3 Tips to Land an Expat Job and 5 Takeaways while Working in Norway
A Product Manager Journey from Austin to Oslo
Hei fra Norge! I’m Joshua Reola, a Strategy and Partnerships Product Manager focused on the Webex Certification Program. I specifically work in the Webex Devices Business Unit based in Olso, Norway where all our Webex video endpoints are created. In this blog, I will share what I do at Cisco, the tips to land an expat job, and what I learned while in the expat role.
I have been at Cisco for close to 14 years. Why so long? At Cisco, I enjoy the flexible, work from home culture which Cisco has pioneered over the past 20 years, my co-workers, traveling perks to meet customers, and the fun after-work team activities. You can never get bored as you are constantly learning here, and you can always move internally within Cisco. It’s even ranked the World’s #1 Best Place to Work! I also keep busy during my off-hours. I even studied as an EMT and created a startup called Liberwave; the world’s first peer to peer notes and textbook trading app with my brother.
Last year, I finally landed my dream job at Cisco. A Product Manager in the Webex Devices Business Unit. Check out this fun video of what we do here! This PM role wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the Cisco Collaboration leadership, my managers, and Cisco’s International Assignment Expat program.
Cisco’s Expat Program
Most companies have an expat program, but they aren’t advertised or easy to get as they are usually reserved for VP’s and up. I scoured our intranet and eventually found the right contacts at HR to learn more about it. So what is included in the expat package? Cisco was paying six figures each year for my Norwegian taxes and other expenses such as my VISA, Ernst and Young tax consulting fees, one round trip flight back home a year with baggage fees, immigration services, relocation vendor fees, and more on top of my regular salary. The cost of living in Norway is 46.76% higher than in the United States which was not factored into the expat package and everything else was out of pocket, such as rent, utilities, food, and transportation.
The expat package at Cisco has two tiers. The first is the Cisco Talent Development Assignment (TDA) program. This is a one-year rotational assignment to develop talent, leadership skills, provide expanded visibility and networking opportunities. In the second year, I had to migrate over to the Long-Term International Assignment (LTIA) since TDA is a one-year-only program and most work projects take about 24 months to come into completion. I had to go back to the business to ask for an extension. The bonus of LTIA is it was subsidizing my housing by $650 USD a month.
Tips to Secure the Job
First, you need to build a business case for an expat role. That business case has to tie to the growth of the product or service. Below are three initiatives that helped me secure that package.
1. Constantly learn something new. Acquire skills that will separate you from your peers and adds value to the business. The CCIE Voice exam was tough but going through a real-world MBA, aka having my own startup, was the most difficult job I had in my life. Living in Austin, I was around entrepreneurs and I loved the hustle. I bootstrapped Liberwave at the cost of a 2-year MBA program. I worked from 5 pm to midnight on weekdays and 25+ hour weekends for two straight years and I loved every moment of it. At our peak, we had up to 45,000 users and 10 people working for me. My startup even turned down the final round to appear on Shark Tank, which in hindsight, wish we didn’t turn down, but that’s another blog! With that skill set, I started to think agile and like a startup and understood what to prioritize and be scrappy since it was my own money. I brought tools and experiences forward to the business unit, such as the AHA road mapping, and feature request tools; introduced ShipBob and Shopify for our internal ordering of headsets, SEO tools like Ahrefs, SEMRush; methodologies like Google Design Sprints, growth and marketing hacks, and also how to properly pitch and network to key stakeholders.
2. Create programs that help the bottom line. Cisco acquired the cloud collaboration SMS and telephony service, Tropo, with the intent to help steer Cisco's $5B Collaboration business unit to focus on use cases through APIs. I saw an opportunity to help transform the business and bridge various product teams to drive adoption and go to market programs through programmability. Furthermore, this is where my startup experience of understanding a two-sided marketplace helped accelerate the growth of Webex Teams. For example, by first creating Webex Ambassadors, the largest Webex community as an evangelization group to identify developers to create bots for Webex Teams (aka Cisco Spark) to quickly seed the Webex Apphub and jumpstart our DAU’s. Overall, showcase your wins. This should be part of your business case.
3. Identify your stakeholders. This is the difficult and most important part. You need to have executive sponsorship to help with funding. For me, that required three executives to sponsor me to “tin cup” or split the costs for the program. Here you have to identify the expat costs to present to your stakeholders. You will also need to make sure you know the budget cycles as the business will have more funding at the beginning of the calendar year versus the end.
Finally, create a <10 slide pitch deck of past project wins and also break down the proposed projects you will work on that aligns with their priorities. Identify gaps that you can fix and list out your 30–60–90-day plan in that deck and then pitch it to your stakeholders. Keep a log of your projects and provide quarterly metrics and KPI’s. Also, find a local sponsor to help you transition into the new office and role.
Takeaways after Two Years in Oslo
My expat rotation ended on November 2019 and below are five personal learnings and takeaways after my two-years into the program.
1. Listen. Actively listening can help you gain a better understanding of the problem and subsequently formulate the most optimal and accurate solutions in your role. You also have to earn the trust and respect of your peers, especially as an individual contributor like myself. Learn to listen and understand verbal and non-verbal queues, especially living in a new country as there are cultural differences. For example, Norwegians have an open door policy and encourage a flat organizational structure. Skip levels are normal. They listen and it goes both ways.
2. Leadership. Be a leader and take initiative on projects. If you have an idea, go to stakeholders and then drive the project with proper metrics why your idea has merit. Learn to prioritize and focus on your project and tasks. I use the Eisenhower Matrix. This method helps you decide and prioritize tasks by urgency and importance, sorting out less urgent and important tasks which you should either delegate or not do at all.
3. Network. Be that dot connector. Cisco is a 70,000 employee company. Don’t assume that people know each other in the US to the European theater. I was able to connect several other teams in the US to Norway. Working with other teams and organizations helps flatten the business, improve communications, and speeds up processes.
“Rich people in the world look for and build networks. Everyone else looks for work.” — Robert Kiyosaki. Rich Dad, Poor Dad
TIP: Keith Ferrazzi has a great book called Never Eat Alone. I made it a rule when I first moved to Oslo to have lunch with someone new every day to know what they do which helped me understand the business gaps and also the local roles that drove the $1B run-rate business. It was also a great way to make friends along the way.
4. Teamwork. Something I learned from my four years at the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets, which is the largest ROTC program outside Westpoint, the Naval Academy, and the Air Force Academy. Our motto is,
“Per Unitatem Vis” which means, “Strength, Through Unity.”
You will have to work with other people outside your team and even globally. Work with them and always know that they don’t work for you. They’re doing you a favor. Yes, it’s working toward the same goal, but remember they have their own jobs too. Be nice!
5. Culture. Leave behind a culture and tradition where you came from as sharing ideas lifts everyone up. After helping support TechCrunch Disrupt and Devpost events showcasing Webex APIs, I brought the idea of student and cross-business unit and partner hackathons into Oslo and Richardson. This was a great way to bring together different partners and product teams to solve a common use case.
Thank You Cisco Webex
Overall, I viewed the assignment as an MBA rotation and a once in a lifetime opportunity. After two years under the expat program, I decided to not return to Austin, Texas, and to fully transitioned as an employee under Cisco Norway.
First, I want to thank the Cisco Collaboration Technology Group, General Managers, Vice Presidents, Product Manager Directors, and Sales leaders for supporting me. All this wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Sri Srinivasan, Snorre Kjesbu, Sandeep Mehra, Lorrissa Horton, Finn Helge Lunde, and especially OJ Winge, Jason Goecke, Andy Dignan, Paul Magnaghi, and most importantly, Espen Løberg and Joseph Fu for being great mentors and for this opportunity.
In closing, to translate the Norwegian saying, “tusen takk” or a thousand thanks; without the expat program, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet my fiancé. I feel blessed to work for such a great company with amazing people creating products that help connect the world. Thank you, Cisco!
Ready to choose your adventure? We’re hiring at Cisco. I’m happy to help you learn more!
🐦 Twitter: @joshreola