Why it is so challenging to work with US

As most of you know, I’m young (22) and NTR is my first professional job. I’m definitely a digital native and, as such, consider myself fairly capable in stuff like learning new apps, transversing the net, and email — actually, in my world outside of work, email is almost obsolete.

So it was kind of a shock to find that, in general, tech-at-work is very different than tech-in-life— especially email. In tech-at-work subject lines are critical, emoji are an absolute no-no, capitals and punctuation marks are required, spelling matters and how you sign off can be a minefield.

You should always keep in mind that you’re not perfect and it’s okay to make mistakes; what is not okay is to keep making the same ones and refusing to continuously improve.

Because I do biz dev I write a lot of emails. The first thing I always keep in mind is that I’m from Russia. And I work with USA leads.

Different languages, different cultures, different businesses and different email DOs and DON’Ts.

Most of us run on a kind of autopilot, so it’s hard to remember that when talking/writing to someone from a different culture you should not always act the way you’ve been taught, instead you need to act more like them.

You need keep in mind what they might think, how they consider your words, actions and details of your style — and it doesn’t matter how weird the result is for you.

Some things are universal – such as the subject line tips. There always should be one; it should be brief and concrete, that’s clear.

Differences begin with how you start the conversation.

In Russia, business letter must be always as formal as possible, you would never say “Hi Lena;” it’s always “Hello dear Elena L’vovna” (father’s name); sometimes it’s even necessary to use their surname. Your letter can never be too personal or informal, that’s definitely weird in Russia.

That’s why it was so strange for me from the very beginning, especially when I started to work with folks from the startup community — they’re so friendly and lovely with all those “thank you,” “appreciate that,” and other polite and a bit informal phrases, like “great working with you” and “hope to meet you sometime.” I was melting.

Spaces between paragraphs are also painful. Russians love long, difficult sentences, consisting of 3 or more parts. For sure, a solid wall of text decreases the chance of getting your message across correctly, but there’s nothing weird or bad about it.

We use paragraphs only when the subject changes; one paragraph for one thought feels a bit too… I don’t know, chit-chatty manner? Not very professional?

In English, however, the situation is quite the opposite. I’ve asked my US contacts why such short paragraphs and they tell me it is because people tend to scan, not read carefully, as Russians do. That information helped me a lot, because it made so much sense.

Questions are another difficult part of communications for me.

In Russia you are considered stupid if you ask questions and it’s your duty to always look smart. So we never ask unless we can propose, we never ask unless we can pretend we got it, because who wants to look stupid?

Even when you’re talking to a professional in some expertise, you will always try to look as professional and experienced as they are by reading brief notes on the subject and googling unfamiliar words.

It’s really hard to accept that you’re allowed to ask if something is unclear to you — no matter how complex.

Signatures are another headache. They are often overloaded with all the working contacts, images, your business card, different colors, links or they are blank as a desert. You need to decide what is truly essential and then decide the best way to display it. I’m lucky, because our NTR designer developed our official sigs.

I think that covers all the obvious differences and it’s a lot to keep in mind, however…

I think most mistakes result from culture — not just country cultural differences, but your personal culture, which involves your own goals and values. They are reflected in how you value your recipient’s time, their interest I, and how much care and attention you show them.

For example, I don’t really like to answer questions that seem to me pretty obvious and sometimes I think that we can combine the answers to all the questions in one sentence.

But then I remind myself that they don’t have my knowledge base and if they took the time to ask they deserve a clear-to-them answer. Responding this way shows respect.

All that said, even when I think I’m crushing and doing fine, I still like to take an objective figure out what I can improve. So, today I reviewed my typical emails against Business Insider email tips list

Finally, introductions are probably the most sensitive emails any of us sends.

I read an explanation from Anand Sanwal of CB Insights and finally understand why the double opt-in is the best one to use and also why it is the most likely to get a positive response — it goes back to respect.  Great advice!

WTS and Women In Tech conferences


As some of you know, last year I was promoted to CMO at NTR Lab. One of my new responsibilities means I attend many more trade shows. That means a lot of travel (yea!) and a lot more jet lag (ugh!)

I don’t know about you, but I get terrible jet lag. If you know/use any tricks to minimize jet lag please share them below in the comments or send them directly to ykazantseva@ntrlab.com and I’ll compile and share them in a future post.

Natasha, NTR’s AI Evangelist, and I arrived in Edinburgh after about 20 hours on the road. It took that long because there were three flights with longish gaps between them. Naturally, once settled in the hotel, we immediately fell asleep.

The Women in Technology conference began early the next morning. We used CityMapper to find our way to Dynamic Earth, where the conference was being held.
As women, we found everything very inspiring.

The speakers were women working in tech; there were chat rooms during coffee breaks and the natural beauty of the opening view of the mountains from the outer platform of Dynamic Earth.

While there were many great talks, learning how other non-technical women, like me, adapted to working in technology had the greatest personal impact.

That evening we went to dinner in a large international group of women. While it was fun, being with them had a special feel, because it happened right before International Women’s Day.
From Edinburgh we went to London and spent the next few days visiting clients.

The Wearable Technology Show started March 8; it is the largest annual event for Wearables, AR & VR, IOT, and Connected Technology

We (NTR) were exhibiting in the IoT section. NTR Lab has been doing projects related to the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence for five years (and counting). It was easy to be excited when we talked with conference-goers, because Natasha and I are very proud of our company and the cutting-edge development it does for our clients.

We met with companies and people who are involved in computer vision for driving assistance; working with such household names as Lego and Nissan (who, by the way, does AI projects on computer vision systems for self-driving cars); many AR guys and med tech companies. We talked even to a girl who does app for cosmonauts.


At the end of the two-day exhibition, we even gave interviews to local bloggers and we were filmed with by a professional videographer.
We hardly saw London, because we worked all the time, so I told my boss that we need to go back for another conference!

NTR Lab contest: the winner


And the Winner Is…


Last month we described our decision to give back to the startup community, which is cornerstone of NTR Lab’s success, by giving away a development team for two months.

Today I want to announce the winner.

We gave our two-person development team to InsightMedi, a company originally from Spain that moved to Baltimore, MD.

InsightMedi has already had a taste of early success. Capitalizing on the fact that doctors and nurses already send images un-securely when seeking second opinions, the product gained 20,000 users in multiple countries, including a big community in India. Importantly, the system was built to be able to handle the inherent privacy laws that go along with anything medical.

Credit: http://technical.ly/baltimore/2015/03/19/why-insightmedi-moved-spain-baltimore/

Our developers will help InsightMedi add an image recognition feature to their existing medical education / social media network.

According to co-founder Juan González, “Everyone speaks image in the medical world.”

Our competition attracted great entrants, as the runner-up list shows.

It was challenging to select a winner, but we believe that our talented team will provide exceptional value to InsightMedi, as well as getting a lot of satisfaction working on a system that will help save lives.

The Uber scandal. Women in tech


As you know, I work at NTR Lab. One of the reasons I like it so much is that we have a lot of women in leading positions. I can’t give you the percentage, but for Russia it’s really great.

The head of our mobile development department, lead data scientist, Chief Marketing Officer (Yana) and Chief of HR are all women, along with many of our developers and more than 90% of testing and research departments.

Everybody is treated equally. We don’t have any sexual harassment (yikes) or underestimating abilities. It is a true meritocracy (a word I see a lot in articles I read).

In most job interviews you will be asked about getting married and having children — why not?? you must!! — sometimes more than about your professional and personal knowledge and skills.

But not at NTR.  

Everything is just fine and our CEO is very proud of it.

Our situation is pretty outstanding.

But most Russians all have this mindset that in Europe and America everything is so much better — better living-wise, cultural-wise and, sure, women are treated sooo much better, no uncomfortable question, no insults or you’ll end up in court. 

That’s why I was shocked by recent Uber scandal. I’m sure you have read Susan Fowler’s post the manager who asked her for sex. She was (surprise!) insulted and reported it to HR.

HR did nothing about the situation, other than offering her a departmental transfer,  because “it’s the first time he got a complaint.”  However, Susan talked to women from other departments and different teams who said they were harassed by the same manager.

What a nasty thing. I am not surprised that Susan left Uber and am impressed by her courage in making the information public.

When her post went viral the CEO announced an investigation blah-blah-blah.

I must say I find it hard to believe that Uber’s senior management knew nothing about what was going on. (I’m in good company, too, even people on Uber’s board are concerned about a cover-up. And this is just one of many recent scandals for Uber.

How can companies preach important modern values like the whole equality idea (no gender, age or ethnic discrimination), humanism and similar stuff allow this kind of culture to exist?

Are these attitudes common in most tech companies? Is it only large companies or do they permeate the whole spectrum?

Is this the environment that young women like me, who are just starting our careers, have to look forward to?

What’s wrong, world?

Guest post by Miki Saxon. If the Shoe Fits: Is This You?

A series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mAre you really a more competent leader than the woman founder who you beat out for funding or do you just think you are?

Research says it’s the latter, i.e., all in your mind.

Results show that when all leadership contexts are considered, men and women do not differ in perceived leadership effectiveness. Yet, when other-ratings only are examined, women are rated as significantly more effective than men. In contrast, when self-ratings only are examined, men rate themselves as significantly more effective than women rate themselves.
From the abstract of a paper by Samantha C. Paustian‐Underdahl (number 5 on the list; the full text is available upon free registration)

Are you the reason this question keeps coming up on Quora?

Is it true that software development has no future once you get to a certain age such as 40, and one should pursue to steer his development career towards management?

Do you pride yourself on being part of the bro culture? Do you agree, publicly or privately, with what White_N_Nerdy wrote on Reddit?

“I’m honestly trying to understand why anyone says that females are ‘needed’ in the tech industry.” He continued: “The tech community works fine without females, just like any other mostly male industry. Feminists probably just want women making more money.”

If, in the deepest, most private place in your mind, your response is ‘yes’, then consider that the women you degrade and perceive as troll bait are someone’s sister, mother, aunt or cousin.

And that somewhere/somewhen someone will do the same to your sister, mother, aunt or cousin.

And someday, when you hold your newborn daughter or son, know that this world you helped build is the world they, too, will eventually face.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Me and AI


credit: business insider
Google’s AI, Deep Dream, generated this.

Two weeks ago I shared a review of Geoff Colvin’s Humans are Underrated and promised to tell you more about why the AI discussion resonates so much with me.

Me in short: I was born and live in Tomsk, which is in Siberia. My mother is an economist and a military engineer by education. My father is air-conditioning engineer, but really proficient in modern tech just for fun. 

More importantly, I’m young, just 21, so all the talk about AI ( ) taking jobs and even making humans obsolete is worrying.

It’s not a sharp pain, but more like a subtle ache that you know you should do something about, but procrastinate, because it doesn’t seem all that urgent.

I read that robots will take over jobs and render humans superfluous.

And AI isn’t just a nebulous concept for me. I do business development for NTR Lab, which is considered an expert at building AI software and its component parts for clients.

Plus, my work means I talk to many of our clients — entrepreneurs creating new uses and applications for AI.

As a philosophy major this really bothers me; as someone who will live in the worlds described it sometimes scares me.

That’s probably why I refuse to focus on the “ache.”

It’s also why reading about Colvin’s book is so heartening.

It gives me hope that my studies in philosophy will give me the empathic edge I need to stay relevant.

Only time will tell.


Wally Bock’s review of Humans are Underrated by Groff Colvin.


There is a great deal of talk these days about AI and the future of humans.

A lot of it seems to focus on how AI and robots will replace humans and, eventually, make humans obsolete.

That is why I was so interested in Wally Bock’s review of Humans are Underrated by Groff Colvin.

We’ve shared other posts from Wally (here and here) and I have a lot of respect for his thinking.

BTW, I’m Lena Nimchenko and will be writing more in the future, because, since her promotion, Yana is really overloaded. I’ll tell you more about me and why the AI discussion resonates so much next week.

Right now, here’s Wally.

Book Review: Humans are Underrated by Geoff Colvin

Geoff Colvin is onto something and it makes Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will an important book that you should read.

There are a host of books out there that look at advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and the like. Most of them made predictions about what the future will be like for humans. On one side are the folks who say “It won’t be bad, machines will never be able to do some of the things that humans do.” They usually light on things like intelligence and creativity and judgement and suggest that not much will change. On the other side are the folks who say “Beware! The robots are coming!” Those folks usually point to how fast things are changing and make predictions about how humans are doomed and probably sooner than we think.

What Geoff Colvin has done is astonishingly simple and astonishingly helpful. Instead of diving deeply into technology and futuristics and trying to make predictions, he points out that the thing that makes us human is not our creativity or anything like that, instead, it’s the fact that we are social beings. Here’s the core of the book, in Colvin’s own words.

“The new high-value skills are instead part of our deepest nature, the abilities that literally define us as humans: sensing the thoughts and feelings of others, working productively in groups, building relationships, solving problems together, expressing ourselves with greater power than logic can ever achieve.”

Here’s a quick overview of the table of contents.

Chapter one is about how rapidly technology is improving. It’s a good pair for chapter two, which is about gauging the challenge of advancing technology.

Chapter three is the hinge of the book. The key point is “Social interaction is what our brains are for.” Colvin ties his analysis to the work of anthropologist Donald Brown, about the features of culture that are universal and define what humanity is. Toward the end of the chapter, Colvin comes to this conclusion.

“As a result, the meaning of great performance has changed. It used to be that you had to be good at being machinelike. Now, increasingly, you have to be good at being a person. Great performance requires us to be intensely human beings.”

Just when you thought it was going to be easy, chapter four describes why the skills we need to be intensely human are withering. This is not the common refrain that “the internet is making us stupid.” It’s much more important and much more relevant. Colvin uses research and examples to illustrate his conclusion that the increasingly virtual nature of our lives makes us less human. This is based in part on the research that shows online social networks affect us and our behavior very differently than in-person social networks.

Chapter five defines empathy as the critical 21st century skill. Chapter six elaborates on that insight with “Empathy Lessons from Combat.” Colvin quotes Air Force Colonel John Boyd: “Machines don’t fight wars, people do, and they use their minds.” Just substitute “do business” for “fight wars.”

Chapter seven is an excellent overview of what makes teams work. If you’ve read the Google research into effective teams, you’ll be very comfortable reading this chapter.

Chapter eight is the extraordinary power of story. This is the first of three chapters that investigate specific issues. Chapter nine looks at the human essence of innovation and creativity. This is about the particularly human way of solving problems, particularly in group settings. Chapter ten looks at what we know about the differences between men and women and asks, “Is it a woman’s world?”

In chapter eleven, Colvin sums up the book. He suggests that there are certain things which it makes sense to do online or virtually, like learning mental skills, but that you learn to be a human being only when you hang out with other human beings. If you want to do the best in the future, you need to be able to do both. You need to spend time alone doing things that are best done that way and spend time with people to keep and enhance your humanity.

I give special praise to Colvin for the way he handled the notes section. I love the notes in a good business book because they point me to sources for further learning. Geoff Colvin has made that easier and more effective by the way he adds comments to specific source notes.

Bottom Line

This is an insightful and helpful book that will help you live the rest of your life more productively. Instead of specific predictions, either about what will happen and how you should react, Colvin has given us a framework within which we can adapt to whatever happens next. That’s not giving you a fish, it’s teaching you how to fish and it’s the reason to read Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will


What’s the fastest way to learn the big ideas from a great business book? Book summaries. Check out summaries from The Business Source, where you can watch, read, or listen to the big ideas from a great book in under 20 minutes.


NTR Lab Gives Back To The Startup Community

Recently we started an amazing campaign called Give Back To The Startup Community.

The idea is to “give away” two of our development teams as our way of saying thanks to the community that drives our growth.

Each team consists of 2 skilled developers for up to 2 months.

  • Javascript team (node.js + AngularJS or React); and
  • neural networks/Machine Learning team (we are AI experts)

I also want to tell you a bit about why and how this happened.

The motivation is pretty simple — we grew 51% Y2Y in 2016 helping startups scale their software development.

We had an opportunity to work on great products with entrepreneurs from San Francisco, Austin, Boston, London, Amsterdam and many other amazing places around the world.

We worked with a lot of talented founders and the learning was definitely reciprocal. Although NTR Lab, at 16, is no longer a startup, our development centers feel like startups, with that special atmosphere of new ideas and pure enthusiasm.

The startup community has given a lot to us, so we wanted to give a lot back to it. And what better way than to help two of them succeed?

We are looking for two startups — at any stage — with one of three situations:

  • building their MVP to secure funding;
  • urgently needing to complete something to meet a critical deadline; or
  • needing to implement an important new feature.  

Our plan is to cooperate with accelerators and venture capitalists, as well as founders, to choose the two most innovative ideas that are likely to succeed.

There is absolutely no charge to the chosen startups.

If you are interested send our founder an email describing the project (it should be interesting/fun for the developers, too). Please include your pitch deck with your message.

Note: If you want the AI team, you must have a dataset to train the neural network.

There are two caveats.

  1. We reserve the right to choose the applicant we believe is the best fit.
  2. We have the right to document and write about how and what is happening. This is the first time we have given back and want to describe the process and publicize the story. (Be sure to follow us on twitter and don’t forget to check for new posts here).

Be sure to share this post with your network.

How to de-stress in 7 minutes the scientific way


source: https://www.verywell.com/exercise-at-work-1229761

I still remember mom’s constant refrain, “go outside and play,” but, somehow, I always went “later” — often several days later. Change ‘play’ to ‘exercise’ and I still follow that template.

We hear constantly from early childhood that exercise is a major part of staying healthy and nothing deserves more attention than our health, but this simple truth is easy to forget when work/family/social media call.

Several days ago I ran across a Forbes article about Sam Hodges’ research on “time-starved” entrepreneurs who regularly workout. However, I had to laugh at his examples.

Hodges, co-founder of Funding Circle, held up Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Cinnabon’s Kat Cole, Jack Dorsey; GoPro’s Nick Woodman, Mark Zuckerberg and Oprah Winfrey.

Duh. Sure, they are incredibly busy, but not in the same way as your average startup founder/worker. The difference is resources — money and people — in other words, the greater the need the less available the solution..

Anyone who reads knows the exercise lowers stress and increases serotonin production. Just what startup people (and that includes me) need most.

So I went looking for a solution. I wanted something that took very little time, was free (or close) and that I could do anywhere with, or without, company.

And I found it at the NY Times, of all places.

It’s a 7 minute workout that is scientifically vetted.

In 12 exercises deploying only body weight, a chair and a wall, it fulfills the latest mandates for high-intensity effort, which essentially combines a long run and a visit to the weight room into about seven minutes of steady discomfort — all of it based on science.

Plus, there is an advanced version and an app to make it even easier to do it where you are.

There is one other bonus — 7 whole minutes every day without thinking about problems, FOMO or anything else that is stressing our brains.

What more can anyone ask?

Authenticity instead of “reasons”


A couple of weeks ago I shared an amazingly honest post from founder Anand Sanwal detailing the “screwups” he’s made as he built CB Insights.

I found it unusual because of his blunt honesty; so many founders offer reasons and try to spread the responsibility for errors — or so it seems to me.

Без названия

image source: here

Then last week I read Slava Akhmechet’s post-mortem after shutting down RethinkDB. In which he took full responsibility.

In hindsight, two things went wrong – we picked a terrible market and optimized the product for the wrong metrics of goodness. Each mistake likely cut RethinkDB’s valuation by one to two orders of magnitude. So if we got either of these right, RethinkDB would have been the size of MongoDB, and if we got both of them right, we eventually could have been the size of Red Hat[1].

Obviously, you can learn a lot from his analysis.

But that isn’t my point today.

I’ve always wondered how founders can claim stellar success is the direct result of their efforts, but anything less is not.

Now I’m wondering if a shift is happening; a shift from founders having reasons and blaming external elements to honest analysis and taking responsibility.

I understand that it takes a giant ego to start a company and believe in one’s vision in spite of the naysayers.

However, I think it takes an even bigger ego, and, more importantly, a secure ego, to admit one’s errors, to say “I screwed up,” to take responsibility, to be authentic.

I salute those founders with the courage to be truly authentic.

And I hope the rest will follow in the footsteps of these outliers.