Curious and collaborative: how our international team is a winning formula
One of our strengths at Riverlane is our international team. Currently, one third of our staff were born outside the UK, with English as a second or even third language. In total, we speak (with varying degrees of fluency) 14 different languages, including Italian, Dutch, Serbian and Greek to name a few! We also ‘speak’ a number of different scientific languages, with chemists, physicists, engineers, mathematicians and computer scientists all working towards a shared goal of making quantum computers useful, sooner.
We spoke to the team about their experiences of moving to the UK, what it’s like to live in Cambridge, and why having an international team is so important.
Moving to the UK
Joan Camps (Senior Quantum Scientist) has lived in the UK since 2011, and prior to that was born and studied physics in Barcelona. He learnt English at a relatively late stage, in secondary school. “I struggled with it at first as there were many kids that had started learning much earlier. I went to a public language school later on to get to a reasonable level, and my PhD was completely in English.”
“When I came to England it was more the practical stuff that was so hard, I remember being on the phone, trying to get my National Insurance card, and really struggling to understand. Also, I lived in Durham initially, where the accent is very different!”
Ksenija Brankovic (Senior Project Manager) is originally from Serbia and moved to work in the UK in 2000. “I never learned English at school, that came later, and so initially I had that communication barrier. I struggled with the social conversations – people used to think I was quiet but actually I just didn’t understand what people were talking about.”
“My English has improved a lot, but what annoyed me the most was not being able to understand what is between words – the subtleties and complexities of English.”
Gianmarco Girau (Senior FPGA and Embedded System Designer) agrees with Ksenija about the subtleties of English, many of which are rooted in cultural differences. Originally from Sardinia, he worked in Switzerland and the Netherlands before coming to the UK. For Gianmarco, although learning new languages was a challenge, he notes that the way in which you communicate is also important.
“One thing I learned in particular was the cultural differences in the Netherlands compared to the UK. In Holland, they tend to be quite direct. This is quite a contrast with the UK, where people are generally very polite and do not directly criticise!”
Living in Cambridge
Cambridge is renowned for its multinational population, with a third of its residents born outside of the UK (Cambridge.gov.uk). Much of this is driven by a large student and post-doc population and the huge range of start-ups and global tech firms based in the City.
So, what’s it like to live and work in Cambridge? Joan commented, “You meet very interesting people from all over the world, and you get that feeling of “being in the middle of it”, like in a big city, but without all the inconveniences! I love that you can cycle everywhere, and you are also so close to the countryside. It is also very well connected with Europe, which is a huge bonus for my family!”
Marco Ghibaudi (Tech Lead) studied in Italy, before moving to Geneva, and onto London, before arriving in Cambridge. He comments, “I like Cambridge because it is multicultural but still relatively small. Here, you feel like you are contributing to the city’s diverse identity by being different”.
Working at Riverlane
At Riverlane, we want to make sure that our international staff and interns feel welcome and supported, even before they join the team. From our recruitment process, to visa support, and pairing new starters with a ‘buddy’, we recognise the challenge of moving countries for a new role. George Umbrarescu, one of our summer interns, commented: “the Riverlane application experience was very personable and it mattered significantly to me in accepting this offer over another. It also mattered that the people I met when coming to interview were very friendly and the office looked really nice. In the interview, I was told that I was selected out of nearly 300 applications – these statistics definitely made me feel proud of myself and feel valued”.
Gianmarco joined the team in September 2020. On starting, he says “I have been lucky enough to work in very good places in the past. Still, the first few months with Riverlane have been excellent. The thing that really made me feel at home from day one was colleagues being genuinely interested in me as a person. Everybody seems to be in line with the company mission, there is a sense of shared purpose.”
Anton Buyskikh (Quantum Engineer) was brought up in Rybinsk, Russia, before moving to study in St Petersburg, Pittsburgh, and Glasgow, respectively. Anton later joined Riverlane in September 2019. Of working in an international and multidisciplinary team, he comments, “The variety of backgrounds helps me to see things from many perspectives and ask the right questions, which is sometimes more important than finding the answers.” In the emerging and accelerating field of quantum technology, curiosity is key.
One way that we try to navigate our different scientific ‘languages’ is our weekly journal club, where we keep abreast of new research and share knowledge about topics that may less familiar to some of the team. Joan oversees the club: “one of the rules is that no question is too basic — which is essential in an interdisciplinary team; we are all experts in different subjects, and this allows us to learn from each other.”
Cambridge is an exciting, innovative and colourful place to be. As for our team – put simply, a diversity of skills and backgrounds make up a greater whole. As a fun way to take advantage of our multilingual nature, and to maintain connectivity through remote working, we are setting up a series of online language lessons, where we can learn new words and phrases and expand our knowledge on different cultures together.
It seems fitting to end on a phrase from our first Italian lesson, a quote from the great painter, engineer, thinker and inventor, Leonardo da Vinci. “Il piacere più nobile è la gioia della comprensione” – “The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.”