EX PATRIA

I left America for the real land of promise—Poland

hands-tedx
TEDxKraków, in just its second year, was sold out. (Flickr / Michal Sosna)

After seven years living in New York City’s hustle and bustle, working as a digital products manager for a major media company, my wife and I decided to leave and see the world. If you’d told either of us that within a year we’d be living full lives with satisfying jobs in southern Poland, we never would’ve believed you. After a year and a half here, we have no plans of returning to the US.

We chose Kraków because we have close friends here, who also left New York City in 2010 after not finding work for nine long months. Now they own a translating, teaching and proofreading business and are so busy with clients that they constantly have to turn down work. When they first announced their intention to move to Poland, I was taken aback by what seemed to be a radical plan, but now it makes perfect sense. They left their (home)land of opportunity for one that’s truly earning that reputation.

Everywhere around Kraków are busy construction sites of future office buildings and dream homes. Fresh roadways and roundabouts serve a growing suburban population and gleaming “Just Opened” signs hang over newly minted malls. Business is booming. The European Commission has predicted that Poland will see the fastest growth in the EU this year at 2.7%.

We were surprised to learn that Poland, an EU member since 2004, has a population larger than Canada (38 million) in a space smaller than the state of New Mexico (312,000 sq km). Furthermore, Kraków is listed among the top outsourcing cities in the world, being ranked by Tholons (pdf) as the #1 emerging city for outsourcing business, #1 in Central and Eastern Europe, and #11 worldwide. Currently, Kraków is home to 335 tech companies, including Google, Cisco and IBM. Many other multinational corporations are here as well: Shell, HSBC, UBS, PwC, Philip Morris International, State Street, RR Donnelley, Sabre Holdings, Tesco, Heineken, Brown Brothers Harriman and Alexander Mann Solutions, just to name a few.

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Construction on the outskirts of the city. (Sean Crabtree)

Sure, we were first lured here by the prospect of fast cash for easy English-teaching gigs and cheap continental flights. However, we quickly discovered that Kraków (and Poland) has so much more to offer. Moving to a new city (and country!) where I had few connections made for an interesting experiment: How many degrees of separation stood between me and my ideal employer? Turns out it was only five.

When introduced to Paul Klipp at Lunar Logic Polska, Poland’s oldest and most-experienced agile Ruby on Rails development team (and one of the largest in the world), we both knew we’d work well together. After meeting his exceptionally skilled, bilingual professional team, which is run by an American and includes expats from many countries, is more of a family than a collection of coworkers, so I knew I’d found a good home. Ironically, as Product Manager of Kanbanery, our agile productivity software, I’m finding myself reaching out not to customers in Europe, but to America — and oftentimes to clients living blocks away from my old stomping grounds in Lower Manhattan, Chelsea and Brooklyn Heights!

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Sean Crabtree arrived in Poland in 2011 and quickly became plugged into Kraków’s burgeoning tech scene. (Artur Bilski)

Before long, I plugged into Kraków’s burgeoning grassroots tech community. In 2011, I arrived just in time to attend the second TEDxKraków event. A highlight was the talk by Ramon Tancinco, Head of Strategy and Business Development for Central and Eastern Europe for Cisco Systems. He made a convincing case that Kraków has all the ingredients needed to become Europe’s Silicon Valley.

The startup scene in Kraków is headed up by Hive53. They regularly host speakers from across Europe and North America, and provide a space for members to practice pitching and presenting to a crowd. English is mandatory. The savvy members have no qualms with stopping others mid-sentence (or mid-presentation) to correct their pronunciation of household tech brands. Their logic: If we want to work with these American companies, we have to know how to pronounce their name.

Within the last year, two major developments have sprung out of this community. Silicon Valley made its first Polish startup acquisition, Topicmarks, a natural language processing and machine learning company, which was developed by a Hive53 member. Just this month, a team returned from the prestigious Silicon Valley startup incubator, Y Combinator, giving them access to the Y Combinator community and providing inspiration to others in Poland that it can be done.

Everyday I’m meeting, learning from, and collaborating with inspiring innovators, dynamic designers and exceptional engineers while working on cutting edge projects. “Opportunity here is unparalleled” is a commonly heard phrase in conversations.

Meanwhile, my wife and I continue to live out our personal travel dreams. So far, we’ve been to 14 countries and 41 cities in 18 months… and counting.

It’s an amazing feeling to be ahead of the curve for once, and working ahead of America’s time zones doesn’t hurt either. It pays to live in the future!

You can follow him on Twitter at @scrabtree. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

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