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Thinking of Leaving London? We Spoke to Tech Leader Andrew Besford About His Experience

Dominic Bosher

07 January 2021

by Dominic Bosher

( Words)
​With the recent rise in remote working, increasing numbers of people are considering moving away from London to start the next chapter of their life. Whether it be a desire to get back to nature, start a family, or simply save money, we’ve seen a definite shift this year – according to Rightmove, over half of property enquiries from Londoners have been to homes outside the capital.
With this in mind, we spoke to Andrew Besford – an IT leader who made the move from London to Newcastle in 2018 – about his experience and key takeaways for others considering relocating.

About Andrew

Andrew is an experienced technology professional specialising in business change, particularly around digital, data, and cyber security. He currently runs his own advisory business in Newcastle, and is a non-executive director at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. Andrew has previously worked as a senior civil servant within the UK Government, as well as having spent nearly a decade with leading telecoms providers O2 and Vodafone.

What were your main drivers for leaving your job and life in London and moving back to the North East?

“It all stemmed from when my daughter was on her way, and it was a bit of a chain reaction – probably the biggest thing was that my partner and I both had the opportunity to take shared parental leave. Obviously you have to be in quite a specific situation for that to work, and it turns out that only about 2% of fathers take it up, but we had the opportunity to each take six months off work so we decided we were going to do the parenting 50/50 right from the off.

“We needed to move house, and we both had the possibility of a career change, so it became an opportunity to do something big. We were house-hunting in London but at some point we thought, well, if we don’t do something now, then it’ll be 18 years until the next opportunity. So at that point, we started very tentatively thinking ‘well, what if we moved to Newcastle?’ and gathered some momentum around that. We felt we were able to do something more flexible because we had the confidence from the careers and networks we’d built up.

 

How long did it take you to fully settle into your new location?

“When you go to a place with a strong identity that’s a bit further away from London, it takes some time to understand that deeper level; who the useful connections and interesting people are. I knew the North East well and I’d been back a lot, but I was 20 years out of date work-wise, so I didn’t know anybody or any of the interesting things that were going on. It took six months to a year – a lot of coffee chats, online research and seeking people out on Twitter – to get back in sync and feel a bit more tuned in.

“I was quite surprised at just how much time people had for me. People were really welcoming and took the time to listen, understand, think about other people I should meet and genuinely give warm intros. They also made the effort to get to know some real-life things as well, and might pop up months later saying ‘I think you should meet this person’. I knew there was a friendlier and less transactional business culture here, but it was still a nice surprise.”

 

What do you believe are the three main challenges when moving to a new location, especially when leaving London?

    1. Unfamiliarity – “Take the time to learn how things are going to work in your new location – give it a chance. If you’ve travelled and worked in many different places then you’ll already have a sense of how long you’ll need to get your head around a new location.”

    2. Network – “Getting to know people and finding like-minded people is standard stuff, but it becomes especially important when you’re in a new place.”

    3. Lifestyle – “There are a lot of things that you miss when you move out of a big city like London: the diversity, food, culture… most places can’t match that. Newcastle does have a thriving food scene (it’s not all just Greggs sausage rolls) but there used to be more interesting restaurants on my street in London than there are in the whole of Newcastle!”

“The real key point is that there’s a trade off in all of this – there are a lot of pros in going somewhere where you’ve got more space, where you’re happier that it’s a nice place for your family to grow up, and the pace of life is a bit less frenetic. And there are cons too, for example the market for your skills and experience is so much smaller.

“But as part of the balancing act, you can achieve a better quality of life while earning less – if you can make the trade-offs work for you. It’s a very personal choice on the lifestyle, just something to go into with your eyes open.”

 

What challenges do you see for people working in technology outside of London?

“This is the thing that worries me the most. The challenge with having a tech job in Newcastle is that if you want to work on something large-scale, that’s very cutting edge and globally interesting, where you’re surrounded by brilliant leaders you can learn from, there aren’t so many opportunities to do that. Even as a student, I could still see that I just wasn’t going to get what I wanted in the North East, although things are definitely improving. ”

  1. Population size

“Something that’s a real concern to me is whether people are getting the right guidance and mentorship as they move up.

“In any smaller region, you’ll meet people who have stayed in one place all their lives and have floated to the top in their organisations where you can see they haven’t been exposed to working in different cultures and more competitive, challenging environments. There are some brilliant technology leaders in the North East, but it’s only a handful of people, compared to the hundreds at hand on the London scene who are helping develop the next generation of leaders.”

  1. The job pyramid isn’t the right shape yet

“There’s a huge skills shortage in terms of unfilled vacancies. Our local universities are generating loads of great technical graduates but a lot of them then have to move away to get a job, so we’re not getting people in at the bottom of pyramid.

“One of the big dilemmas faced by younger people working in tech outside of a big hub like London is that you need to decide if you want to do a stint elsewhere to get the skills, experience and network that you can bring back with you. A lot of people who haven’t done this don’t know what they don’t know – you work harder but you come back having accelerated your career.”

“Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and Edinburgh are catching up with London, but that then causes salary inflation and churn in those places – the market gets quite heated and can businesses off from starting offices there.

“From a candidate point of view, you need to be ready to ride the wave and be conscious of where different places are in the cycle.”

 

How have you kept in touch with your London network?

“I deliberately set up reasons for me to be in London every few weeks – it was a great way to fit people in as a break from my work trip and catch up with friends and ex-colleagues. I had loads of friends and colleagues in London that I only used to see quite infrequently anyway, so this hasn’t really changed much.

“Like everyone this year I’ve done a lot of keeping in touch through phone chats or video calls. When you don’t have to travel, you can definitely be more flexible and fit in more each day.”

 

How did you establish a new network and find job opportunities when you moved back to the North East?

“I connected with several of the local networking groups when I moved, and in the end volunteered for Dynamo, a local not-for-profit with a community of like-minded people on a mission to grow the North East tech economy. The group has representation from 150 businesses, including the local universities, and it’s more focussed on the enterprise end of the tech scene. There are quite a few local networks that are good at scooping up new people so I found that was a really good way to get introduced.

“I did some informal pro-bono mentoring for a couple of local tech start-ups as well. A lot of tech start-ups struggle with the enterprise sales – they’ve got good product ideas but find big organisations very difficult to sell into.”

 

What positive consequences came from moving out of London?

“I’m definitely sleeping better and feel healthier! We might have found it a bit too quiet at first, but I think all of the things we were hoping for in moving have come to pass. I’m a city person at heart so it’s nice to be somewhere that’s still a ‘proper city’ but is also less dense than the South East. And our daughter loves going to the beautiful local beaches, even when it’s freezing.

“Another good thing you really notice is spending much less time on the daily commute, which really helps shift the balance of when you work.

“It became obvious to me that there aren’t so many people turn up with experience and willingness to get involved, and that’s been a door-opener. What I hadn’t noticed so much when I was working inside Government is that a lot of data analytics and cyber security work we were doing was really cutting edge and way ahead of what most of the private sector was doing. Coming back to somewhere that’s a little bit off the pace, I have to be careful not to rely on that background knowledge too much as the context is different, but there’s a real benefit in having seen it before and having the knowledge that some others in the room haven’t yet built up.

“An unintended positive consequence from creating more flexibility for myself is being able to take on a non-exec role at my local NHS trust, who are making a big investment in digital over the next few years. It’s been a good way of staying in touch with doing some really interesting public service technology work, which I love. And something that I’ve really missed being an independent consultant is being part of a bigger team with a shared purpose, so it has really filled in that gap for me.”

What three pieces of advice would you offer to someone either currently moving or thinking about it?

  1. Do your research but be flexible – “Understand that you can’t plan out everything, but you don’t want to kick yourself for some obvious differences you should have spotted. Making the move is a bit like making a digital product really – you’ll set out in a direction, but you need to be prepared to test, learn and evolve.”

  2. Career path – “Think about what the next job is after you move. There are probably more opportunities than there used to be to do something in a different way, so whether you’re moving for you or your partner’s job, be flexible and opportunistic – it might just be a chance for a path you hadn’t previously considered. You can create your own opportunities, especially when you’re bringing skills and experience that many people don’t have.”

  3. Trade-offs – “My biggest piece of advice is to weigh up the pros and cons and figure out how they’ll work for you and the different aspects of your life - your friends, family, and your priorities.

 

What advice would you give to candidates applying for roles outside of London during this time?

“Don’t hang about! There’s loads of rewarding work going on and progressive companies are hiring, so be open to employers that you might not have considered before. Every organisation is reconsidering the remote/office balance, so this is opening up new possibilities.

“Also, consider the public sector – there’s lots of interesting work going on all over the country, whether that’s in the central government hubs, the health system, or local authorities – this is a really great way for technologists to do something that genuinely impacts on people’s lives.”

 

As a technology leader, do you have any advice for London-based managers who have begun hiring and onboarding remote workers based outside of London?

“Remote working means there are now many candidates outside your usual catchment area that have the skills you need and wouldn’t normally have access to – and they may be hungry to change job as well, so take advantage of this opportunity. People outside of London also tend to have more moderate salary expectations due to the lower cost of living, so it’s worth considering even if you’d ruled it out before.

“There’s also something to be said about onboarding. Many organisations have been successfully onboarding remotely, so it can be done, but you have to make the effort and take care about doing it well. It’s easier for modern businesses with good collaboration tools, but it doesn’t happen by accident so it’s something to pay attention to.

“Now more than ever, there’s rightly a big focus on health and wellbeing – lots of people are getting a bit frazzled from working at home, and some are desperate to get back to the office, while others always hated the traditional office environment. So how do you look after people as individuals? I see it as a company culture thing – if you’re a micromanager, it’s time to stop doing that! Everyone’s having ups and downs, so being flexible and trusting people is more important than ever.

“There’s really a challenge to technology leaders here – we’ve figured out that we can make remote working work, and recruit people who are based further away, but how are we going to develop these people and help them grow? We learn by watching and copying people around us, but how do we as leaders expose the next generation to this now instead of just leaving them being good at what they’re good at? I don’t think there are obvious answers, and it’s going to be a huge challenge for managers.”

Dom Bosher is an Associate Director within our permanent division at La Fosse, and is based in London. He manages our Architecture, Information Security, Infrastructure & Cloud and Technology Leadership teams. Dom has an executive search background and an in-depth knowledge of technology.

Dom has worked across the UK, Europe and The US. His clients range across all sectors, but assignments are always technology-focused. Dom also manages some of La Fosse's largest campaigns, acting as our clients' key point of contact.

For more information on current and upcoming permanent roles within IT leadership, please contact Dom via LinkedIn or email dominic.bosher@lafosse.com.