Two years ago Gabriele Ricciardi, an Italian software engineer, moved to the Netherlands to work at Thales. In Hengelo he has found his dream job.
I studied computer engineering at the University of Rome. After my graduation, I worked for an Italian company specialized in naval warfare. As an engineer, I was responsible for the combat management system on board of naval vessels with a specialization in integration and sea trials. This job offered me the opportunity to obtain work experience abroad, spending one year in Rome, six months in Lithuania and a year and a half in the United Arab Emirates.
I enjoyed the job, but my dream was to work for Thales, because Thales makes the best radar and combat management systems in the world. I searched the international vacancy database and found an opportunity as a software engineer at Thales’s processing department in the Netherlands. Specifically, I’m part of the Processing Platform Software team, which develops the radar platform, the operating system and the drivers.
We’re a small team of six colleagues. It’s a very nice team, with young as well as experienced colleagues. What I noticed is that everybody is very willing to help you and teach you things. Another fun aspect is that at the company we have many foreign colleagues. Many of them are Spanish. We like to hang out sometimes, have a drink or visit places together.
My team mostly researches future platform developments, with the help of open source technology. We are involved in many open source developments, such as research on a C OSGI framework, Apache Celix. Another research project we currently work on is called Inaetics, the goal of which is to define and demonstrate a dynamic, service-oriented reference architecture. It will address the requirements of time-critical systems in a broad range of domains by providing a single design and implementation space for all subsystems, irrespective of control strategy.
The business culture over here is completely different from that in Italy. There, things are very hierarchical. Here, people call each other by their first names, not by their surnames. And if you encounter a problem, you can go directly to your manager. I personally prefer this culture, perhaps because I am an engineer or just someone who likes to get straight to the point. The nice thing is that it applies to everyone, regardless of one’s position. You can simply tell your boss you don’t agree with something and he won’t be angry. It’s not rude, just honest. I also get the impression that the Dutch work to live, not live to work.
At Thales, we spend a lot of time planning our activities, for example using the Scrum method. This method provides an overview and control of our projects and makes sure we have a private life after work. In Rome, things were different, less organized, and we had to work long and hard. Besides that, the traffic in Rome was a disaster. I used to spend two and a half hours in my car each day. Now that I live in Hengelo, it takes me less than ten minutes to get to the office on bike. I bought the bicycle as soon as the second weekend after my arrival. It seemed a necessity, because everybody asked me if I already had one. Cycling is nice – you exercise and it helps your clear your mind when you go home after work.
I’m also glad all Dutch people speak English so well. It’s quite easy to get in touch with local people. In my opinion, Rome is only nice as a tourist. Daily life is crazy. I think Dutch people would turn mad if they lived there.
Today, I work on our Inaetics research project. We have our weekly conference call with our partner company Luminis to discuss implementation, architectural solutions and progress. What they do in Java, we do more or less in C. Afterwards, we have our daily stand-up meeting with the team: in ten to fifteen minutes, every member of the team describes what he has done the past day. He or she tries to explain if there were any difficulties, so we can solve them together as a team. These daily meetings really help to complete your tasks on time.
Next, we have lunch with the team. In Holland, lunch is like half an hour, which is also a cultural difference, because in Rome a short and quick lunch will take one hour. After work, I go swimming as a work-out. The Dutch like to have dinner immediately after work, at around six. That is something I simply cannot get used to. In Italy, we normally have dinner after eight, so I never get hungry before that time.
On Tuesday, I work on new developments for the radar platform. Because this information is classified, I can’t give any details, of course. That is one of the other aspects I like about working at Thales. My projects have an innovative and top-secret character.
In the afternoon, we have the scrum planning session. During this meeting, we plan ahead for the following two weeks. We first take a look at the availability of colleagues, and then we select certain tasks and assign them. I would recommend the Scrum method to anyone. It helps you estimate better how much time a task will take and what exactly is expected of you. We always try to assign tasks to less experienced colleagues, so they can develop their skills. This also makes our jobs more diverse.
Today, we plan an activity with our interns. We normally have two or three interns in our team. At this particular moment, there are as many as five! Thales is a popular company for students to do their graduation assignments; we have more than one hundred internship vacancies per year, and these students even have their own student association. We mainly have Dutch students from technical universities, but also some French students, for example from the from l’École Polytechnique. We receive many applications from students that have visited the company, since we organize many factory tours for students. Once they are here, we try to involve them in our daily work as much as possible and make them feel like real colleagues, not as interns.
In the evening, I play some online games on my Playstation 4, sometimes also with my Italian friends. It’s a nice way to combine fun and keep in touch with friends.
We receive a call from the laboratory: they need our support for some integration activities. We have to deal directly with the devices ourselves. It’s nice to get away from the desk once in a while and to work with the actual electronics.
In the afternoon, we have the so-called refinement meeting: given the task assigned by the department, we have to estimate the required effort for the task. This is where we decide how much time a task may take. We also have to explain if we expect any problems.
In the evening, we go out to the center of Hengelo with some other foreign colleagues, rather friends than colleagues, really. They are from Spain and the Netherlands and work in other departments. After dinner, we all visit a bar together.
We perform the final activities of our project. We refine the last details and do the final tests to check if everything is fine so we can deliver our product. We have to be very careful, because our products are safety-critical − these products are required to work non-stop over long periods.
In the afternoon, we have a meeting called a retrospective. This meeting takes place once a month and is quite important because we look back on the past months and focus on what could be improved in the future process.
In the evening, I go to a soccer game of FC Twente with friends. The result is 4-0. I really like soccer, just like every Italian. My favorite club is Inter Milan. It’s funny to see the difference between the public in Italy and the Netherlands. In Italy, there are songs, smoke and many flags. In the Netherlands, the crowd is much quieter, but on the other hand you can enjoy the game more. We have a really good start of the weekend in the bars in the center of Enschede.