Winter 1992-1993: a Second Job

You might ask – why I needed a second job? As I’ve mentioned earlier, the pay in the University was close to nothing and often paid months later than it was due. The next question would be – if that was the case, then why I would stay at this job? Why I won’t find another job instead of looking for a second one? Oddly enough, the job in the University was the only one I could consider “a real job,” the others were “ways to make money.”

This presumption goes back to the Soviet Union. At that time you were supposed to have only one job, less some rare exception. Also, since there can’t be unemployment in the socialist state, you should have always been employed. Also, it was extremely undesirable to change jobs; you would always need a solid, respectable reason to leave your job. Our employment history was a physical object. It was called “a Labor Booklet.” When you start a new job, an HR person would ask for your Labor Booklet and would put a record, indicating your place of employment, your position and title, and the date you started. You could not start any new position anywhere without presenting your Labor Booklet, which would have a record of when and for what reason your previous employment was terminated.

Your taxes were deducted at your primary place of work, which was also in most of cases your only place of work. After Perestroika when all of the “cooperatives” started to pop up, people would still keep their Labor Booklets at their “normal” place of work. They didn’t have expectations for all those cooperatives to last long (and rightly so!). They didn’t want to risk losing their state pensions, their right to have vacation, their “uninterrupted employment record.” Now that I am thinking about this, it sounds ridiculous. Pensions were already well below living wages; I could not go on vacation because I needed to have this extra job to pay my bills. But for some reason, we all had this inertia of “uninterrupted employment.”

It was Boris who saw the ad in the Smena newspaper. It surprises me retroactively that there were times when he was reading newspapers, but he did, and he brought this newspaper to me. The ad said: send us your resume in English. I am pretty sure it said “send us your resume in English by email, ” but I do not think I did have email at that time. Or maybe I did. But I didn’t have a computer at home. Regardless, the word “resume” was new, and it took us some time to figure out what is it and how to put it together. And then it was sent.

Maybe Boris remembers what was our email situation; probably it was some generic university email address. The reply arrived, and it said: we would like to have an interview with you in our office, please come on this day and time to this address. All the correspondence was conducted in English since the company I was applying to was founded by American.

To write about John would take more than one blog post. Looking back, it’s difficult for me to imagine how my life would turn out if I never met John and never worked at Urbansoft. I wish I could talk to him now. I wish I could ask him about a million things from the past. But he cut the contacts with most of the world, and his LinkedIn page is empty.
However, now I am writing about winter 1992/93, and at that time (and for several years after) John was a significant part of my life, shaping me both professionally and personally.

We figured out what was “an interview,” and I went there without any preparation. I had no idea what I should be prepared for. I figured out I should dress at my best. Just out of the Soviet Union, “the best” meant jeans:). I had a pair which I bought in Poland where Boris and I visited in the summer of 1990. Those were jeans that fit. No brand, no name, they just fitted nicely and could survive a couple of washes, which more than I could hope. These jeans were the most valuable part of my wardrobe, so I was wearing them and a maroon sweater which I found in one of the endless piles of the second-hand humanitarian aid which was coming to Russia at that time.

Now picture this. Fitted jeans. Maroon sweater. Gym shoes. I am still about 110 lb. No makeup. The face covered with sores caused by vitamin B deficiency and by the scars from the used-to-be sores. Two front teeth are chipped. And here I am, cheerfully smiling with all my broken teeth exposed: I love databases, I am not afraid of any new systems, I can learn any new system in a blink of an eye.

Jonh hired me; I am not sure why. Maybe because he was a Democrat, or because he has ahead of humanity striving for diversity. G. called me the net evening. I just came home with Anna and Vlad and was trying to make some dinner for them. They were screaming, as they usually would at that time of the day, and I had to let it go because I had to make dinner. I could barely hear G. over the phone, but I figured out that I am hired, and I need to come to the office to finalize details of my employment.

I am not sure why I was not surprised. Later I got to know that there were hundreds of applicants. Before I went to this interview, we were talking with Boris about how much money they could pay me. By that time Boris had done a project with one Italian entrepreneur, so we had some idea. Maybe I will be lucky enough to have 200 dollars per month! That would be great!

I was offered less. John had an hourly pay for all of his employees since nobody was working full time. The wages were in roubles since he was as compliant as a well-intended American can be. The rate was adjusted monthly due to the hyperinflation and reflected a combination of the inflation index and the dollar exchange rate. With my projected work hours it would make a little bit over $100 a month. G. saw my face and asked: are you disappointed? I was, but I took it, and it turned to be the most financially stable year for many years to come.

The world around me was a picture of uncertainty, but John paid on time, and it was a miracle. First thing I told him after I was hired that I have two 15-month old toddlers. John said: great, you will be telecommuting! There are companies who are doing this! Just think about this – it was December 1992 in Russia, and one evening G. came to my apartment and brought a laptop and a modem. The usage of the modem was very limited, but I could debug my code on this laptop, copy it to the diskette and bring my work to the office.

Everybody in the office was clocking-in, and I asked John, what does he want me to do. He asked me: what do you think, how many hours a week you will be working? I said: about 20 hours. He said: great, I will pay you for 20 hours a week! I was the only employee who didn’t have to check-in, even when I was working in the office. He trusted me, and that was another unthinkable thing. That’s how I started my first American job, still being in Saint Petersburg in the cold December of 1992.

Here are some pictures of me with Anna and Vlad (and one with Igor) a little bit before I started this job.

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

4 thoughts on “Winter 1992-1993: a Second Job

  1. My mother also used to have a second job while still in the USSR – in order to get connections. Sadly, after the Soviet Union collapsed the job and connections became irrelevant.

    Liked by 1 person

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