From Kyrgyzstan to Google DeepMind London — My Journey as a Software Engineer

Software Engineering
Jul 7, 2022
4 mins read




💼 Software Engineer
⏳ Sep 2020 — Present
📍 London,
🗣 English
Work Visa
⚙️ Research
📍 London,
🗣 English
👥 1001-5000 employees

@aliya is a Software Engineer from Kyrgyzstan who has a BS in Computer Engineering from the Middle East Technical University in Turkey and an MS in Computer Science Engineering from the Budapest University of Technology in Hungary. Having interned at IBM and Bloomberg, she is now tackling her biggest and most exciting challenge — building AI software with DeepMind’s team in London, UK.

This interview was conducted and written by Veronica, co-founder of Borderless. A few parts were borrowed from @aliya’s official interview with DeepMind.

Getting my foot in the door at Google

It’s true that a company like Google is highly competitive and it’s not easy to get in. Having some kind of international experience definitely helps — be it scholarships from foreign universities, olympiads, or internships. Internships with big companies, or Google, in particular, is a huge bonus. But one of the best-proven ways to apply is to have someone within the company refer you, that way your resume has a higher chance of actually being seen by a human. Since the DeepMind team is relatively small, they pay a lot of attention to referrals. Google’s team is much larger and it’s not guaranteed that you will be contacted, but still very likely.

I was applying to jobs through a career incubator Outtalent. Its main advantage was community, which is something I care about a lot. I was already in Hungary and had a few internships in my sleeve, but knew very little about how to play the game of big companies. For example, I didn’t know that a resume has to be 1 page only, that you should not include photos and that referrals are such game-changers. It’s very important to be informed about these details to increase your chance of landing a job successfully.

After you apply, the next challenge is a technical interview. Here are some resources that I shared in my interview with DeepMind on how to prepare for them:

DeepMind's HQ in London
DeepMind's HQ in London

Getting my work visa during covid

Obtaining a work visa was an adventure that took me to several countries! I received an offer around May while in Germany where I did my internship and planned to start in September.

Google outsources visa procedures to Deloitte, and I was assigned to a representative. They told me to get my visa in my home country Kyrgyzstan, so I took a repatriation flight (thanks covid restrictions of 2020) via Hungary and Belarus. But it later turned out that the UK embassy there does not issue visas, and never has. I then ended up going back to Hungary, where I had a residency permit as a student, through Turkey and Switzerland again due to covid restrictions. After many flights and hotels, I finally applied for a work visa and received it within a week. Google took care of all payments including visa cost (which is around 4,000-5,000 pounds), and all travel expenses.

During this whole process, it was very important to look for alternative ways to enter a country and use the power of negotiation. Throughout the process, I ended up emailing the Turkish embassy asking for a seat on the flight, and they actually helped me out!

What it’s like to be a DeepMind

There are only about 1,000 employees at DeepMind, but the team is very international. Diversity is definitely an important part of DeepMind’s culture, as we are building an AI that will potentially be used in various industries, so it’s only natural that everyone should be included in creating it. My team has employees from literally every continent of the world excluding Antarctica. It’s incredible to be able to talk to these people not only about work but also about hobbies and even philosophical questions.

What makes DeepMind’s culture so friendly is that everyone is very humble. We have an opportunity to grab dinner with another employee from the company, matched via a randomizer. I would sometimes google the person I just shared a meal with and be surprised by how they already have 7-10 years of experience in the field, published several books, and are true pioneers in the world of AI!

I also really enjoy the city of London! Especially after Hungary where I definitely experienced some discomfort being a foreigner, I feel very included here in the UK. For example, nobody pays attention to your accent and everyone is very open-minded about cultural differences.

About salary and living costs

We are not allowed to disclose our actual salaries, but this website has pretty accurate ranges. Additionally, employees are eligible to get stocks and bonuses. However, taxes in London are very high, up to 40-45%.

Google also provides private health insurance, as by using the public one you could wait for a dentist appointment for longer than 6 months.

There are financial companies in London that pay higher than Google, but in general, the base salary is very good and enough for a comfortable life.

You will be happy at DeepMind if…

  • You are really good at what you do. DeepMind is hiring highly competent people who are the best in their fields

  • You love to innovate and solve problems using your creativity

  • (Optional) You could have a non-traditional career path and you are able to do multiple things

  • You are humble! It’s actually one of our company’s values. As discussed before, people here are very approachable and down-to-earth

  • You are interested in AI and its virtuous and effective application to the life of mankind

  • You dream big and set ambitious goals!

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