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Notes on how to make a cross-border career work

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Xavier Sheikrojan took a unique path to join Signifyd’s risk team in Belfast. From his home and legal education in the Netherlands to living abroad in Spain and a pivot to the world of ecommerce fraud management, Xavier put all the pieces of his international experience together to bring a new perspective on cross-border working and living in Belfast. We sat down with him to talk about what attracted him to fraud, why he chose Signifyd and how his new life in Belfast is going.

Q: What path did you take to join Signifyd in Belfast?

A: After I finished my law degree and worked in Amsterdam as a lawyer for a while, I wanted to try something new in my career and in my life. I quit my job in the Netherlands and moved to Barcelona with the goal to learn Spanish and  experience living abroad. I chose Spain because I wanted to learn Spanish, and I chose Barcelona because I was looking for a city with international character. When I moved to Spain my Spanish was not that great. Now I speak Spanish well so I can look back on the move as a great experience.

My original plan was to move back to the Netherlands and continue my legal career. Instead I stayed in Barcelona, where I ended up with a different career in ecommerce fraud risk management. I started working for Magento as a fraud analyst in Barcelona. Then I joined the Signifyd team while still living in Barcelona, working remotely as a senior risk analyst. Now my title is risk operations manager and I work in Signifyd’s brand new office in Belfast.

Q: How was your experience joining Signifyd? What are your first impressions of the company?

A: I joined Signifyd in March 2018. I started as a remote worker in Barcelona. Even working remotely from a large distance and time zone difference, I felt welcome. I received the help and support I needed during the first weeks during onboarding with Signifyd. My first impression as a remote worker was feeling close to the company right from the start, despite the distance.

When I joined Signifyd, the Belfast office was not yet established. There wasn’t even a team set up there. Without Northern Ireland in the picture, my direct colleagues were in San Jose, California. So my first experience was working with a team several thousand kilometers away with a large time difference.

The idea of the Belfast office came to life later in 2018. I had the opportunity to move up and work as a risk operations manager in Belfast. I joined the team here to help build a risk team from the ground up. It’s a great opportunity, personally and professionally.

Q: What kind of challenges did you have while working remotely with the team?

A: The time difference was difficult. It required flexibility on both sides. With the correct mindset of understanding and flexibility from everyone on the team, it can work. It gives me the room and leverage to fill in the gaps on my own so I can find solutions and challenge myself.

Here in Belfast we work closely with our Risk Operations team in San Jose. This gives us leverage across time zones and allows us to service clients in the U.S. and now the UK as well. The flexibility helps us reach more of the European market. It’s all a work in progress. Sometimes it can be difficult with the distance and time difference, but it’s not impossible. We continue to find ways to make it work better.

Q: When did you move to Belfast? What were your first impressions of living in the city?

A: I moved to Belfast at the beginning of 2019. After living in Barcelona for four years, coming to Belfast’s cold and rainy weather was a big shift. But the people here are very friendly and warm.

Moving to another country is always challenging. I arrived here on a Sunday evening to start working in the office the next day. With support from my colleagues, the transition went better than expected. Tristan Smith, another manager here at Signifyd, offered to let me stay with him and his family while I got on my feet in Belfast. It made a huge difference—not just having a place to stay while looking for housing, but also having that support from someone who understands what it’s like to relocate to a new country for work. Tristan came over from working remotely in Seattle, Washington, to help build the Signifyd team here.

It was an amazing and generous offer. It helped me make the difficult transition of moving my entire life to a new country.

Q: What were some of the challenges of moving to Belfast?

A: Without a fixed address, everything was harder at first. I arrived in Belfast with two suitcases—basically all I needed in the moment. My partner is still in Barcelona. Most of my stuff is still there. There’s no need to move those things over here yet.

Brexit poses another challenge with living abroad. I want to see how Brexit plays out before we make plans for my partner to quit her job and leave Barcelona. I made the decision to move here regardless of Brexit, and my partner definitely will come here. But there’s still a lot of uncertainty. I have this support network at Signifyd so I’m confident that we will find a solution with whatever happens with Brexit.

Q: How is the housing situation in Belfast? Were you able to find a place to live within your price range?

A: I made a list of apartments to check out before coming to Belfast. But when I tried to make appointments to visit these places, everything I picked out was already gone. Any time something comes on the market here, it gets snapped up pretty quickly. So you need to move fast when finding a new place in Belfast.

Q: How much does it cost to live in Belfast?

A: If you want to live on your own, a decent apartment goes for around £550 and £800 per month. It depends on other things too: the distance from the city center, the size of the place, the housing type (like an apartment or house) and the number of bedrooms. I think my rent is reasonable.

Q: What has stood out to you the most working with the Belfast team?

A: I had never visited Belfast before I moved here. Trevor McCullough, the Belfast site lead, and Tristan were my first contacts here. We did a call together where they gave me the support and guidance I was looking for. Everything from tips on where to look for an apartment to how to get through my first week here. I had to get an insurance number, social security number and a local bank account—all things you need when moving to a new country.

Our local human resources manager, Matt Hamilton, also helped out. That was my advantage: having the locals here in my corner. Compare that to someone without colleagues or relatives in a new place. I feel very lucky.

Q: What have you enjoyed most about living in Belfast?

A: This is the second time I’ve moved to a foreign country. This experience gives you a chance to develop on a whole new personal level. Getting the chance to start somewhere new with a clean slate is pretty cool.

I’ve seen Signifyd grow at an incredible pace. Our name is getting more and more popular here in Belfast, with a lot of interest in the company growing around town. It’s enjoyable to watch and experience this kind of growth.

Q: Would you recommend someone move from their home country to Belfast?

A: Belfast has a lot to offer. There’s beautiful nature. The people are very friendly. We have a great food and drink culture. The economy is rising quickly, which means more career opportunities in technical and non-technical fields alike. I definitely encourage relocating out here. Everyone here is super helpful. Matt Hamilton and Steph Murray on the HR team are both Belfast locals, so they can help with day-to-day living stuff and transitional concerns.

I’m also available to answer detailed questions about my move, what I had to consider, my approach and more. I’ve been there and done that. I’m happy to share my experience.

photo courtesy of Signifyd

Chris Martinez

Chris Martinez

Chris is a content strategist at Signifyd.