Saturday, November 28, 2009

From Russia with ow!

So, I had this meeting. The rationale behind it went something like this; Google will soon be releasing certifications and courses related to those certifications to developers. That mean not only 'learn how to administer adwords' but 'learn how to develop with the Maps API' or 'learn how to make a decent App Engine app in Python', that kind of stuff.


I was talking to Shannon, who is a training and documentation manager at Google, about starting up a Swedish Qualified Education Center focusing on hardcore development rather than administrative tasks. She was going to be in Europe in the beginning of November, together with Stephanie, my GTUG boss (and a lot of other people) doing the Google Developer Days in Prague and Moscow. I was going to go to Berlin the very day of the Prague GDD, so my only option was to met her in Moscow.

Now, Moscow isn't really Europe. At all. Whatsoever. Regretting my decision daily, I began the ridiculously Kafkan process of applying for a Visa for Russia. The most poignant memory of that was realizing that they would keep my passport for a whole week (no doubt shipping it by nuclear submarine to Irkutsk to be steamed open and copied to numerous spetsnaz operatives), which had me standing in line to get my passport back in the morning, the very same day I was flying to Berlin!

Also, I was home about 8 hours from before getting in the Taxi again, going to the plane that was taking me to Moscow, seeing my family only briefly.  After arriving to the commandeered cinema where the GDD event took place, I recognize the Hookah lounge from pictures Stephanie has posted on twitter (which was very helpful).

I then try (after doing some panic work for one of my favourite clients, involving a Layar REST endpoint) to talk to Stephanie (pictured with wine above, which I served her and Shannon on a Gitub coaster, courtesy of the github developers I met at jsconf) and Shannon about my training center plans. However, the place is quite noise, and a lot of people come in and ask questions about Google things, mostly directed to me, not even being a Google employee - I'm just the unofficial PR manager :).

After the evening progresses (and I haven't even checked in to my fairly remote hotel yet, schlepping around my computer case), I get invited to a Google post-conference dinner with the speaker and arrangers of the day. It was really cool to meet and shake hands with some of the Wave team, the EMEA Sales manager (hi Timbo!), The PM for the V8 JS Engine (Hi Anders!) and lots of other really cool people.

Here's a pic where the Wave team respond to the "Who wants vodka?" call. And as you can see, the food was epic. Grilled cheeses, soups, sausages, blinies, pancakes, breads, pies and so on. Thank you (again, for the tenth time) so very, very much.

Naturally, there's no real time to talk shop during the dinner, so in the wee hours, Shannon and I agree to meet the next day at the Moscow sales offices instead. Great. No problem. The very nice Russian head of office (whose name I've forgot - sorry) helps me get into a cab on the street, where he negotiates price, direction, duration, associations and who knows what to put the driver in a customer-friendly mood.

However, after 45 minutes we start to veer out into industrial areas, spotty lighting, semi-rural fields and people sitting and drinking on the sidewalk. Here my driver stops and walks out of the car.

It turns out he's asking directions from the drinking people. Good call. Sort of. He gets back in, swerves around and starts backing up for a long, long way, going here and there after that in the adjoining industrial neighborhoods. It's in the middle of the night, the driver doesn't speak English and he don't know the way. Great.

Eventually, to spare you more details, he does manage to find the hotel, and I collapse in the surprisingly roomy 'suite', knowing that I have to get up in six hours to get to the actual meeting back in the city center. Woe to you oh earth and sea, et.c.

Then the taxi I managed to get hold of tries to renegotiate the price when we start driving, which gets me so mad, I scream at the driver to stop immediately and open my door without thinking of the consequences. We'travelling quite slowly, and the driver gets kind of upset - but so am I. After some intense broken English negotiations, I get the original price and our drive continue in a communal, surly silence.

When I arrive at the sales office, two things are apparent; 1) There's no Shannon working there (I know, she's from the MTV office) and there's no meeting scheduled (since it was agreed upon in the middle of the night), which makes the security-minded secretary less than open towards my feeble efforts in trying to stay in the office. Just when I really have to leave, before the situation becomes unbearable, Shannon calls the office. That first picture with me in front of the Google logo is taken in the sales office, which happened to be the wrong office. Time for another quick taxi across town..

It turns out that a quick dash across town takes almost an hour, at which time Shannon is 15 minutes away to take her own cab back to the airport. I do find time to get my picture taken in front of the other office's logo and steal up on some iced tea (thanks!).

In the end, we conduct a very interesting meeting in the very cab back to the airport, even if it finds me twiddling my thumbs for a number of hours, waiting for my own flight to come up.

It was a roller-coaster adventure, buffeted only by the kindness of Google employees along the way. I would have had a much rougher visit ion Moscow without access to the right people (including my own connections who picked me up at the airport; Hi Alexander!), but then again, without those very people it would never had crossed my mind to visit.



Zoom said...

This sounds so like Uncle Script - embarking on some mad adventure and barely getting out alive, but still manage to actually get things done through never ever quitting :-)

pims said...

Looks like an epic trip :)
I'm really impressed by the amount of energy you put into these events. It's incredible. Google should definitely hire you, they won't find a better PR in northen Europe. Sergei & co, what are you waiting for ? ;)

Peter Svensson said...

@zoom, @pims: Thanks guys :) It was scary, but also fun in a way. We're still in the beginning of history, so who knows what will happen?

JanL said...

Great write-up Peter, what a story! :)

Peter Svensson said...

@JanL: Thanks! ^-^