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Answering Questions of Ukrainian Programmers

An interview given by Yakov Fain in Kiev, Ukraine

Last week, I’ve returned from my private visit to Kiev, Ukraine. During this visit I made a presentation in the local offices of Microsoft on various RIA technologies. My kudos to Oleksandr Oriekhov from Microsoft for making this happened. The presentation was well taken, and I also gave a couple of interviews afterward. One of them has been published at the major Ukrainian portal for software developers. Most of the questions were revolving around differences in work environments and the lifestyles of software developers in Ukraine and the USA.

The original interview in Russian language has been published over here . This text may be an interesting read for the English-speaking audience (the questions may be more interested than the answers). So I decided to translate it.
Here’s an English version of this interview taken by Max Ishchenko in Kiev.

Yakov Fain left Kiev 17 (corrected by YF) years ago to conquer America. Today, he’s a partner in a consulting company that helps their customers in development of RIA. He’s an author of several technical books and a publisher of a popular podcast “For cool life” in Russian (he does it under the nickname “budam”). Several days ago Yakov visited Kiev, where he gave me this short interview.

Max. Tell me about your career in the USA. Was it easy/difficult for you, an immigrant, to move up (looking for jobs, creating a company, making relations with other people)?
Yakov. I didn’t have many problems here mainly because I knew English, was well prepared technically,  and haven’t behave as a prima donna.  I came to the US in 1992, found an employer that sponsored my work permit (H1B visa). Got my green card in 1995 and started working as an independent contractor wearing various hats. During the last three years, I’m a partner in Farata Systems, a consulting and training company that also develops an open source software for Flex/Java projects called Clear Toolkit . I’ve authored several books on software development.

The USA is a fairly democratic country, where you are not having probles just because you’re an immigrant. I’ve recorded a podscast about looking for jobs in America (link).

Settling down in the USA has been pretty painless for me because I loved this country. But if you go there as if you’ve been sentenced to it, you’ll never feel there at home and will always  remain a part of the “fifth column”.

M. What are the differences in the American work and lifestyles from the computer programmer’s point of view?
Y. I’m not sure how people in Ukraine work these days hence it’s not easy to talk about the differences. I can just say that the number of potential employers for software developers is huge in America. But employment is not guaranteed. You should constantly keep your skills up to date if you want to sleep at night. People are polite at the work places and try not to overly critique each other carefully picking words and respecting the opinion of the opponent.

M. What’s the situation with the job market for the developers comparing to  two years ago? How ethnic Russians live there?
Y. The job market is pretty tough these days. There is very small number or job openings that require people with traditional skills (Java/.Net). The situation with Adobe Flex is a bit better, but you have to be very good at it. Russian programmers are not being placed into a special category, and when it’s bad/good for everyone – it’s the same for Chinese, Indians, or Russians.

M. How difficult is social environment for “our people” in America? Is it true that most of them communicate with people of the same origin? How comfortable are they in  communications with native Americans? Can you make friends with them and how it’s similar/different to the friendship here [in Ukraine]?
Y. A social environment is very personal thing. I feel comfortable. After-hours gatherings are still happening among  people of the same origin, but it’s not because we have some restrictions here. People were raised in different cultural environments and have different interests.  For instance, I’m not a football or baseball fan…But in general, people are friendly here without getting too close – they keep the distance.

M. Are there lots of interesting jobs for programmers in the USA (interesting people or projects)? How the immigrants can get hired for these jobs?
Y. The number of projects that involve programming is huge – more than in any other country in the world. Immigrants should start with getting work permit (i.e. H1B visa), and then, competition as usual.

M. Over here, people talk about “dumb outsourcing” referring to dull from technical perspective maintenance projects. Is it true that customers outsource only “dumb” projects leaving the interesting ones for locals? Could it be that companies don’t outsource interesting projects?
Y. Companies outsource projects not to get rid of boring jobs, but rather to complete the job at a minimal cost preferably without sacrificing quality. Lack of local programmers is the main reason for outsourcing.  There are interesting and not so interesting jobs, but if you are a professional and not an amateur programmer, get ready to perform any duties.

Of course, if you get only maintenance jobs all the time, try to change the employer. Actually, on a certain career stage even maintenance projects could be useful for you. Create a career path for yourself and stick to it. For example, find any job first, then find a more interesting job from coding perspective, then find the job that requires communication with end users, et al.

M. Your company works with people from the former Soviet Union. What’s the difference between our programmers and the others? What are the typical weaknesses and strengths?
Y. Our company, Farata Systems works with programmers from Belarus and Ukraine on a regular basis. Their strong part is an eagerness to find the most optimal and elegant solution, which can turn into a serious drawback if they can’t manage their time. Sometimes, such an eagerness to produce better solutions results in missing deadlines, which is considered to be a serious problem.
Poor command of the conversational English is a major weakness. This forces us to bring additional liaisons between developers and customers, which makes such developers more expensive for our firm. A while ago I’ve recorded a podcast about soviet programmers.

M. One of our interviewees said the following, "Only 10% of people, the cream of the crop,  get salary raises every 5 years [in the US]. No one will let you to be a manager unless you have 10-15 of continuous engineering experience".
Y. I’ve changed lots of employers over my career, but so far I did not have a chance to work for a company that didn’t give an annual raise unless there were some serious problems in overall business. Please don’t confuse employees and contractors though -  the game is different here.  While working as a freelancer for one customer, my hourly rate has been cut twice.
You can become a manager sooner or later – it’s very personal.

M. People say that America is a country of workaholics, but our programmers are not too productive – often break for a cigarette, browse the Internet, come late to work, etc. Can you comment on this?
Y. Yes, people work hard in America. If programmers from the former Soviet Union live in the US, they work by the schedule of their employers. I haven’t noticed that they were being late more often than others or were taking more breaks. As to the schedule of our overseas developers, I could care less if they work for 8 hours in a row or in chunks as long as they do their job well and they are reachable when needed. Of course, if there is a scheduled meeting, they have to attend.

M. You often discuss career subjects in your podcasts.  What’s the secret sauce for making a successful programmer’s career besides the ability to be a good coder?
Y. Coding is just one of the responsibilities of a programmer. I believe that having good communications skills is very important for a professional software developer. Most valuable developers are go-getters – you give them an assignment and they find all the answers and resolve issues related to the application being worked on. They might need to meet with business users and “pull their teeth” to get answers, but in the end they bring you completed task and not a laundry list of issues preventing them from completing this job.  I don’t like “motorized boys” who just like playing with whatever is hit at the moment.

M. Do you regret that you left the Ukraine? Why?
No, I don’t regret it. The USA is a country with literally no corruption where people respect the law. A regular person who’s willing to work can live well there.  In the USA, there are no restrictions because of your ethnicity – a worthy person can achieve a lot.

More Stories By Yakov Fain

Yakov Fain is a Java Champion and a co-founder of the IT consultancy Farata Systems and the product company SuranceBay. He wrote a thousand blogs (http://yakovfain.com) and several books about software development. Yakov authored and co-authored such books as "Angular 2 Development with TypeScript", "Java 24-Hour Trainer", and "Enterprise Web Development". His Twitter tag is @yfain

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