Adjusting to American peers posted on 13 March 2024

This post is especially relevant if you work in Europe/Asia in a large tech company that’s headquartered in the USA (e.g. Google, Databricks, Meta, Uber etc.) – but also in general if you work with Americans and are not American (e.g. if you moved to the USA).

It’s likely that your most senior peers/leadership are located in the USA. Beyond the timezones hurdle, this likely means that you will be evaluated as an American – or at least from an American perspective,

The main cultural difference that negatively impacts non-Americans is around confidence. For example, looking at promo packets from two candidates that lead and executed a whole project:

  • The European will write “I helped with ”, “I was part of the team that launched ” etc.
  • The American will write “I spearheaded project ”, “I revamped the whole architecture to launch ”, “I lead and empower the team to execute in time” etc.

This difference in tone results in peers (or promo committee) having more or less confidence in your skills/performance. In my experience this is one of the largest differences that explain why in-org promo happens at the same cadence across continents but senior levels (L6+) are disproportionately in the USA (since these promos tend to be reviewed globally, i.e. in the USA)

This inequality can be resolved in two ways:

  1. Everyone behaves like an American
  2. Everyone understands cultural differences and can adapt as needed

My take is that while we can successfully raise awareness of 2/ managers, it seems very difficult to do it with everyone in the company. As such 2/ by itself won’t work, and you also need to do 1/ if you want to become a very senior IC/manager.

I’ll close this post by also asking my American peers to realize that not everyone grew up in a competitive environment where you have to exert a lot of confidence in your everyday life – so someone being “shy” doesn’t necessarily mean they are not good or that they didn’t do the work well.

Note: I’m aware that there are other issues that result in leadership being mostly in the USA, e.g. important projects tend to be reorged in the USA…

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