Danny Gilliland was raised in the US where he graduated from Stanford with a mechanical engineering major and has since then worked for tech companies for a decade. He joined his wife in Finland for a work opportunity she received and today Danny works as the head of Growth at HundrED.org.
Tell us the story of how you ended up in Finland?
After graduating from Stanford in California majoring in Mechanical Engineering, I moved an hour north to San Francisco where I worked at technology companies for 10 years. My wife has worked at Supercell for 4.5 years, and 18 months ago we decided to move over to Finland so she could join the headquarters here for a new opportunity.
What has helped you along the way in your professional career in Finland?
It has been very helpful to have a community of expats here that I spend a lot of time with. We can all bond on being similarly out of our comfort zone, and even though we come from many different countries we all have in common that we are in a different place together. In addition, I joined a basketball league that has helped me meet people outside the expat group, make some friends of my own, and have regular times to be social. While these are all personal over professional, I think that has been the greater challenge for me personally in immigrating to Finland. They could potentially help in terms of my professional network if I wanted to change jobs, but that has not happened yet.
What main obstacles have you experienced?
The biggest challenges have been understanding the work culture and also feeling like my options are limited. In terms of the work culture, I have had a hard time parsing between Finnish culture norms in the workplace, the culture of my organisation, and the style of our management team. Over time it has become clear what behaviours are attributable to which sources, but I was very slow to push change by speaking up about the company culture until I understood those things.
My options being limited is partly a function of having a very small professional network here in Finland compared to what I had in the US, and the language barrier. Without being fluent in Finnish I know that my options are limited and mostly constrained to my network. That is both because culturally I would want to work at a more global organisation with more expats, and because I strongly believe in getting jobs through connections for several reasons. So combining those two challenges, it feels that I don’t have a lot of long term career stability in Finland.
What do you see as the main value of international professionals working in Finland?
Getting diverse opinions and experiences from other countries in cultures is always valuable, and Finland is no exception. In that way, international professionals have a lot of value to add to the culture, economy and individual organisations. Meeting people from other places gives us all a more global mindset, and simultaneously shows us that we are more similar than we are different. This gives everyone a better perspective on people, and also opens doors to think about opportunities to grow businesses internationally. I have seen this personally in the work principles and global opportunities I have contributed to my workplace.
How would you comment on the language matter, how has the languages you speak helped you?
I am very fortunate in that my native language is English because English proficiency is so high in Finland. I have picked up some basic Finnish words and can understand some of what is said in Finnish, but I have no ability to speak it. This has not been an issue for me in work or life most of the time aside from some legal documents and healthcare services. However per my earlier comments, it does decrease my career options here. Additionally, it is socially difficult to build a broader social circle and integrate more closely with Finnish society.
What is your message to international job seekers in Finland?
Continue to pursue opportunities here in spite of the obstacles. It can be challenging to break into the market, but like anywhere you will slowly build your professional relationships and connections that will continue to help you in the future. It is an amazing society and place to build a life, so it’s well worth the effort!
What is your message to companies employing people in Finland? Why is diversity important in your opinion?
In most developed countries, natural-born populations are flat or slightly declining, so both from a national population perspective and global economic perspective it is vital for immigration to increase. Furthermore, diversity of backgrounds and experiences effectively mixing producing the best results for businesses and for humanity, and the only way to do that is by encouraging immigration. Governments control this to a significant extent of course, but business can also create immigrant-friendly hiring, training, and integration policies to attract international talent and ease their transition into a new culture.
It is only by mixing global perspectives and people that we will solve the current global challenges together.
If you are an international professional living in Finland, you can register your CV with Pointer Potential here.
More than 400 000 people with an international background live in Finland. In Helsinki alone, every sixth person has a background other than Finnish. The We Work-series shares glimpses of the real-life stories of international professionals living and working in Finland.
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