For the most part, it didn’t feel like I was meeting people for the first time.
by Markus Foale
“Well, that was quite a blast” I’m thinking to myself as the plane touches down in Timisoara, Romania – almost home again, after a 3-day stay in Utrecht, in the Netherlands.
When I started working for 5CA, back in August 2015, I hadn’t expected my path to go this way. That feels like ages ago, now. When I spotted the ad for the position on Upwork (back then it was called Odesk), the “gaming industry” part immediately caught my eye and I wanted a piece of that! So, I applied and, soon after, started as a multi-vendor agent; my first project had been Activision. Long way to go – I moved to QA, some 8 months after, then had an excursion into the lands of Team Coaching and nowadays I’m invested in improving some of our more “quirky” projects. All of this, as a work from home agent. I had never met my colleagues live, despite talking to some of them on an almost daily basis.
So, when the invitation came, to visit the Dutch offices, of course I was interested! I packed my bags, headed to Timisoara airport and flew to Eindhoven. From there (with the help of the lovely Nathalie Cavalheiro), I made my way by bus and then train to Utrecht, passing through the some ridiculously clean and structured countryside. (On a related note – are your squirrels and deer trained to clean the fields?!)
Arriving in Utrecht was interesting.
I knew the offices were in a central location, but this was almost ridiculously central: Utrecht’s train station is next to and under a Mall. That mall is under the 5CA offices and some 5ish minutes away from the old city centre with the dome tower and canals and all that. (Yet I still managed to get lost in that mall – a story for another time). Upon entering the offices, I was immediately greeted like part of the team – as if I was simply returning after a long trip. I guess we’re all so used to living in an age of constant communication, that far away isn’t all that far anymore. And I really enjoyed it. For the most part, it didn’t feel like I was meeting people for the first time.
The recently expanded office was littered with game and gaming paraphernalia (As I write this, I realize that I should probably have asked to try one of those good looking VR headsets, lying around there), plastered with game-related posters and all in white and glass, dotted by spots of intense orange colour. It seemed like a modern yet comfortable place to work at.
Everyone was laughing, joking – looking like they were having a good time. Being so used to working from home, I frankly found the whole experience a bit distracting, since you were always surrounded by other people, talking and working next to you. But, of course, being at the office comes with benefits, for example if you need to quickly talk to someone (so you don’t need to wait for them to respond to your chat message or email).
Throughout those days, but especially on Friday (thanks, Jason!), I was able to have a look at Utrecht in the warm spring sun – surprisingly good weather, I was told (and realized, after seeing the swarm of Dutch people coming to sit outside, catching some of those warm rays). Utrecht itself, is a gorgeous city of some 330k people (twice that, if you count the whole Metro area), bustling with history, nightlife, tasty fries and with cyclists.
Oh, gods – the cyclists! I knew the Netherlands was big on that, but I didn’t expect to have to play Frogger at every intersection. I started hunting traffic lights, which offered a decent – but not total – amount of protection from the rolling hordes of cyclists heading to work each morning. I also didn’t expect to be more worried more about being run over by them, than cars – a rather new experience, shaped by the proximity to the city centre, which is an off-limits zone for most cars. I later found out that being hit by a raving cyclist, that you didn’t spot in time, is more-or-less a rite of passage for anyone new to the Netherlands.
What I did find rather odd, were the mandated closing times for many shops (18:00), which is rather jarring, as an outsider. But, luckily, the pubs don’t have to abide by that, so I was able to sample some fine Dutch beers after work – a good team-building exercise, I must say. (And a big ‘thank you’ to Dylan, Justin and Martijn for sharing their knowledge and recommendations on local brews)
As Saturday morning rolled around, I had to pack up my things, leave the gorgeous apartment I was staying at and make my way towards the Utrecht central station, to get to Eindhoven airport. I left early – fearing that I might get lost again (I need some time to get used to new places – stop judging me!). Luckily, all went well (good thing everyone speaks English perfectly in the Netherlands) and as the jet engines of the plane revved up and it took off, I knew I wanted to return at some point soon. It was, after all, quite a blast!
P.S. Stroopwafels are ridiculously tasty!