Throughout this month, we’ve been taking a closer look at Belfast as a sci-tech city. The industry is full of workers who move around and, as such, they’ll want to know as much as they can about the cities they’re moving to.
Belfast is a prime location for tech talent, as it’s rife with opportunities, particularly within the cybersecurity sector. It also has the added bonus of being a less expensive place to live than Dublin or London.
But relocating can be a big decision and, even if you’re only moving to Belfast for somewhere else in the UK or Ireland, it’s anything but trivial.
Tom Keating moved up to Belfast at the end of last year to take up his current role in cybersecurity firm Proofpoint. He spoke to Careers editor Jenny Darmody about his experience relocating and how he has found his new home so far.
Where are you from?
I spent more than 20 years in Dublin. It’s a vibrant city with a lot of opportunities. It’s growing, but I think – while it has great opportunities for people in respect of various careers because there’s a lot of options there and it’s a lovely place and a good place to bring up a family – the only challenge about Dublin now is it’s just getting too expensive, which is a shame because it’s almost as if there’s too much in one spot.
However, putting that aside, if you just treat Dublin as a metropolitan city in Europe, it’s a superb and vibrant place with a lot going on, both professionally and personally – that is a huge attraction to a lot of people.
How long ago did you relocate and what prompted your decision?
I moved up in November 2017 and we’re purchasing a house up here. The family will move up around August once my daughter finish school and summer holidays and things like that.
It’s a transition because my wife is working, so it wasn’t a trivial decision to make, particularly with my daughter still at school.
Honestly, it was Proofpoint that prompted my decision to move. I’ll be honest, I’ve said this consistently to anyone who has asked, Belfast wouldn’t have been the first place on my list of places I wanted to go live and work in.
We don’t hear an awful lot of the positive side of what goes on in Belfast; there’s a tendency to hear a lot of the negativity.
When I was approached by representatives for Proofpoint about this role, the main focus was to discuss with me the role, meet everyone etc.
While I was wondering whether or not I wanted to leave Dublin and go to Belfast, the core decision was that I wanted to join Proofpoint, and the only way to join Proofpoint in Ireland was to move to Belfast.
Describe your role in Proofpoint.
I’m vice-president of engineering and site leader in Belfast. What that means is, I come from a hard engineering product background and I have direct responsibility for the engineering capability here.
But I’m also the overall site leader for Belfast so I have all the responsibility for the whole site here and all the groups that are here.
What do you like most about your job?
There are a few things. Obviously, being in the cybersecurity space is very exciting. It’s such a dynamic space, and it’s a space that is ever-changing.
What I like, which is particular to Proofpoint, is the type of people that Proofpoint has attracted, both here in Belfast but also in the organisation in the UK and the US. It’s a really professional, very focused team of people.
They don’t talk about winning, they just get on and do the job and win all the time at what they’re doing. Everyone is there to help each other, everyone is respectful of each other, which I really like and it’s very genuine, which is very unique.
You still have challenges every day, which I like, but you feel like everyone is there with you. If you have a problem, you could ring anybody up, talk to them and they will generally roll in behind you.
What were the biggest challenges of relocating?
This is going to be a funny answer. I actually thought I would have had challenges, I was prepared for this to be very messy, but I was very fortunate in that I found a house, found temporary accommodation quite readily and was able to purchase a car quite quickly.
To be brutally honest, I think the biggest challenge would have been just my mindset of actually going up there and being away from home. My family are still in Dublin so during the week, I’m up here by myself. That’s a challenge, but the fact that I know there’s an end date to it and they’re going to move up makes it OK.
What were the major differences between Dublin and Belfast?
Obviously, Belfast isn’t as big as Dublin. It’s definitely more affordable – the cost of living is definitely significantly cheaper.
It’s a very compact city, very friendly. I have to say, since I’ve been up here, I have found the people that I’ve interacted with are very friendly, very professional – there’s a really good buzz. I would say Belfast is almost at a place that Dublin was 15 or 20 years ago.
There’s initial investment, a lot of building going on here and it’s steadily growing. And there’s a small, vibrant tech community growing here with a lot of positivity.
How do your working life and other supports help to make you feel at home there?
Proofpoint has been very supportive. Obviously, you can’t make a move from one country to another, or one city to another, without having your family backing you and knowing that it’s the right thing to do, so, when you have that and it’s one of these opportunities that you really couldn’t say no to, that does help.
What I will say is, you could move to the best company for all the right reasons except for the location and you could be unsettled when you move. I have to say that the first day I was in Belfast, I was thinking, ‘What’s the story here?’
But every day, I go out for a walk around the city and find it’s a lovely place to walk around most times of the day. I feel like it’s a safe place, there’s a lot of activity going on, there’s a good buzz to the city and there are a lot of restaurants and things to do.
What do you like most about your adopted home?
I like the fact that you can walk around Belfast. It’s quite safe and I like the friendliness of the people – and that’s the people I interact with in shops, for services throughout the city as well as in the office and in a professional capacity.
I like going out at lunchtime and walking around the city. In the evening time, I like going to the restaurants. It’s also lovely where we’re buying our house in south Belfast. It’s very pleasant and family-oriented.
Belfast has a lot of the pluses that Dublin has, but on a smaller, more compact scale. It hasn’t lost the run of itself, and I hope it never does.
What advice would you give to others who are planning to relocate for work?
Go to places with an open mind. Don’t pre-judge the place. If you’re thinking of going somewhere, go there for a week or a weekend and experience it. Get the vibe of the place. I think it will help you in making your decision.
Approach the move with an open mind. Focus on the company or the role you’re looking for. If you find that and you’re open to moving, I don’t think you’ll have any worries.