Working at UrbanSoft: Winter 1992-93

Now it is time to say a few words about John Roseman, a person who had an enormous impact on my life.

He was from New York and had an MS in Computer Science from Columbia. Now, recalling what he was saying at that time, he must have been from the old money family. He was very democratic and eager to participate in the creation of the new capitalist society in the new Russia. However, this was not a charity, he had some investors, and was looking for ways to make a profit, if not in Russia, then taking some US contracts. Tall and skinny, in his mid-40s, he moved differently, gestured differently, smiled, and was very visibly a creature of a different world.

Sometimes, especially in our Russian eyes he looked naive, and we almost openly laughed at him when he was writing letters to the office of the Mayor of Saint Petersburg, in his broken Russian, suggesting to instill parking fees, parking by the subway stations, development of the city bicycle system and other similar improvements. But the longer I live in the US, and the longer I live in general, the less I find it funny.

Living in Russia in the early 1990s was hard, even for us. The food situation was a little bit better, but as for the rest, we didn’t even know what we were lacking. John was shipping containers of everything from New York. Not just computers and printers, but the printing paper, labels and even the packs of cheap ball pens, and we could not believe he is actually buying them “for the office,” that we can take them when needed and use.

The winter was cold, and as usual, the centralized heating system could not manage. We wore the warmest sweaters to work, but it was still cold. Some people showed up at the office and asked for money to insulate the enormous old windows. John rejected the offer, he was sure a building management should take care of it. In a week he had to surrender. It was still cold, but not that horribly cold.

We talked a lot: about our lives, about America, about living in other countries. John said that he might end up living in Russia forever, and I told him I can’t imagine how he could. He replied – but you are living here, right? What’s the big deal? And all my explanations about the place “different from where you born” were dismissed.

We worked hard. John was an Open Source fanatic, and I was given an O’Reilly book to learn the Perl language, which I did. Then, since there were no open-source databases on the horizon, I had to write my own database using Perl direct access files. Which I did, though very primitive. Still, I was immensely proud of myself, when I showed John a screen which displayed the search results, and he said: that’s great!

“You can find anything in America!” he used to say, “and if you can’t find something, it means that you do not know where to look.” I was interested in books in Computer Science. Joh said: such books are expensive, but I’ve asked anyway. He emailed me from New York, that he found a book, and will bring it along. I’ve asked how much it was, he said- fifty. And I brought $50 with me. Turned out, it was $55, which I could read on the cover, and I had no idea about the sales tax, and John never mentioned it – he knew that it was already one-third of my monthly wages.

Several months went by. To re-iterate: John paid less than other joint ventures at that time, but he paid on time when nobody else did. Next time in my life when I could count on the paycheck being on time was at my first American job. I finally bought a washing machine with partial help from Boris, and it was a huge relief, although clothes could take several days to dry.

I will write more about John and his company in the subsequent posts, and I want to finish this one with a couple of pictures from that winter. Remember, the pictures were taken only on the days when we planned to do so, and Boris would bring his camera. There are several months intervals between series.

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.

5 thoughts on “Working at UrbanSoft: Winter 1992-93

  1. Какие у вас крутые комбезы 🙂 Редкость по тем временам.
    У меня тоже были, брат привез в 92-м из Америки телевизионную коробку старой одежды для Анны

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Most of this story you’ve told me before, but I didn’t remember these photos. I think you can tell, especially in the second photo, that young as we were we were already very much ourselves in some meaningful way. It’s very interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Actually, we looked at these pictures with you and Nadia last Saturday :). You commented on the fancy jacket, and I told you that it was one of many second-hand clothing items 🙂


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