Tag Archives: #Russia

Tomsk – IT city in Russia

I love living in Tomsk for many reasons, but the biggest is that in spite of being in Siberia, Tomsk is a major tech center. That means I not only get to work in a tech company, NTR Lab supplies remote teams, as well as developing our own products, such as our drone, but that my city is filled with dozens of IT companies and many other professionals that work for foreigner customers. It makes for a varied and very interesting population.

Here is a map showing all the IT companies located in Tomsk, including NTR (marked with the red arrow). Just have a look!

IT City map

Continue reading Tomsk – IT city in Russia

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!

Let’s talk about “good leader”!

 

The last few weeks I’ve been reading many articles about leadership and sharing them and my ideas with you.

Leadership and culture within companies are a relatively new focus among Russian business and I find them fascinating. My friend Miki writes about them for her company and sometimes we have very interesting conversations.

We had one the other night and I think you will find it interesting, too. I’ve italicized Miki’s words and left mine in plain type, so it won’t be confusing.

ленин уорхолмао уорхол

Andy Warhol’s  Red Lenin and Mao

Do people there talk much about leadership?

Yes, we talk about that, but ideas about company culture and its importance are fairly new. Culture was ignored because we thought it was less important for a company then R&D, selling or production. I think Russians never got that it all goes together.

What is your impression of the stuff you have read from the US?

Sometimes I think you guys talk about culture too much and too meticulously. Russians mostly don’t like to talk about culture and leadership. We aren’t used to talking about culture because we are
just starting to recognize its importance.

What do you personally think of the idea of leadership?

Hmm, that’s complicated :) I think that it’s rocket science to be the perfect leader
and to build the right culture in a company. I think it’s mostly depends on your personal
human qualities, but doesn’t depend on economic situation and on the country where you work.

Do you think a person can learn leadership better in school or from doing it and analyzing after?

If you are a strong person with a strategic and analytic mind you still need to learn how to communicate with people, how to take responsibility and how to build the company’s culture in order to be a leader.

You could analyze the experience of great leaders and start to do stuff to get your own experience and analyze that. Mistakes are not bad, as long as you notice, acknowledge and analyze them. Also, it’s good to accept advice from someone more experienced than you, as long as their values are similar to yours.

I think I’m writing very obvious things)) I don’t have any real experience.

Do you think there is such a thing as a “perfect leader”?

I think it’s not about being strong and forcing people; it’s about to be smart enough to be different and flexible if it’s needed.

Leading is getting people to do what you want them to do willingly, but so is manipulation. I think it’s defined as negative, because it’s always used that way. Do you think a good leader must be a good person?

Yes; I don’t think a good leader forces at all, I think he gets the ability to inspire people to follow him. A really good leader is smart enough to listen employee’s opinion and find compromises. He is not strict, he is flexible, he is not egoistic, he always can change his mind if finds out someone’s opinion is more reasonable.

My own opinion is that the actions come and are described as leadership after the fact.

I agree with that. There is a quote from Spinoza (I think) that freedom is a necessity only after you have had it. I believe that a good leader is a flexible person who is able to inspire some people to follow and finds ways to convince the rest without using force.

I agree that culture is a reflection of a leader’s values, but nothing you’ve said has changed my mind. I just don’t believe that leadership is inherently good, “…history tells us that people are more than willing to be shaped in socially unacceptable directions—think Jeff Skilling or Hitler. Of course, if the leader crashes and burns, his constituents will claim that they were led astray unwillingly and/or had no idea what their leader was up to.”

When you or anyone talks about a “good leader” they are referring to someone whose values they share. Founders bring their values, which become the basis of the company culture, but that doesn’t mean the culture is good. I have seen horrible cultures in very successful companies. What is the culture at NTR?

Good, there is a company culture with values which are similar to mine.

And what are your leaders like?

I like Nick’s style. He works hard to build good culture in our company.

So what kind of leader is he? What makes him good?

He is smart and he inspires people and never forces stuff in a bad way (not too strict or manipulating); employees have opportunities to think differently. I always have a chance to argue something he says and defend my own points.

You have asked me, now it is my turn. How would you describe a good leader.

That’s easy; my ideal of a leader was described by Lao Tzu way back in the 6th Century BC. You can read it here.

I would love to continue this discussion by hearing what you think about leadership. What is your “good leader” definition?  And any other thoughts you have. Miki and I promise to respond.