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From NYET to DA! Working with Russian Geeks

Monday, April 11, 2011
FunOutsourcing

I have been working as a project manager for Workbox in our Nizhny Novgorod, Russia office for a few years now, and I have accumulated a lot of hands-on experience communicating with American clients. Additionally, on weekends I teach IT-focused English classes for a group of PHP developers in a medium-sized programming company. My students often ask me to tell them how to work successfully with Americans. That is what inspired me to put together a list of tips for Americans to use in working with Russian IT personnel.

The Soviet Heritage

A lot of Russians still perceive the world through the prism of the so-called Paix Sovietique. Our country was behind an iron curtain for a good 70 years. During that time, Soviet propaganda tried to persuade Russians that their way of life, traditions, humor, culture, food, etc., was accepted everywhere in the world and generally considered a dominating influence. Of course this was and is not true in many cases. So be prepared to hear translations of jokes from Soviet-era movies, or some great recipes for salads with plenty of mayonnaise (often as the main ingredient).

Work Ethic

Weekends and Overtime. Naturally, your Russian employee would be not be delighted to get a work-related call from you during the weekend, but I’d say Russians are more accepting of this than many Americans. Also, an average Russian developer would not invoice you if he has to put in a few overtime hours every once in a while.

Raises. However, if you start hearing complaints about how difficult the work is, technical challenges, lack of personal time and other types of bellyaching, you should immediately think the person wants a raise, so you should expect this question to come and be prepared for it.

Acknowledgements and location. Sometimes Russians do not react to information that you pass onto them. You might expect a simple acknowledgement like “got it” or “cool”, or “great!” It’s not always like that with Russian workers. Also, they might not notify you when they step away from their working place. If this is important for you and your work involves constant attention then you should be clear about this from the start.

Perks and bonuses. Russians adore perks, and even very little tokens can keep your employees or contractors very happy.

Communication

“That is impossible.” Don’t panic when you hear a “this is impossible” type of answer to your technical question or request. The proper thing to do in this case is to spend a little time chatting with the person about the subject to help him accept the inevitability of this work. Typically, a solution will be forthcoming after this.

Curtness. You should not expect your Russian contractor to use polite, US-business type language. For example, words like “must” will occur in speech. Do not be surprised if they ask you (which may sound more like a command) to do something without saying “please” and all the niceties that Americans are accustomed to.

Patience. On the other hand, and you may find this surprising, in general Russians respect foreigners more than their compatriots. They appreciate foreign cultures and are very tolerant.

Focus. One major complaint has been what American business-people would call “focus.” I have seen a lot of talented Russian programmers who are not particularly goal-oriented. They might get pulled away by interesting research or a new technology while assigned to your task, so please be sure to always stress the project goals and timeline.

I hope this information will help you in your work with a Russian IT team.

By Gleb Aksyutchenko