someone). At Box, though, I was one of very few people who had this mentality. Email prevailed and people were generally content to leave knowledge shared only through hallway conversations like at most companies.

Atlassian, perhaps because it’s the home of Confluence, has completely eschewed the standard model in favour of putting all its collective knowledge into a massive intranet instance. People document everything on Confluence, and they regularly write up their thoughts, stories, decisions, and visions as blog entries – posting them for the entire company to see. The most popular ones bubble up to the top of the Confluence home page for you to read, or you can choose to get notified of activity from any team’s space. There are strong parallels with the P2 system used by Automattic, the creators of WordPress.

The tech holy grail of “killing email” will always be an impossibility, but I believe Atlassian’s Confluence-centric culture has brought us the closest I’ve ever seen to eliminating the need for email on a day-to-day basis. My inbox is actually about 90% Confluence notifications, with any real communication limited to external parties and extremely rare one-off requests to single people. It’s really quite amazing, and a stark contrast to the persistently email-centric culture you see in US tech companies.

What’s Next?

Clearly, I’m getting a bit comfortable here.

I was originally planning to return to the States in January to work from the Austin or SF office, but circumstances have changed and I have opted to continue ramping up with the team in Sydney for now. I am scheduled to be in Sydney through March – but by then the situation will likely change again, so it’s still a little bit unpredictable. That’s completely fine with me – remember, she’ll be right.

That said, of course I regularly think fondly of all my friends and family back in the northern hemisphere – and if there was any reason for me to be physically present, it would be no trouble at all for me to take that flight. In the meantime, I welcome any and all of you who want to visit Australia in the next few months – it’s quite a time to be here, with festivals all throughout summer. 🙂

Cheers!

3 thoughts on “Life as an expat Atlassian in Sydney”

  1. Melbourne is a great place to relocate to! Melbourne is the sports, arts and cultural capital of Australia – and has great transport links. The city has a highly diverse economy and population leading to a huge variety of cuisines, entertainments, nightlife and sub-cultures but it also benefits from Australia’s warm climate and excellent provision of public services.

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