My career transition

My career transition

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I moved from working at Dropbox in Dublin to the OECD in Paris in October 2015. Whilst this might first appear to be somewhat of a strange move, I’d like to use this blog post to explain the thinking behind my motivation and some of what I’ve learnt from working at both organisations, and transitioning between the two.

I joined Dropbox in 2013 after completing a masters in international politics at Trinity College Dublin. Paid positions in public policy were hard to come by in austerity budget era Ireland as there was a moratorium on the majority of public sector hiring and the NGO sector was struggling. I redirected my job-hunting efforts toward the private sector, thinking it would be useful to gain commercial skills before eventually moving into the public sector. Dublin had become something of a tech mecca since Google first established its EMEA headquarters there in 2003 – most of the established and up and coming tech companies, including Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Stripe and Slack, all now have their EMEA HQs in Dublin. Dropbox set up shop in Dublin with a small landing team during the summer of 2013. When I joined in November of that year there were about 20 people in the Dublin office and 500 globally, and when I left almost two years later there were 160 in Dublin and about 1500 globally. Joining a well-funded startup during hyper-growth mode was hugely exciting and I learnt a tremendous amount, both directly through my roles in operations and enterprise sales, and through participating in a rapidly growing company in a high profile sector.

After two years I had built up a solid foundation of skills and network in the tech industry. I felt it was time to start working more specifically on technology and public policy. My job search was thus more dictated by my area of interest than any specific organisation but it was concentrated on smaller consulting firms, think-tanks and international organisations. Job-searching requires patience and attention to detail. I treated it somewhat like a sales process: identify a list of organisations that you would like to work for based on select criteria (mission, industry, roles available, employees in your network, etc), develop a pipeline of contacts across different organisations, request informational interviews and generally map out the structure of the organisation and the industry, and then begin applying to, or ideally be referred for, appropriate roles. Through my work with Project Firefly in the past, Simon Evenett, one of the co-founders, connected me with a former PhD student of his, who worked at the OECD Development Centre, to discuss a potential role analysing the digital economy in developing countries. Following that, I interviewed with the head of unit and successfully got the job as a policy analyst.

The main research question underlying my work is: given that productivity rates are flagging across OECD and non-OECD countries, how can emerging economies adopt technologies to speed up the economic convergence process? This work then feeds into the broader OECD programme of work on the digital economy and contributes to member countries’ national digital strategies.

Managing the transition from Dropbox to the OECD was not always easy. Obviously there is all the practical stuff like moving to a new country where you don’t speak the language (I learnt German in school) and that has a Byzantine bureaucracy seemingly designed to destroy your soul and the planet through the duplication of form-filling. But acclimatising to a new work environment took some time too: I had moved from a young, relatively small, and fast-moving startup with a flat organising structure to a more established, larger, intergovernmental organisation with a more traditionally hierarchical structure. Like starting any new job, setting yourself up for success is doing the simple things right: speak with members of your new team before you start, have a clear understanding of your role, how it fits in with the organisation’s broader mission, and how the orgnisation fits into the broader sector, have a good sense of the org chart, etc. During that acclimitisation period, remember to bring what you’ve learnt from your old job/industry to your new one: what you take for granted might be novel in your new place of work.

I’ve been in Paris for nine months now and absolutely love the city and the work I do at the OECD – I feel vindicated by my decision to move. The transition has taught me some important lessons. Changing sectors has significant benefits, both for you and your future employers: you become a more well-rounded person with a more diverse set of transferable skills and experiences to draw upon. Moving industry is difficult however, and takes time, so you’ve got to be patient but also ready to move quickly when the right opportunity emerges – I left Dropbox and moved to Paris in just over two weeks. Obviously it’s good to leave on good terms: I can’t thank Dropbox enough for my time there and facilitating my move in such a short space of time. Think carefully about what’s important to you in your job and work environment – again changing sector can help clarify that. Finally, I think the most valuable thing you can do at the beginning of your career is expand your network: the larger and more diverse it is the more use it will be in the future. People are generally quite open to being asked for advice if you have a genuine interest in what they do – you can give back in a similar manner later in your career. 

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Olga Papadopoulou's picture
Mon, 29/08/2016 - 21:05

An insightful view of the situation on thelabour market, Sam. I agree that job-searching is a hard-work (I am experiencing it first hand). However, I have some questions and your advices will be more than welcomed: how do you develop a pipeline of contacts?
Moreover, is it possible to clarify the following: Does OECD Development Centre accept employees without the "traditional procedure"? (namely advertisement of job openings on their career site and application on OECD platform).
Many thanks in advance.

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Sam Mealy's picture
Tue, 06/09/2016 - 17:50

Hi Olga, thanks for the interest and apologies for the late reply. Developing your network isn't complicated but just requires hard work! I found in my previous job in Dropbox, going to industry events was very useful. Likewise contacting alumni from your university in sectors you're interested in is useful. And contacting people cold for informational interviews is fine provided you have a genuine interest in what they're doing and you want to learn from them.

Yes it does - there multiple entry points: traineeships, consultant positions, open hires. Check out oecd.org/careers for more information. Happy to discuss in more detail, my personal email is mealysn@tcd.ie or find me on LinkedIn!

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roman12's picture
Tue, 03/10/2017 - 06:28

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