Things I (an Oleh Hadash) learned from looking for a high-tech job in Israel

It has been almost two months since I moved to Israel. I am now gainfully employed at an awesome Israeli technology company. My personal impression is that there is a lot of demand in Israel for technology workers. For the first four weeks off the plane I had an average of four interviews per week. This makes me very lucky compared to most other new immigrants to Israel. Still, there are several points that I would like to speak about in order to provide information to others that might be in the same boat. A bit of biographical background before we start. I am 33 with a CS degree and a background in open source web development in New York. I spent several years at Hebrew University in the early 2000s and my Hebrew is decent, by which I mean that I understand the vast majority of conversations but the words that come out of my mouth hurt my own ears. Everything I write from this point on will be based on my own experiences so your mileage may and most likely will vary. 

Let’s start with the language. There is a persistent and in my opinion generally false rumor that suggests that speaking Hebrew is not a requirement for a technology job in Israel as long as you speak English. While it is true that everyone you meet in the technology sector is probably going to speak good English they will naturally prefer to speak Hebrew with other Hebrew speakers. So, unless you are at a company where everyone is an Anglo you are going to need to at least be able to understand Hebrew in order to know what is going on around you. The people interviewing you will also be aware of this and you are going to have to be applying for a role where your knowledge of English is the core part of the job or you are going to have to be absolutely outstanding to overcome this deficiency. On the bright side native-level English is going to be an asset because it is common in technology companies in Israel for most written communication and documentation to be carried out in English due to the high degree of integration with foreign offices, suppliers, clients and markets. I would suggest learning some Hebrew before getting to Israel and taking an intense Ulpan upon arrival for best results.

Where are the jobs? The two largest concentrations of technology jobs are the Haifa and the Tel Aviv metropolitan areas. There are of course jobs in other places but if you are coming to Israel and are going to look for a technology job it doesn’t really make sense to start there. If you are going to look for a job in the Tel Aviv area it makes a lot of sense to initially find housing in Tel Aviv itself or one of its close “suburbs”. Most companies will be within relatively short travel distance. Personally I made the mistake of starting my job search out of the Merkaz Klita in Raanana and spent a lot of very unproductive time on buses stuck in traffic trying to get to Tel Aviv, Herzliyah, Ramat Gan, Kiryat Ono, Or Yehuda, etc, all places which are easily accessible from Tel Aviv.

Next let’s talk about the technologies that are in demand in Israel. The IDF until recently was primarily a Microsoft .NET shop with a strong emphasis on frameworks and security. What this means is that every year hundreds (my estimate) of graduates came out of the IDF with training and background in .NET. This attracts companies that have a need for .NET developers. These same graduates are also very likely to prefer Microsoft technologies when they start their own companies. Given these facts it should come as no surprise to anyone that there is a very large and very established Microsoft frameworks oriented technology sector. Microsoft itself has several large R&D offices in Israel and they are very active in organizing presentations and other activities in their Herzliya Pituach office including the Microsoft Azure Accelerator program for startups. In retrospect I probably should have learned .NET technologies before coming to Israel in order to expand the number of jobs I could apply for.

If you are not a big fan of Microsoft technologies don’t be discouraged. Israel has a very large technology sector and there are many companies that use non-Microsoft technologies. Red Hat, IBM, HP and many other companies large and small are seeking out Java/J2EE people. Other open source technologies (Python, Ruby, PHP) are not as widespread in Israel as in New York or Silicon Valley but they are on the upswing. Google has large offices in Tel Aviv and Haifa and there are small and medium sized open source technology companies and web startups in the Tel Aviv area. Even the IDF has recently been doing more of its work in Python and other open source technologies which, if my theory is correct, means that there will be many more open source technology jobs in Israel in the future.

Interviewing for technology positions is a bit different at Israeli companies than American ones. There is a higher bar for the knowledge of algorithms and of computer science concepts than in the US. I am guessing this is a result of the specialization that happens in the Israeli education system – Israeli students study the prerequisites and apply for specific majors when applying for college, with Computer Science having one of the most demanding admissions criteria. This is different from the US where many computer professionals are mostly self-taught and came to technology from non-technical backgrounds. So, before you start interviewing brush up on your computer science basics – Big O notation, data structures, search and sort algorithms, etc.. There is a nearly 100% chance that they will come up in the first interview. 

Lastly let me provide with some places to look for more information on the technology and startup sector in Israel. There are groups on meetup.com which conduct weekly meetings. The ones that seem to organize the largest number of events are: Microsoft Think Next Academy, GDG Tel Aviv (Google), Hub Tel Aviv and the Junction. There is a dozen or so smaller meetup groups focused on specific technologies. Linkedin is probably the best place to see the jobs that are being posted. Joining the groups “Developers in Israel” and “Israel High Tech” and then looking through the jobs and job discussions posted there should provide one with a good overview. Nefesh b’Nefesh is also a good source of information and their website and linkedin group have valuable information.

Let me know what else you want to know…

About the Author
Boaz is a techie and a news junkie. Born in the Soviet Union, raised in New York and as of 15 months ago an oleh hadash in Israel. He has a hard time writing in the third person, but is persevering. Boaz has a technical background working in startups and an MA in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Currently working in a startup in Israel.
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