I’ve been working in Norway for six months now. It’s been an interesting experience, especially compared to my work experience in the US.
Salary in Norway and the US is about equal in monetary terms for software engineers. Now, it’s worth mentioning that as I write this, the USD is historical low compared to the NOK (although not as low as it was during the summer). Since most things are cheaper in the US (at least in CA), the actual purchasing power is better in CA than in Norway.
Benefits and bonuses
Healthcare is about the same in the US and Norway, the difference is who is paying for it. In the US, health insurance is paid for by the company you work for while in Norway it’s the State. Which means that in-between jobs, in Norway you would still be covered, while in the US you wouldn’t. The service is about the same (choose your own doctor etc).
As part of the package in Norway, I do get mobile phone and high-speed Internet access, even though I don’t work from home (the mobile has pretty much replaces the office phone for everybody in the company). These seems to be standard benefits in Norway these days. At least all the companies I interviewed with had it in their standard benefits package. I don’t believe high-speed Internet has become standard in the US, unless you work from home.
Vacation time is much better in Norway. In the US, I got 10 days of vacation each year. In Norway, I get 4 weeks (20 days) a year (plus 5 days if I have saved enough working hours). Meaning I can actually get away when I have a vacation (instead of a long weekend, which seems to be more normal in the US). Sick leave is not included in these four weeks of vacation. You also get the standard maternity/paternity leave in Norway (not existing in the US).
Working hours is a little saner in Norway than in the US, but I’m not sure it’s because I’m working for relatively big company, or because it’s just part of the working culture (not that many people work past 17:00)
There is a 3 months notice of leave in Norway (or at least at my Norwegian company). That’s somewhat weird coming from a State where employment is at-will. At the very most, I don’t think you have more than 2 weeks notice even at the most generous companies in the US. Not sure which is better yet.
Oslo is mostly a bank and telecom city. Along the coast, it’s mostly jobs in the oil industry. Silicon Valley is a lot more diverse when it comes to different industries.
The technology used is also much more diverse in Silicon Valley, where you can get work doing C++, Java, .Net, Perl, Python, what have you. Most of the jobs advertised in Norway was basically either Java or .Net (C#) jobs. Couple of companies, like finn.no, was Perl jobs. UNIX (Linux) and Windows are both present in Norwegian companies
The people and Work
The US, being the melting pot it is, is really diverse. At least in Silicon Valley, you basically get to know the world.
Norway is pretty diverse too, at least when dealing with technology. I work with Norwegians, English, Vietnamese, Bangladesh, Indians. Oslo might not be as diverse as San Francisco, but London and Paris is just a hop away.
English seems to have become the lingua franca when it comes to dealing with technology.
Engineers being engineers, there aren’t that much difference between an US nerd and an European nerd. Both are interested in technology and discuss it. Work culture itself (when thinking about the people/technology aspect) is not that different.
The company I work for seems to be really focused on the health of the workforce. When in the US, most tech companies have free soda and chips, the company i work for now is really encouraging us to eat healthy (free fruit basket once a week, free tea, coffee and water, but no soda), and have a balanced work life (discourage us from working too much overtime). In the US, it seems more companies are working people to death, mostly because there are other desperate people out there waiting for you job. It’s going to be interesting to see how the environment in Norway changes if there is a recession in the next few months.
Since public transport actually (more or less) work in Norway, I can take the train to work instead being stuck in traffic every morning and evening for hours. I love that part.
I do like working in Norway. I’m not as stressed as working in the US (mostly because of the visa issues I had when working there). There is some excitement in working in places like Silicon Valley, and stability in working in a country like Norway. I miss places like Fry’s Electronics or huge bookstores like Barnes & Noble or some of the more corner bookstores like the one in Mountain View. Working public transport really reduces the stress level.
Maybe it’s too early to make a definite conclusion, but so far so good…