All posts by Elena Nimchenko

Distributed team: why worth dealing with?


My boss sent me an article recently. It says that Donald Trump is cracking down on H-1B visas, meaning it will get even more difficult to hire non-citizen/non Green card holders.


I constantly strive to better understand the motivations and dynamics between you (buyer) and I (vendor) and how to improve the process.


In fact, I would write an article “How to save time and money with outsourcing,” but am not really knowledgeable enough yet. Anyway, there are already many articles, like this one, if you google it.

The world moves fast, IT moves even faster and software iteration/development is approaching the speed of light.


Talent, especially those with specific critical skills, such as AI, x, x, and x are in the shortest supply, difficult to source and very expensive to hire.

We move very fast in IT era and now, in 2017, hired labor is gradually disappearing into the past – it is much more profitable for companies to work with outsourcing teams than hiring employees in staff. Organizations that adhere to classical HR policies, and who close all positions exclusively in-house, are doomed to stagnation


It’s even difficult for companies with vast resources and tremendous cachet, such as Google, Facebook, and Apple, to fill their openings locally, which is why they have opened development facilities around the world.


Multiple development facilities are a luxury few startups and fast-growth companies can afford — or can they?


Outsourced, distributed teams from the right vendor can provide the same time and cost-effective talent solutions the big guys enjoy.


Last year we ran a series of posts about outsourcing — Clear expectations and communication, Reasons for outsourcing, and How to find the right vendor .


I think it’s time to revisit the subject starting with a look at some of the best tools for managing distributed development teams.


Slack connects all members of a project in one channel to facilitate discussion and collaboration.

Trello uses a Kanban board to view project status and manage tasks visually.

Gitlo = GitHub + Trello – Syncing tasks on Trello makes working on GitHub simpler.

Solo is a freelancer’s best friend for managing project details.


This is the first post from a new series on distributed, AKA, remote, team usage.


I’m planning on keeping it interesting for you; behind-the-scenes stories, sharing useful tools and learning in depth why, when and how to add a distributed team to your in-house resources.
Join me next Thursday for a close-up look at the process my company uses, whether as a comparison tool or to give you a look at what it’s like to work with NTR.

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!

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.


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


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