Fancy a job outside the UK?[QQ] Be prepared for some unexpected experiences. That's what Adrian Bridgwater found during his three years in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). When you work in a country such as the UAE, it is the cultural challenges that make the most significant impact. Bridgwater soon found that working in the Gulf required some nimble work, as one of the key issues was the need to tiptoe around sensitivities. 'Working with the Gulf Arabs is an intensely enjoyable yet extremely challenging task. There are sensitivities to consider around every corner,' he says. 'Cultural differences can represent a huge challenge - products should, ideally, not contain any anti-Arab content. Microsoft Encarta, by and large, tells the truth. The benign "ex-pat-friendly" dictatorship that exists in many parts of the Gulf refuses to allow the reporting of some parts of this truth,' he comments. Cultural differences also impact on everyday activities such as Internet access. 'The proxy server filtering the solitary state Internet service provider in the UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia means that access can be extremely limited. Pornography and anti-Islamic sentiment are monitored and filtered out on a daily basis. One popular urban myth circulating in IT circles is that all portal search requests for spicy chicken are banned because of the word "spicy".' But there is a lot to be gained from the UAE experience, says Bridgwater. 'Like many world regions, margins for channel partners are extremely narrow. So it is the select breed, who offer a high class of service and consultancy to the end user, that shine. Despite this, the market or 'Arabic Souq' mentality persists, and Dubai's Khaled Bin Al Waleed Street is affectionately known as "Computer Street." On the work front, if you think the pace of change is rapid in the West, consider the effect on an emerging market, keen to be seen as on-the-ball technology-wise. The UAE is enthusiastically embracing technology, which means that anyone working in the IT industry will be working with leading edge technology - constantly. 'In an emerging market where cash is fluid, there is often a tendency for customers to demand state of the art equipment at all times - renewal of legacy systems is hot,' he says.That's a challenge in itself. 'The perception of technology in the emerging markets of the Middle East is rarely negative. It is not seen as a Western evil by any means. Companies and end-users alike happily realise that IT is here to stay and they want to be a part of it.' But don't think that you can get away with sloppy work. 'Make no mistake, for the Middle East - from Lebanon down to Egypt through to Saudi Arabia and the UAE - people understand technology.' Fortunately for us, English is the language of IT which is one of the things that makes it easier for English-speaking IT professionals to move around the globe. But there are still stumbling blocks. 'Computer in Arabic is 'computer', Windows in Arabic is 'Windows', says Bridgwater. 'But the enduring problem was always to try and explain "dropdown menu" in a local context. The closest approximation in Arabic goes something like "window that descends from heaven". There is a gap in understanding. Arabs learn about computers in English, and generally use them in English. This is why Information Technology in many emerging markets, if not worldwide, has become a language in itself. How often do you speak to your German, Dutch or French contacts and attempt to translate the words Internet Service Provider or keyboard for that matter?' And what about money? In some areas the cost of living is lower than the UK. Coupled with tax-free income it could be a lucrative short-term work location, even though indirect taxation is on the increase. But if you go there solely for the money you'll be missing out on the big picture. To make the most of the experience both culturally and financially, Bridgwater's advice is to live like a local.
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