Trying to Finish Everything

“Everything” means the book and the rest of Christmas. With the book, after two or three extremely nervous weeks, I feel a little bit better. We are done with the first twelve chapters, meaning we already received the reviewer’s feedback and replied and/or made changes. We are making final edits on Chapter 13, and we have both Chapter 8 and 14 more than half-done. (We realized that we missed something after we were already on Chapter 11, that’s why it is out of order).

After those two will be completed, we will only have Chapter 15 and a Conclusion left; those two are small and do not require new examples (examples being the most time-consuming part). It is still a lot, plus we need at least one Appendix and a Glossary, and some pictures clean-up. So, it is still a lot.

Christmas. On Thursday, I finished decorating sugar cookies, partially in the morning before work, and the rest – in the evening.

Today, I baked one more batch of Russian Tea Cakes because I suddenly ran out of them, although I baked two batches at the very beginning of the cookies marathon. Also, I tried one more time to bake pumpkin and dates cookies. Last year, I didn’t like the results, but though it might be because I used my own pumpkin puree instead of the canned one, and I thought that the problem could be in the wrong consistency. This yeat, I used preserves, but I am still not sure whether I like the outcome.
I mailed the last batch of parcels on Wednesday; all the rest will be hand-delivered. And I am very glad that almost half of the parcels had already reached their destinations.

774 cookies. 118 sugar cookies decorated. 18 parcels sent. 15 boxes of cookies hand-delivered so far (or ready to be delivered), plus one giant box for the youth shelter.
… Now, it’s time to start packing the non-cookie presents 🙂

My First Job In The USA

In the posts that described my everyday life in 1995/96, I tried to convey that it was pretty much unstructured.

I could repeat a million times that I supported my family all by myself, and that I conducted some scientific researches, and that I took kids to many cultural activities, and that I was such a superwoman. I could, but the truth is that I still had a lot of leisure time. 

In some sense, it was a good thing. Vlad and Anna didn’t spend eleven hours a day in the daycare; I could always stay home when somebody was sick. I could do chores on weekdays, and weekends were for all sorts of cultural activities. We would go to see a play every Sunday and to some museum every Saturday. Somehow, my personal life would also fit in the schedule. We did quite a bit of stuff with Boris without the kids. 

It was all good, but that meant that I never worked more than four hours a day.

I took pride in being able to complete the eight-hour workload in four hours or less. But that only meant that the expectations were pretty low. 

Now imagine how I felt when I started my first US job at VIN.net International. I had to be at work every day, and I had to spend nine hours there, no matter what, for the simple reason that I could not leave work on my own. 

Our workday was technically speaking from eight to five with a one-hour lunch break, but most people arrived earlier than eight. For the first several weeks, we lived in Des Planes, and I took a commuter train from Deer Road to Barrington, so I was abiding by the train schedule both ways. Most people didn’t go out for lunch but had lunch at their desks, and I did the same. The last time I had to be at work by a specific time was in 1988 when I worked at the Construction Bureau for the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. Even then, there were shifts. 

Now, imagine me coming to work by 7-30 AM, having lunch at my desk, leaving at 5 PM, coming home – and that’s it! On weekends, somebody would take me to the grocery store – and that was it!  

Remember, that was the time before the internet, so you could not surf the web at home, let alone work. And you could not sit at your desk reading a book, as it was in the time of the Soviet Union. No random trips to the city center. No theaters or museums. No window shopping or “looking what is out there.” Home-work-home. 

One of my school friends who by that time was lived in the US for a while wrote to me in her letter: it’s tough to get adjusted, but soon you will feel much better than at home – you have so much freedom here! Freedom?! Are you kidding me?! That felt more like a prison! 

Later, Boris told me that if back in Russia, I would ever spend nine hours each day, five days a week for several months, I could also increase my skills level dramatically. Maybe he is right:). However, I feel that the most critical factor at that time was the fact that I had to work a lot, that there was a lot to do, and that I had nobody to follow. For years, I knew that if I do not know something, if I do not know how complete a certain task, and simply if I do not have my own opinion on some technical topic, I could ask Boris. And he always knew everything.

On the one hand, I liked it. On the other hand, it made me wonder whether I could do anything on my own. Sometimes I felt that people would offer me a job or suggest a gig for the only reason that I was bringing Boris’s expertise with me.

I did not work with Sybase before, and I had to figure out everything by myself. And not just to figure out, but to support a production database. Again, no internet and almost no documentation. It was extremely rewarding after I figured out how things worked. I still remember the chills of seeing a SQL statement being executed, being needed, being meaningful. And at the same time, I remember the gloom of seeing the same twelve people for weeks and wondering whether it will be the same for two years. I knew that I was not seeing America and was not living in America yet. 

We didn’t know anything about Halloween, and although other explained the idea to me, I decided that we will do it next year. Elections passed, and people barely mentioned it. 

However, some events were about to happen and change my life dramatically. I didn’t know back then that the changes will be positive in the end. 

To be continued:)

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.

New Product Launched, But Life Is Still Crazy

I’ve already mentioned that for the past several weeks, the workload was ginormous. All the efforts were geared towards launching a new product and then making sure everything works as expected.
Launching a new product was a big deal, and in the pre-pandemic times, we would have a big celebration.

Since we are effectively remote these days, with only a very sporadic appearance f people in the office, our leadership team came up with a very special way of celebrating our success. Each of us received a FedEx delivery of a limited edition champaign bottle, and on Friday after work, we had an online event. Our CEO talked about our plans for the rest of the year and the next year, and then people with different business functions talked about their challenges during these weeks.

And after that, we had a remote toast:

Continue reading “New Product Launched, But Life Is Still Crazy”

1996: My Last Job In Russia

My life in 1996, as it started, was pretty much the same as in 1995. Being a research associate at the University paid very little, and I always searched for additional gigs. One interesting thing in 1996 was that Urbansoft moved to one of Boris’s research lab rooms. John ran out of money (I am not even sure whether he had any investors by that time), and I forgot whether Boris was the first to come up with this idea of it was John, but the idea was the following. Boris and John signed the contract to the effect that Boris’ lab will perform some research for Urbansoft, and Urbansoft will pay for this research, but in reality, it was rent. It’s just that the University was not allowed to lease its space to anybody. It was all the sequence of really awkward situations: John didn’t know that Boris and I were in relationships and that Vlad and Anna were his children. And then he realized that Boris knew all this story about the key and me being fired. So there was a lot of awkwardness!

For several years, however, it was a good collaboration. 

As for me, I still needed some other work on the side. The Smolny thing was over. The bank gig was over. 

I do not remember what I was doing in winter, but it was Stylus, Prompt Corporation by spring. The first Russian Automated Multi-language Translator. Looking back, I have a lot of respect for their leadership. They were trying hard to build a healthy business model. At times, when working for any private company was considered a risky business, they would not hire part-timers. They insisted that if somebody wanted to work for them, they should focus on Prompt one hundred percent. 

It sounds trivial, except that in post-Soviet Russia, it was almost revolutionary. They were paying five bucks to anybody who would find a bug in their product, no matter QA or not. They catered lunch for the whole office every day, and that was unthinkable. 

In terms of full-time employment, they made an exception for me. I had to write documentation for Stylus, yes, documentation again! Once again, I do not remember who invited me there, but apparently, they knew “that I could write.” I brought with me some excerpts from the HighDoc documentation, and it was found to be acceptable. We negotiated the price and delivery schedule, and I started.

The documentation had to be in the RTF format. Once again, when summer arrived, and I had to go to the University boarding house, I was left with my primitive laptop with MS-DOS and Norton text editor and 8K RAM. 

I had some pieces of documentation which I already completed in WordPad. I used them as examples and pieced together the next parts, putting all the markups in manually. Once a week, when I went back to the city, I copied these files to my desktop and tried to correct them if they ended up being non-readable. 

On the second time, something went wrong with my desktop. I can’t remember what exactly, but it was the whole sequence of unfortunate events, and I ended up not bringing the next portion of documentation. I can’t even remember whether only some of the new parts suffered or could not put together anything. In any case, I came to the Prompt office and told my supervisor what had happened. He told me that he was sorry and understood that there were circumstances beyond my control, but since I didn’t deliver what I was supposed to deliver, there would be no pay. I do not remember how I lived for the next two weeks, and where I managed to find money, but I remember my feelings walking down Liteynyi Prospect: what I am going to do?! I can’t say anything in my defense; I didn’t turn in my work, but how will we survive

I worked for Prompt almost until the very last day in Russia. I told them that I am leaving when my work visa was granted. They were mad because their previous technical writer left for America several months before that (and that’s why they hired me). But there was nothing they could do. That was my last contract job in Russia.

As for my position with the University, I didn’t have the courage to quit. After all, I was still in the “I may come back” mode. But since Igor was a special needs child, I had a right by law to go on unpaid leave “to take care of the child” until his 16th birthday. Then theoretically, I could return on any day and get my position back. 

Now, I need to san a hundred pictures from our last summer, because somehow that last summer is very well documented 🙂

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.

Today’s Highlights

This post didn’t get published lat nigh for some reason, so now those are yesterday’s highlights, and more details to come),

There were three people at the same time in the office first time since the office is open.

My manager scheduled our next 1-on-1 for the next week in the meeting room, not on Hangouts.

I went to the Art Institute and saw the new Monet Exhibit.

I went to the Youth Shelter first time since February. And we had dinner and the actual convesation.

It started raining in the afternoon, and my feet are wet, and this also didn’t happen for many months. Because I was not walking in a distance from home for many days, weeks and months.

Smolny in 1995, Part 2. How I Didn’t Meet Putin

Boris’ part in this Smolny project was installing the software Dr. Conrad was trying to sell. And my part was, as usual, writing the user’s manual. In this case, it was more like a persuasive essay. I had to present a use case and show how this software will make the life of the City clerks easier.

I remember how I was inventing the names and ages of people and their addresses. But the most memorable were the letters I was scanning. Scanning was a very new thing then, at least in Russia, even the copying machines were rare. And I was given a whole bunch of real people’s paper letters to Smolny. And I read them while scanning. I can’t recall any particular case or any particular problem from these letters, but the overall impression was desperate. You could hear people crying, searching for words that would be convincing enough, pleading for help, from necessary surgery to pensions being delayed, to broken heating pipes. I could not help but think how the City clerks can read such letters and put them aside. I knew that all these letters were not processed yet, and some of them were dated two-three months before the day I was reading them.

Continue reading “Smolny in 1995, Part 2. How I Didn’t Meet Putin”

Smolny in 1995

The last gig I wrote about was the project in Bank Saint-Petersburg, which earned me money for our trip to Poland. 

Later in 1995, my employment situation continued to be the same as I described in the above post. I was a full-time researcher at the university, working in the Operations Research Laboratory, and Boris was my boss, which was wrong on all possible accounts. The university jobs were still paying very little for both of us, but the way we thought about it back then, it was unimaginable to leave a university position. It was academia; we were researches, and even if we aren’t paid anything, we could not drop these badges of honor. 

And still, we needed money. Maybe, some people can be happy being poor together with their loved ones, but it was never our case. We were on a hunting trail all the time. 

The next gig came one more time from Dr. Conrad, and that was my last encounter with him. The gig was huge – working with the city government. Dr. Conrad, as usual, wanted to sell something to somebody. That time, this “something” was a document flow system that would allow all the city government departments to process the letters from the public more efficiently. My job would be to interview the city government employees from all departments, analyze their needs, the existing processes bottleneck, and produce a report explaining why the proposed system was the best possible solution. Then I had to make a presentation to the whole bunch of officials. 

Continue reading “Smolny in 1995”

1995: Gigs and Odd Jobs

Since I was fired from Urbansoft, looking for some side jobs, which would put bread on the table, became a part of my life. Most of the time, these jobs were very loosely related to my skills. However, by 1990’s standards, I had decent written English, which was a way to make money.

After the HighDoc project, there was one more, which I consider an epic fail on my part.

Boris was a part of the group, which was contracted by Nortel to write a reporting system – I want to say, for their first cellular data, but I need to double-check with Boris. (Correction: Nortel thing was later, what we did in 1994 was a project for GTE Labs, and it happened because of Boris’ connections to Micheal Brodie – more shame on me! ) He incorporated me to write a user manual for that system. As usual, the pay was verbally negotiated. And I failed it unimaginably.
Although I was full-time employed by the University, the attendance was optional, and there was no real research work. I would come to the office twice a week and spend time meeting with people and talking about random stuff. On the days at home, I often started my day going to the city center and checking “what’s new” in the stores. I was still not accustomed to the fact that there were consumer goods available, and I could buy things that I liked. Shopping for produce was another adventure, with multiple food stands on every corner, different prices and different quality.

There were always emails to answer and some cooking to be done at home, and then there was time to go and pick up the kids from the daycare. When I would sit to write my technical documentation, I didn’t progress much and was still thinking that I have enough time to finish. After some time, I realized that there is no way I could finish on time. Boris was sending me the parts of the reporting system, which were already done, and I had almost no documentation. I told him that I failed just four days before the stuff was due. He managed to write up something and had us covered, but that’s the shame I had to carry for many years.

I do not remember how we got involved with Bank Saint Petersburg, there were some connections involved, but I do not recall the details. Somebody somehow talked them into trying to use Oracle. It was Oracle 6, and the installation process was a journey with an unpredictable outcome. The group consisted of Boris, Yuri, and myself. I have a vague recollection that there was somebody else, maybe a person from the bank. We were supposed to install and teach others to use Oracle, and that was the first experience for all of us. I do not know how we managed to present it as if we were competent, but the task was completed, and we got some insane money. I used my portion to take the kids to Poland in summer (I will tell this story later).

The Bank gig happened in spring 1995, when I was finalizing my Ph.D. Thesis, which will be a topic of some future post.

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.

How I was Fired from Urbansoft

I always say that I never been unemployed for a single day, which is only partially true. There was a day when John called me to the hallway and fired me on the spot.

I mentioned earlier that it was virtually impossible to fire anybody in the Soviet Union. It continued to be the same in Russia on our “official jobs,” which were holding our “labor booklets.” But our official jobs would pay very little for most of us, including me. Urbansoft was probably the only place of work in the whole city, where you would be paid on time, and that money made most of my budget.

G. was in a sort of leadership position in the company. He was the one to call me to say that I am hired. As it turned out, he lived in a house next to mine, which is why he was a person who installed a modem at my place. He would also bring my code to the office on a diskette when I was not able to come to the office.

Continue reading “How I was Fired from Urbansoft”

My Ups and Downs at Urbansoft

At the end of December, John went back to the US for Christmas. I was still working at that “it’s great!” project and on my makeshift database. And I came up with something cool. Something I was very proud of. 

I did most of that work at home because it was time around the holidays. Although I did have a modem, that was before the times you could email a bulk attachment, so usually, I would compress my code with tar command and copy a .tar file to the diskette, and take this diskette to the office. 

The next day John should have to be back, and I was anticipating my triumph. At about 9 PM, when kids were already long asleep, I started to make my final .tar file. 

Nowadays, even some of the younger IT people might not know what the tar command does, yet along those of my readers who are not programmers. The fact is that the tar command has positional parameters, the first one is the name of the file, which is the destination of compression, and the rest of the file names are the files which you are compressing. My project consisted of one huge file with the actual code, and two smaller files with some addition. So I am typing this tar command and hit enter. And the next thing I realize is that I’ve omitted the destination filename! You figured out what had happened – the actual file with the code was used as a destination to compress two smaller files, and thus my code was deleted! 

Yea. Its was bare Linux in 1992. No Time Machine. No UNDO. It was gone. And it was 9 PM of the day before I wanted to show my progress. And it was a week’s work. 

I was going to have a sleepless night.

I found a several days old version of that code and started debugging all over again. It was easier the second time because as soon as I saw a bug, I could remember how I fixed it. But still – that was quite a work. By 3 AM, I was done, and I was still able to bring this code to the office the next day and still had my moment of triumph. But since then, I am very diligent in saving my work. And these days, when anybody is embarrassed with a mistake they made, I am always like – that’s fine, you can’t even imagine how many mistakes I’ve made!