Working in a local Finnish Company as a South East Asian

Ville Laitila on February 26, 2019

Where is -30°C and everyone are happy to go to work? Welcome to learn about Finnish working culture. (Spoiler alert: Finns smile when they work too).

I moved to Finland in 2018 for studying at the University of Oulu. At that time, I thought it was a good opportunity to find an internship so that I get hands-on experience and more understanding about the culture. I sent an open application to Softagram.

Fast forward to 2019, I’m now working as a software engineer in an exciting startup. It was a smooth transition towards Finnish culture, considering that more than half of the employees are non-Finns. We have people from Poland, Vietnam, the US and for the spring we will get the first French to work with us.

Few of us in our office with new logo-paintings

Finnish work culture

Finns can be pretty proud of how weather-resistant they are, but immodesty is not the case when they work. As a Southeast Asian guy from Thailand, I’m amazed at how they truly respect professionalism. The work is criticized with highly constructive feedback, yet straightforward to the tasks that can be improved.

“I would use the x, but I’m fine with y too.” is the most common pattern of feedback you get in Finland, whether it’s work or studying. Given that, it is pointed out where you should look for it, the speaker has no intention of expressing a negative thought about your decision. They would love to open the door for discussion, they really love the discussion :).

Talk straight, express your opinions

One example of a confusing moment, it was when my mentor walked to my desk and said “It’s good to write tests” with a straight face and then left. I remembered that I discreetly freaked a bit. I literally did not understand what was the meaning of that. What did that mean? Should I write more tests? Do my tests suck? After working with them for a while (2-3 months), I learned that it was a Finnish way of making a compliment, telling me that my job was right and done well. They just did it very straightforward.

At a farewell party for Joe, another Southeast Asian guy who happily worked to Softagram for one year and a half, I casually mentioned about the slot machines in a restaurant where we had lunch. “Where does the money go after putting it into the machine?”. Yes, I started a huge debate. We had a heated discussion about how the government should spend that money, why don’t we ban all gambling machines, and how my CEO is worried about drugs’ situation in Oulu. That day was good

Team lunch after the great beginning of the year

Be open-minded, it pays out

I would say that I was afraid of racism, discrimination, and many things that could go wrong, and I brace myself for that. However, during my stay in Finland I never experienced such things, especially in the workplace. Finnish stereotypes of that they are cold, harsh, drink a lot of vodkas, have breakfast in Sauna, are only partly true. I expected to have a sauna session in the office, but it never happened. We are all different, and we all respect that. I would like to suggest everyone be open to working with people from different cultures, it can be fun and educative for both parties.

I’m looking forward to understanding more about the technical skills and how to blend in more with Finnish too.

Robroo, Software Engineer and a dead cold Asian guy in Oulu

Want to see how we work and what we do at Softagram? Check this short post of Eating our own dog food



Read more