Short-term IT jobs overseas? This site's pushing 'jobbaticals' over staid careers

From software developers to designers, Estonian startup Jobbatical is aiming to tap into the innate wanderlust of professionals across the IT spectrum.
Written by Kalev Aasmae, Contributor
'Jobbaticals' allow professionals to gain skills in exotic locales.
Image: iStock
Thiago Pappacena is a young Brazilian software developer who felt bored with the routine of his old job in Rio De Janeiro. Yet he was reluctant just to quit and end up doing the same work at another firm in his home country.

"I had a vacation in Europe a few months ago. But when I got back, I didn't feel motivated to begin that routine again. So, I decided to try something new: do what I loved to do -- develop software -- in a completely different place," he said.

That was when he stumbled across Estonian startup Jobbatical in social media.

"Someone in my network was sharing an open position for a software developer. I clicked and saw some really cool places I'd love to live for a while. A few days later, I saw two really nice positions that matched my skills: one in Malta and another one in Milan. I applied to both, had a couple of interviews and now I'm preparing to move to Milan to work with a really amazing team."

The founder and CEO of Jobbatical, Karoli Hendriks, was facing almost the same problem as Pappacena a few years ago. At the age of 16 she was the youngest inventor of a patent in Estonia and was only 23 years old when she was appointed CEO of MTV Estonia.

After several successful years in media, she felt she needed a break before her next career step. Instead of taking a long vacation or going travelling, she decided she wanted to keep working but improve her professional skills at the same time.

Yet when she looked around, she couldn't find a service to help her. That gap in the market gave her the idea for Jobbatical -- to connect talented professionals to employers for short-term posts.

"After leading the launch of seven television channels in the Baltic region, I wanted to expand my horizons and take a 'jobbatical'. I wanted to find a team in a culturally new environment, who could use my knowhow in building media channels, while giving me a chance to keep on developing my professional skills. But nobody was offering that," she said.

"Coming from a tiny country where I'd been an employer for almost 15 years, having started my first business at the age of 16, I began to think about the pool of talent of those with a wanderlust gene on top of their skills and expertise."

The market niche seems to be there. Only 10 months since its beta launch, Jobbatical already has a pool of almost 20,000 people, mainly from the US.

According to Hindriks, the company has grown to 15 times its original size over the past five months, hosted 1,000 opportunities on Jobbatical, and given hundreds of people new teams to join in various locations around the world.

Pappacena says the Jobbatical approach to employment is not for everyone, because it may require the individual to become an absolute beginner again in almost everything.

"Everything is new, and you'll probably have to adapt to a lot of things: the language, the accent, the cost of living, the taxation, the legislation, housing," he says, adding that his new employer has already helped him sort out several issues.

"Besides being far from family and friends -- and the crazy rush I had to sell my car and rent my apartment in Rio de Janeiro -- I don't see a real downside. My family income will decrease -- my wife is quitting her job, and my new salary is lower than before -- but I will be a better professional, more motivated. It's more like an investment than an expense," he says.

For him the obvious positive side is to have the experience of working abroad.

"It's something that you cannot have in 15 or 30 days' vacation. It's more like an intensive real-world post-graduation: you are there to learn, and share professional experiences while you generate value for the company."

Another jobbatical-taker, Andrew Collien, who is originally from Indonesia but now works in Hong Kong as a UX/UI designer for CompareAsiaGroup, says the Jobbatical service is especially beneficial to professionals like him, who prefer short-term project-oriented work.

"It really depends on how you want to grow your career. I'm the type of employee who works for one or two years, achieves the targets, gets portfolios, and moves on. I don't like working in a big company that already has an established workcycle and doesn't have any problems to solve, just doing the work routinely, like a cleaning service or admin," he says.

"Some people work for one big company for more than 20 years, their lives based on salary, facilities, and bonuses. In the end, it's 100 percent our decision to choose on what, with whom, where, when, and how we're working."

As Pappacena points out with his own example, talented professionals are getting more adventurous and don't want to spend their career at only one company.

"I've been working in a traditional way for more than 12 years. I was about to complete 10 years in my previous company. But who stays 10 years in the same company, aged under 30 nowadays?" he laughs.

Hindriks says Jobbatical's biggest markets are cities and regions where tech companies are blooming, but where there is not enough local talent to fill employment needs. Berlin, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Estonia can be counted among those locations.

At the beginning of September, the startup closed an investment round of €500,000 ($537,000). It was led by early-stage fund Smartcap, with investors such as the biggest online media company in the Baltic region, Ekspress Group, and several local and international angel investors.

Hindriks believes that in the next few years the traditional ways people work will change radically.

"Forty years ago people had one job for 40 years. In five years' time, people will start having 40 jobs in 40 years. Work is changing from linear time spent at the office to a chain of tasks. People will be subscribing to tasks matching their skillset across borders," she says.

The countries that adapt their public policies to this change will benefit most from that transformation, Hindriks adds.

"Today there's a lot of discussion about why people change jobs often and talent shortages that are crippling the economy. In that discussion many of the companies keep on singing the good old, 'I only hire you when you commit forever' song," she says.

"At the same time, employees today know that the company can fire them any day without any particular reason and 'commitment' does not actually mean anything. People are constantly alert to finding better opportunities."

In Hindriks' opinion, it is Jobbatical's role to educate businesses about short-term commitments, where instead of 'owning' the workers, they build a journey together where both parties win.

"If it's a one-year journey, then great. If the one-year journey ends, and you want to build another one, even better. But there's no point in going on singing the old song instead of having an honest conversation."

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