Silicon Valley goes Berlin: Madhan Padmanabhan
Name: Madhan Padmanabhan
Position: Mobile Engineer
Represented in over 13 countries and with over 20 million users, Careem is one of the most active and successful competitors of Uber. With the objective of keeping their global expansion, the company opened a R&D centre in Berlin with currently around 90 talented international employees from all over the world. One of those talents is Madhan Padmanabhan. As an engineer he came to Careem’s mobile engineering division here in Berlin. He talked to us about his path that has led him to Berlin: born in Madurai, India, he moved to Silicon Valley, where he spent 7 years working in big IT companies, to then eventually move to Berlin in July 2016 to work for Careem.
Madhan, you’ve moved from Silicon Valley to Berlin – what inspired this move?
To be honest, a bunch of things inspired this move. The main reason, though, was to stay close to my family in India. I wanted to be able to visit them more often while working in a competitive environment. While Berlin is not the Valley, I felt it was the next best thing. However, I still applied at other places in Europe as well (London, Dublin and Amsterdam).
You mentioned before, there was competition for Berlin – Why did you decide to go to Berlin in the end?
First of all, I wanted to join Careem because of the problems we are trying to solve. I would like to start with a quote: “Necessity is the mother of all inventions”. Careem has made cars, which are considered a luxury in regions like Pakistan, Egypt etc, into a necessity.
Furthermore, Berlin was the underdog amongst all the cities mentioned in terms of the cost of living. This, of course, influenced my decision. Combine that with an amazing healthcare system that I would prefer over DHS. That convinced me eventually!
When you first moved here, how did you get started in Berlin? What was the biggest challenge, and what was the easiest part?
I think the biggest challenge for me when I moved here was the language. I have lived in English-speaking countries all my life. I took the language part lightly, this just came and smacked me right in the face. Along with this, not having a car and having to adjust to public transport was a deal-breaker for me.
When I started at Careem, that was when things changed tremendously in a positive way! The amazing people helped me out, not just in terms of immigration, but anything relating to Berlin. Some of the closest friends I have made since I moved to Berlin are either from Careem or acquaintances I have met through Careem.
What are the differences between the two IT metropolises – with regards to lifestyle and work-life balance?
From an IT standpoint, the things I used to do in the Valley are still possible here. Everything ranging from tech meet-ups to conferences along with discussing random startup ideas in meet-ups feel exactly the same. Of course, there are some exclusive conferences in the Valley. The same applies to Berlin. I would say that in Berlin work-life balance is much better than in the Valley. The flexibility to work remotely/at the office is fairly standard in the industry.
What does Berlin offer to the IT scene and in general to the technology industry?
I feel like this needs a list:
Silicon Valley Berlin
Car ✅ ╳
Public transport ╳ ✅
Work-life-balance ╳ ✅
Tech Meetups ✅ ✅
Diversity ✅ ✅
Talent ✅ ✅
Engineering work ✅ ✅
I would say that in Berlin work-life balance is much better than in the Valley.
What district do you live in and how do you experience the city?
I live in Prenzlauer Berg; it feels like here you get an essence of Berlin as you move towards Pankow and get a cosmopolitan feeling at the same time. I feel like it is the best of both worlds.
There are a lot of English speakers in this neighbourhood and Mauerpark is right around the corner; is just great to spend a lovely sunny day in!
What are interesting locations for you to spend your free-time at?
Some of my favorite locations in the city include:
Madhan’s story in Berlin started with his employer, who is an internationally acknowledged business, which has grown and crossed boarders since its formation in 2012.
Careem was founded, when the founders decided to leave their jobs and start their own business. It was about changing the way of transportation and inspiring people to think outside the box – uplifting communities, supporting infrastructures, and solving local problems is still their main goal up to today. The freedom of mobility isn’t always available, so the ride-hailing company took it upon itself to change this.
Peter Minev, the Director of Engineering, who started and pitched the initial idea of opening the research centre in Berlin, said that Berlin offers so much potential that he wasn’t considering other European cities to open the R&D centre. The economic stability that Germany has to offer was a key factor, he says. Businesses feel secure and don’t face challenges they may meet in other countries. Another excellent aspect Berlin can be proud of is the low costs of living compared to other capital cities.
The amount of talents and the diversity that the international crowd of Berlin offers was also a decisive factor.