James Whitbeck
Engineer @ Alan
27 oct 2017Tech & produit

From San Francisco to Alan

Two months ago, after nine years in San Francisco, including 4.5 wonderful years at Square, I moved to Paris with my family and started work at Alan. While this move had been in the works for a while, there were many learnings and discoveries along the way, both about the change of countries and about joining Alan.

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Moving to Paris 🛫 Across the pond 9 years later

The initial driver for my move to Paris was personal. I was born in Paris — of American parents — and had lived there all the way up to my move to San Francisco nine years ago. So I still had a lot of family ties and friends in Paris. And like many people, I couldn’t see myself living long term in San Francisco with my family. However, instead of migrating to the suburbs, my wife and I decided it was a ripe time to give Paris a go.

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The one thing that worried me was walking away from a lot of professional and financial opportunities. Indeed, San Francisco and the Silicon Valley are the place to be for software engineers, in terms of the number of companies, the size of them, the breadth of the problems they tackle and the financial backing they enjoy.

Yet when I started interviewing in Paris, I was impressed! There is a real dynamism in the Paris tech scene, one that certainly wasn’t there a few years ago.

Not only are there many startups, but many are tackling really interesting problems. I found an interesting mix of French culture infused with elements of Silicon Valley culture, some of it brought back by the increasing number of engineers making the same move I was making.

Great companies I talked to include Algolia, Alkemics, Qonto, and obviously Alan. The ecosystem too is blooming, with lots of startup networks, meetups and accelerators : see Station F, NUMA or The Family for instance.

In the end, the most difficult and frustrating experience was not with the French administration, but with banks — it took us about one month to open a joint account at an online bank. Fortunately, I still had an account open from before moving to the US, otherwise it would have been problematic for renting an apartment. In retrospect, we would have been much better off going to a brick-and-mortar bank, however unintuitive that sounds.

From Square to Alan, but… why ?!

There were several things that drew me to Alan.

First, Alan was highly recommended to me by close friends in the French tech scene, both for its great product and strong team. And indeed, when I met the team in person I was immediately impressed: a CEO who had already founded and led a successful company, an engineering team with experienced and diverse backgrounds, from the Silicon Valley and from France, and senior insurance leaders excited about disrupting the industry they worked in for years.

What’s more, Alan’s mission is extremely ambitious: it’s the first health insurance company to be licensed in France in over 30 years and it’s disrupting an industry that is omnipresent in everyone’s lives.

For me, joining Alan was a big change and a big challenge. I had spent the past 4.5 years at Square, seen it grow from 400 to 2000 people, and at the end, I was leading three teams and about 20 people. Today at Alan, I am one of 7 engineers, at a company with just 15 people.

There is a lot of learning: I’m doing a lot more coding, working with very different technologies. At the same time, there are high expectations of me, not just in what I deliver but also in what I can bring in terms of my experience at a very successful San Francisco company.

The good thing is that the team at Alan has figured a lot of things out already. How we manage trust, transparency, decision making, leveling, compensation, prioritization — topics that took a while at Square to figure out — seem to be very well thought through and implemented. So, while I know there is a lot for me to contribute, there is also a very strong foundation on which to build.

Perhaps most impressive and exciting is the strong sense of purpose and urgency that the team exhibits as it pursues its mission to simplify and improve French health insurance. It really feels like we are executing a solid plan, one that is discussed and debated often, but where the direction is very clear.

So if you are excited about working in Paris, and even better, at Alan, feel free to reach out. We are very well funded and always hiring!

☞ If you are an outstanding software engineer, check out our open positions 😉

☞ Freelancers and companies, meet Alan, your new health insurance.

James Whitbeck
Engineer @ Alan

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