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For Tekna member Ali Akhtarzada from Bahrain, the path to Norway passed through IT studies in Pakistan, bar work in New Zealand and a Norwegian girlfriend.

Advice and Tips

Joined Tekna when he didn’t get any vacation pay

Written by Anne Grete Nordal Sept. 15 2022

While Ali Akhtarzada’s CV lists jobs as both an arts journalist and bar owner, what he most enjoys is developing new IT products – preferably in start-up companies. When he didn’t get any vacation pay from one of them, he joined Tekna.

We’re meeting Ali Akhtarzada (40) at his apartment in Oslo’s Grünerløkka district. 

Having a full head of hair and wearing summer clothes, Ali greets us with a big smile. He starts out by telling us that he grew up in Bahrain, a small island country located in the Persian Gulf. Pursuing education and taking different jobs led him to many places in the world before landing in Norway, where unique circumstances caused him to become a Tekna member.

– After finishing college in Bahrain, I started studying the hospitality and tourism industry there. And like many other young guys, I played video games a lot while growing up. After awhile, I started wanting to create these games myself, so taught myself programming.

Ali Akhtarzada has found a good work-life balance at home in his apartment in Oslo’s Grünerløkka district.

Started a smoothie bar in Karachi

– I started getting more and more into programming, so found out that the hospitality industry wasn’t for me after all, he laughs.

His mother, who had moved back to their home country of Pakistan, suggested that Ali enroll in Bahria University in Islamabad because of the school’s reasonable tuition rates. So, after three years of studies, he got a Bachelor’s degree in software engineering. While studying, he was active in the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), a global non-profit organization for anyone who wants to create video games.

– Actually, I was working so much on video games that I started to feel completely burned out. So to do something completely different, I moved to Karachi and opened a smoothie bar with a friend of mine. But we hadn’t cleared things with mall management first, so were thrown out after only a couple of months, says Ali with a hearty laugh.

An arts journalist

Wanting once more to try something different, Ali discovered that he wanted to test himself in a new career, this time journalism.

– I’ve sort of been a guy who wants to do «anything and everything», he explains.

He applied for a job at a newspaper in Dubai; but the pay was lousy, so he turned it down.

– A friend of mine at the Daily Times in Karachi could get me a job there that paid even less. I grabbed the chance, because in spite of everything, the Daily Times was well known, and so the idea of working there was tempting. And at that time in my life, salary and job security didn’t mean a whole lot to me, he says.

While at the Daily Times, Ali got the chance to write about art, culture and the environment.

  – It was a fun time where I got to interview people working in the arts, cover gallery openings and write reviews of books, films and concerts.

  But after awhile, he started getting the urge to study more. After having secured a student loan from a charity organization, he set off for New Zealand, ultimately receiving an MSc in IT Studies at the University of Auckland in 2008. 

– Norway – Where’s that?

– I combined my studies with working on the side as a programmer and student assistant at the university, but what I liked most was working at a local bar. I even got a «Licence of Management» so I’d be qualified to manage the place. It was in this bar that I met a Norwegian girl. My first reaction was: Norway – where’s that?

When Ali (sixth from the right) studied in New Zealand, he managed a bar, where he got to know a Norwegian girl.

Even though the relationship ended, his connection with Norway had been established, and in 2011 he got a job at a company called Trolltech. But at the same time, his first encounter with Norway was a brutal one.

– The third day I was in Oslo, I was robbed of everything valuable I had on me.

Then a short time after this robbery on July 22nd, 2011, a bomb exploded in the city’s government buildings.

– I was living in an apartment close by, but luckily wasn’t home when the bomb went off. One of my friends called me and said: Have you heard what’s happened? Don’t go home, come to my place in Lier instead.

Afterwards, and in spite of this tragic event, Ali stayed in Oslo. He started working for Telenor affiliate Comoyo, then moved to Telenor Digital, where he ended up staying for three years.

Got to experiment at Telenor

– At Telenor Digital we got to experiment and were given the chance to make apps for a lot of different uses, including a lifestyle application that was called Wow Box along with a Periscope-like application, too. This last app was a bit like Snapchat, but with «live» filming. And Wow Box ended up getting 20 million users.

During this time, he also established his first start-up company with some other people.

– It’s fun to start something with others, and doing this comes very naturally to me.

Then Schibsted started expanding its «Product and Tech» area and hired a massive number of people to develop its SPiD identity system. This appealed a lot to Ali, and he landed a job with the company.

– We had a lot of freedom, and I got loads of useful experience there. SPiD was a good idea and a challenging system to develop.

While still working at Schibsted, he and other Schibsted colleagues got financing in 2019 and founded a new start-up company (now called Kitemaker).

– I was working 20 percent at this start-up and 80 percent at Schibsted. It was really stressful and not going very well, so when I got the opportunity to join a yet another new start-up company, I jumped at the chance. 

Developing alternative ways to book travel

Ali chose once more to throw himself into what interested him, this time a new start-up company in the travel industry.

– Although I couldn’t really afford to leave Schibsted, working for a start-up means you have to give it your all, and it’s hard to work less than the others in the company.

    Then, his company was offered an interesting project when they were contacted by a venture capital company that wanted them to develop a tech product geared toward tourism, including content like hotel bookings, descriptions of local attractions and excursions. In other words, the client wanted them to develop a new and cheaper booking system than Booking.com could offer.

– Hey! We’re in the wrong line of work!

– We got financing and started up in January 2020 developing something in-between Tripadvisor and Snapchat that had a fun rating system. A colleague from Schibsted was on our team, which I think she ended up regretting. Because when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in the middle of March, we soon realized: Hey! We’re in the wrong line of work! Nobody’s going to want to travel anywhere now!

The five-member employee group kept working, their plan being to try and get additional capital in January 2021 so they could keep working for one more year; but the battle was lost before it even started.

– Nobody could fight the virus, and our venture capital company «backed out» in January 2021; as a result, everyone working at the start-up ended up getting laid off in February 2021.

No vacation pay

And when its money got used up, the company couldn’t pay the employees their vacation pay.

When Ali didn’t get any severance pay from NAV, his start-up company did help him out a bit financially; however, the amount he received was less than the vacation pay to which he was entitled.

– I was going through a tough financial time, so when I heard about these unions called NITO and Tekna, I decided to join Tekna and ask for their advice.

Ali appreciates the help he’s been given from Tekna.

– The Tekna attorney I spoke with advised me to send a written appeal, making sure that the wording was very specific. It was really important to use the right words and phrases. Two other employees and I ended up getting NAV to pay us the vacation pay we were entitled to receive.

Everyone was also looking around for a new job at this time, and Ali got one as a «senior fullstack engineer» at a new start-up company called Tana. The name comes from the Tana River in Finnmark and Tana River in Kenya.

– The name symbolizes information flow. We’re building a cooperative workspace for knowledge management. It’s just as easy to use as Microsoft Office but is also supported by a graphic database that allows information to flow naturally wherever you need it, he explains.

– Like they owned your soul

He says that the company is based in the USA and backed by investors from several different countries. 

When he was given the employment contract, he reacted to several things in it. 

– It felt like they wanted to own your soul, or at least own your body if you died and the land where you’d get buried, to put it mildly, he laughs.

Among other things, the contract contained employees’ rights to keep ideas along with their work schedule and leisure time.

Ali contacted Tekna again and asked: Hey Tekna, is this okay?

– According to the Tekna attorney, this wasn’t at all okay, and she helped me write my contract the way it was supposed to be according to Norwegian employment law.

Ali says that his boss was also satisfied with these changes. This in turn made it easier to present «Norwegian work practices» to the foreign owners, where a Norwegian trade union had pointed out how employment terms ought to be for employees.

– I was the first employee hired after the three who started the company, and all the other employees who’ve come after me have gotten similar contracts, says Ali.

  So, from starting out not knowing where to place Norway on the map to becoming a nomad who pursued different jobs and start-ups around the world, Ali’s landed in Oslo at last, learning through the help he’s gotten from Tekna to appreciate union membership and «The Norwegian Model». 

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