March 2, 2020

Being a data scientist in Amsterdam FAQs

Since I started working in Amsterdam, I have been getting a lot of messages through social media about living in Amsterdam, the schools, applying for masters and working as a data scientist. After all, Amsterdam is a great city to live in and data science is an exciting career option.

In this article, I will answer some of the most common questions I get asked by people who are interested in living in Amsterdam and working as data scientist.

Q: Is it easy to get a job in Amsterdam as a foreigner?

Aka: How is the perception towards people coming from eastern countries?

Yes. I did not come across any type of preference of locals when it comes to data science job market. I have a feeling -although not backed up by facts- that many Dutch youth prefers a business based education rather than a technical one. This leads to a lack of local technical people. So, I would say being from abroad would not lower your chances of getting a job.

There is, however, a certain rule binding companies based in the Netherlands from hiring people from outside of the Netherlands unless they prove -somehow- that they cannot find the person to do this job in the country. Even after that, they need to prefer people from within the EU. Also, people from outside of the EU is a lot of work to hire for companies. The hiring company has to be your sponsor and I believe this requires some legal work to be done. I do not know in detail how sponsorship works but as far as I understood it is not that easy. Just make sure to keep this in mind while looking for jobs.

You might find some job postings that already tell you that they can sponsor you if needed but  I would say, bigger companies are more likely to be able to help you in that regard. I've also come across small start-ups that had special permissions to hire some number of people from outside of the EU but I don't really know how you can find them. Angel.co is a good website for looking for start-up jobs.

Q: Do I need to know Dutch?

This one is harder to answer. I believe it depends on the size and the clients of a company. Data science, in contrast to other type of development jobs, is a more client-facing discipline. There will be times where you need to explain your approach and present results to the client and if they strictly prefer this done in Dutch there is little that you can do. And even if you will be a strictly non-client-facing data scientist, you might need to go through documentation that is in Dutch from the client in order to understand the problem or the data. 

I would say, though, many start-ups and small sized companies do not really care what language they speak if you are going to be an in-house data scientist. In addition to small businesses, big companies like IBM hire non-Dutch speaking people as well. They can do this because their clients are international companies and their teams primarily speak English most often than not.

That said, speaking Dutch is definitely an advantage. You will have a wider selection of jobs and clients if you can proficiently communicate in Dutch.

Q: Is it possible to live on one salary in Amsterdam?

Yes. I understand how it could be scary to move to a new country without having much information on the costs. And Amsterdam definitely is one of the more intimidating cities when it comes to cost of living, if not only for the rent. The rents are high in Amsterdam but the cost of living is balanced pretty well with the salaries. You can easily have a good life quality with an average salary.

What is an average salary? Calculate here.

Q: Are there enough opportunities for data scientists?

There are a lot of opportunities for data scientists. Amsterdam is swarming with start-ups, middle scale companies and there are offices of a lot of world renowned companies. I don't think finding enough opportunities is a problem.

Q: How is the work-life balance?

Working in Amsterdam is a bliss. No sarcasm here. I love being able to bike to work, the flexible hours and the friendly work environment. I have limited knowledge on other companies but my overall impression is positive. Based on my experience so far, it is easy to make sure that you take care of yourself, enjoy your hobbies, see your friends and spend time with your family while working here.

You can work from home and in general work hours that you see fit. Of course you are still working for a company and this binds you to be there at a certain time of a day for certain days of a week. But in Amsterdam it will be easier to find time for the remainder of your life then it is in many other places in the world.

One of the downsides of biking to work is the not-so-occasional rain and wind situation we got going on in Amsterdam. Winter months can be testing when it comes to commuting but it is still worth it, in my opinion.

By the way, if you are curious about a specific company's culture glassdoor.com is a great place to read insider reviews.

Q: Which programming languages should I definitely know to get a job as a data scientist?

I think the standard ones are Python and R but of course it depends a lot on the company and the project. So instead try to keep up with the latest developments and learn the technologies, frameworks and libraries. I would recommend having some personal projects or joining Kaggle competitions to get hands-on experience rather than going through endless Python tutorials.

I am currently working on a guide on relevant skills to learn for data science. If you would like to be informed when it is published, you can sign up for my mailing list using the form below this article.

Q: What kind of projects are there?

Good ones.

Jokes aside, these type of vague questions will not do you so much good when it comes to understanding what it is like to be a data scientist in a specific city. I think the best approach would be to find people working in companies you are interested in, and ask them about their work and the latest project they were on. Everyone likes talking about themselves! Give it a shot.

Q: How are the living conditions in Amsterdam?

It is a quiet city, quieter than many other cities. Although the Dutch people I met do not accept it, Amsterdam is a small city. Especially for people coming from mega cities like Istanbul. Nevertheless, I think it has the perfect size to make living easy. Not too big, not too small. The farthest place you can go is not that far but you still can find everything you need in it. Bikes, of course are awesome. Being able bike everywhere is also awesome.

It is a truly international city. There are people from all over the world living, studying and working here.

The only problem is the cold, rain and wind that sometimes make life unbearable. Also, the Dutch cuisine is non-existent (sorry Dutch friends) but you can find anything else you want food-wise. Indonesian, Indian, Turkish, Greek, Venezuelan, Chinese, Taiwanese, Ethiopian, Surinamese, you name it.

One of the serious problems is housing though. It is always challenging to find affordable housing that you can be accepted for. Nevertheless, I've never seen anyone go homeless. So you'll be fine.