French Rivera

Today I will go quickly through the time I lived in he PACA region (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur) in France, where I’ve spent 13 months.

In fact, during my last year at the ENSIMAG (2007), I was hired by Amadeus as a full time employee thus I moved to PACA right after graduating.

Amadeus is the worldwide leader provider of IT solutions for tourism and travel industry, and is running the biggest non-military datacenter in Europe   (>5000 transactions per second, 200,000 terminals connected, and 24/7 operation). It was founded by Air France, Iberia, Lufthansa and SAS airlines in 1987.

Amadeus systems are very complex, developed in C++. To give you an idea of the complexity, here you have an interesting quote extracted from an interview of Bjarne Stroustrup (C++ inventor) :

What is the most interesting program that you’ve seen written with C++?
I can’t pick one and I don’t usually think of a program as interesting. I look more at complete systems — of which parts are written in C++. Among such systems, NASA’s Mars Rovers’ autonomous driving subsystem, the Google search engine and Amadeus’ airline reservation system spring to mind.

So, it’s not difficult to imagine what kind of work I did there, isn’t it? Of course, I was part of a C++ development team and we coded parts of the internal system.

Although Amadeus has hubs in many countries around the world, its main locations are the headquarters in Madrid (Spain), datacenter in Earding (Germany) and the development center in Sophia Antipolis (Nice, France), with more than 4,000 engineers from the top European Universities.

Sophia Antipolis is a technology park created in the image of the America’s Silicon Valley, and it houses primarily companies in the fields of computing, electronics, pharmacology and biotechnology. Its location is great because it is in the middle of a regional park with beautiful landscapes, and next to the sea and the tourist French Rivera (10 Km from Cannes/Antibes/Juan Les Pines, 30 Km from Nice). Also, the South Alps are about 100 km distance. For that reasons, the life there is really attractive with a good mix of work opportunities and high life quality.

The best thing of Amadeus in Sophia is its offices/facilities, and the company culture. It reminds me of Google in California. There is an awesome restaurant with very good food, sport installations and it is next to tennis club which you can join almost for free.  Also, within the company you can enjoy from many courses from music to Chinese for example, there are clubs of sailing, climbing, ski, and others. In my opinion, they do their best to make the worker happy.

As you can imagine, apart from French people, there is a big international community at Amadeus in Sophia, and most of all a lot of Spaniards (90% from Madrid and Barcelona) and British. There are many parties organized in apartments and in Villas every weekend, and if not, you can always go to Antibes or Juan Les Pines to have a beer (or more) in pubs such as La Gaffe.

As I said above, the region provides many opportunities to have a high quality of life. You can enjoy the sea as much as you want during 6 months a year (or even more) because the weather is wonderful. Also, you can go to the Alps during the full year. The region is not as close as Grenoble from the Alps, but it is not too far. In a one hour driving you can be at the feet of 3,000 m height mountains, or only 30′ from pre-alps mountains chain where you can find many trails for hiking, climbing places, rivers, etc. Of course during winter there are several ski resorts nearby. Finally, the region is well situated for traveling. Italy is less than a one hour driving distance, and the North of the country is very accessible for even a weekend short trip (Milan, Torino, Genoa, Florence, Venice, etc.). Also, Monaco is right next to Nice (I assisted to the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix, it was awesome!).

Maybe you are wondering why I decided to leave that idyllic place? Well, first of all I wasn’t really motivated working at Amadeus because of the work I was doing (very technical one). Second, I always wanted to work in the US and I’ve found a good opportunity (mission VIE) within Société Générale Investment bank. Finally, I’m very interested about the Financial Industry (I’m the kind of guy that reads ‘The Economist’ or visits weekly economic websites), so that opportunity was one of the opportunities that come few times in a lifetime and that you cannot let it go.

See you next time.


Grenoble, in Tartiflette we trust

In the next posts I will write about the places I’ve lived in (after I left Spain) as I’ve been highly influenced by them. To begin with, today is Grenoble’s turn.

To put you in the picture, I lived there for 2 years while I was studying at ENSIMAG, a top French Engineering School (“Ecole d’Ingenieur”) in Computer Science, Mathematics and Telecommunications fields. This school has a ‘double degree’ agreement with the Polytechnical University of Madrid (UPM), where I’ve studied 5 years.

Grenoble is a beautiful city situated at the feet of the French Alps. Because of that and because it hosted the Winter Olympic Games in 1968, it is often called ‘Capital of Alps’. The population is about 150.000 inhabitants in the urban area and more than 500.000 in the metropolitan one.

Above all it is recognized as a major scientific center because it hosts scientific universities, laboratories, and research centers such as the CNRS (French National Center for Scientific Research), Minatec (nanotechnology) and the CEA (Nuclear Energy Commission) with the most powerful synchrotron radiation source in Europe. Besides, there are many companies with established research hubs in the city surroundings, such as Schneider Electric, STMicroelectronics, Bull, Hewlett Packard, Xerox or Siemens.

Grenoble is an amazing city, and not everything in Grenoble is about studies or research! Being right next to the mountains gives many opportunities, mostly in sports: any sports related to snow, climbing, hiking, alpinism and speleology, just to mention a few. And there are almost 200 ski resorts within a distance of 150 km! I’m passionate about snowboarding so you can imagine how much I loved living there.

Social life is never a problem there. A huge mass of students arrive every year keen to meet new people and to party. Also, there are many European Universities with exchange programs with the Universities in Grenoble, so there is also a large international community.

The University campus is located in Saint Martin d’Heres, one of the Grenoble’s neighborhoods. The campus is nice, with many green zones; soccer, tennis or rugby courts; big library, and most of all, lot of life. Usually, students are living in residences, where they have a little room (some with a bathroom inside, such as Ouest or Berlioz) and always sharing the kitchen. That’s a key fact because the kitchens are the heart of the residences: where everybody meets to have dinner, and where most of the parties take place (until the guard come to throw everybody out!). I stayed at Ouest during my classes and when I started an internship I moved to Home des Etudiants, a newer residence in the center of Grenoble.

The classes usually are from 8 and 9 am to 12, lunch break, and 13:30 to 18. For having lunch, most of the people go to the public RUs (“Restaurants Universitaires”), where you can have lunch (and even dinner) for about 2.80 euro, much cheaper than any other place. Some people complain about the food, but I liked it :). Another place in the Campus to highlight is the Eve, a kind of student community center with free wifi, where you can drink a coffee or a beer after classes. They organize many weekly activities such as theater, music shows, movies, etc.

I should not forget about the students clubs. The most famous one is EGUG (Ecole de Glisse), because the members of the club can buy “Les Deux Alps 3600”  or “Les 7 Laux” ski resorts tickets much cheaper than buying them another way. They also provide cheap ski or snowboard courses, not only for beginners but also for experts (there are really good freestyle courses). And finally, if you like mountain sports, stop by the Gucem/Esmug club. They organize excursions and trips with professional guides. I participated in many of them: hiking, climbing (including a weekend in Orpierre) and speology (sport which I discovered with them).

Apart from all of the above about Grenoble, I recommend you to dinner on a Friday at “Casa de España”, a typical Spanish 1970s bar converted into a non-profit association, where you can find Spanish food (tapas, croquetas, calamares, chorizo, tortilla, etc.) and beverages really cheap. The association is managed by some old Spaniards who emigrated to France when Franco ruled Spain. Another restaurant worthy is the restaurant next to the Fort Saint Eynard, where you can taste the regional dishes (tartiflette savoyarde, raclette or fondues) enjoying the best views of Grenoble and its surrounding mountains.

Well, I think you can have a pretty good idea of Grenoble after reading this! Don’t hesitate to ask me about anything you want if you plan to visit or even live in Grenoble.

Next post I will write about Nice (Niza) area in the South of France!