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Americans in Prague:
Interview for EuroIntelliTech

Interview conducted on the web on December 14, 2001

Hey there Steve, amazing to hear from you after all this time!

I am copying this to Pavel Plachky, one of the original Elixir Prague team members who now lives in the US, he may have some comments too!

Happy to support your research, more below..

At 01:28 PM 12/14/2001 +0100, you wrote:
Dear Bruce,

How are you doing? I really enjoyed browsing your web pages earlier today.

I'm still in the Czech lands! In fact, I just celebrated my 10th year
anniversary here last month.

Congratulations Steve, that is an amazing achievement!

If there's anything you need to get done here remotely, just let me know.

And I'm still doing the same old thing, reporting for my company EuroIntelliTech (www.eurointellitech.com) on the IT, telecoms and internet related business in the region, and building communities such as the Customer Empowerment Community (www.customerempowerment.com).

Have you been back to Prague recently? What have you been up to? How does the whole war on terrorism against the USA affect your directions in life and work? Do you know where I can find Scott Sheldon?

Been back with my love Ms Galen in June. I was also back in December 97 on my book tour. The 9/11 attack just depressed me and I responded by going heads-down in work to build up contracting work for the company to survive thru 2002.

Scott should be reachable at:
sbs@easystreet.com

FirstTuesday (www.firsttuesday.com, www.firsttuesday.cz), which conducts monthly meetings of high tech entrepreneurs, investors, researchers,
consultants, journalists and wannabee millionaires, has really been a big hit here.

Its wonderful that you are doing this kind of networking, that is so essential for especially the high tech sector. We did something similar in the early 90s called the Information Age Forum, see more below.

I have also for you some profession-oriented requests... I recall that you were the first (or amongst the first) organizer(s)/manager(s) of big exports of Czech software talent/intellectual property to the world and I'd sure like to get a synopsis of your work when you might find some time to write something up for me.


Monday team meeting and a cake for my 31st birthday, January 1993. Left to right: our first assistant (?), David Bares, Petr Dupal, Bruce Damer, Karel Michek.

Yes, while working for Elixir Technologies of Ojai California, I was instrumental in helping to establish the Elixir Prague lab, which was probably the first big success in terms of industrial strength software being produced in CR and exported to and sold in over120 countries by our marketing partners Xerox and IBM.

There is a good rendition of the elixir story at:
http://www.damer.com/pictures/elixir/index.html
with a section on the Elixir Prague lab.

I came to Prague first on a mission to support the lab establishment in the spring of 1990. Hiring commences. Regular office and operations started in the fall of 1991.

More on the lab is at:
http://www.damer.com/prague/elixir.html

And the "Americans in Prague in the 90s" site which i am developing is at:
http://www.damer.com/prague/index.html
about this amazing time and place.

Including the "Information Age Forum" the weekly networking dinner in the Salon room of an early privatized Prague restaurant. Several companies came out of this early networking function established by Scott Sheldon and myself in early 93:
http://www.damer.com/prague/iaf.html
more history needs to be filled in here!

Another page is of our trip in june, sorry to not have seen you!
http://www.damer.com/pictures/digicamera/pix2001/01-BizTravels/01-05-EuropeTrip/

I am starting to work on a report which intends to describe the market abroad for Czech software (and other technical) talent. Thus, I am looking to start with all the basics and since you are seen as one of the absolute first who started this entire movement... here are a few questions:

(1) who hires Czech programmer and other tech talent abroad (specific companies, industries, locations)

Our company Elixir technologies (who i am no longer with) hired in the Czech lands to be able to port almost 1 million lines of code from our proprietary platform to windows in the early 90s. I know that DEC, IBM and others also hired labs full of Czech talent, for fundamental operating system work and localization of existing products.

(2) how are Czech programmers typically recruited, contracted and hired (through which special recruiting agencies, third party development companies, web sites, direct contact,...)?

We hired directly out of failing communist era institutes like VUMS starting in 1990. We also interviewed dozens of candidates who responded to newspaper ads in the summer of 1991. Also friends and colleagues of the guys hired came in for interviews. We used a special screening process where the prospective team member was given a computer and a 1 month challenge project. They would come to the Monday meetings to show their work and we could evaluate them as people and as talent. It gave us a chance to screen out engineers who were "talking big" but could not hack the high learning curve and tough problems we knew they would encounter in developing in a system as large as Elixir's. None of these engineers were paid during the "test project". Over time the Czech team got into this and helped to evaluate new members. It is this way that such a "clean team" was put together with a minimum of politics and a strong focus on the goals at hand.

(3) how are Czech programmers and other tech talent deployed? Are they hired as independent contractors, via third party developers or as employees? And in each of these cases, do they work at home base (Czech Republic) or do they go abroad?


Elixir Prague Lab, a restored "villa" on a quiet street of Prague 6 (in Bila Hora)

We hired them all as contractors due to the non existent tax laws at the time. Now the Elixir lab in Prague has over 50 full time employees and contractors. They in fact worked at home in Prague and in towns nearby like Ricany. We spent considerable effort to establish an electronic community using 2400-9600 baud dial up modems and Lotus Notes servers so the team got email, file transfer and the works. This was all accomplished in 92-93 before the coming of the Internet and world wide web. Once per week (Mondays) were meetings at the lab in a renovated villa in Bila Hora to merge code and come together as a group. Often company and customer visitors from the US and Europe would join us for Monday meetings. Twice a year the entire team would fly to the US where they would become tennis addicts and enjoy the sun and alternate culture of beautiful Ojai near the coast in Souther California.

(4) could you summarize some success stories of foreign companies deploying Czech software and other high tech talent for the purpose of producing software/technology for use in non-Czech markets? (describe negative as well as positive points)

In Elixir's case, the Elixir software for windows (about 5 products) was partly ported and partly originally authored in Praha and the region of central Bohemia and is deployed in over 100 countries at the worlds largest government, universities, financial institutions, utilities and other organizations. So this could be described as a pretty big success story. This port to Windows and enhancement of the product line could not have been done without the Prague team.

(5) could you summarize some failure stories? (describe positive as well as negative points)

I personally dont know about any failure stories, I know there were a lot of software projects in the early 90s home grown in CR that never survived.

(6) what might be some of the prime motivators for seeking out, recruiting and deploying Czech software and other high tech talent for the purpose of producing software/technology for use in non-Czech markets?

Talent, talent, dedication and precision of these fine engineers was our prime motivator. The Elixir Lab engineers were very good, not complaining, just doing a superb job, sticking to standards, working well as a team and always learning new skills by themselves. Initially we could hire 5 Czech programmers for the cost of one American one. Over time this has equalized somewhat but I am sure that programming rates are still lower in CR than in western Europe or the US.

(7) what might be some of the prime motivators for NOT seeking out, recruiting and deploying Czech software and other high tech talent for the purpose of producing software/technology for use in non-Czech markets? (and where else might one rather look?)


Bruce Damer, Basit Hamid (Elixir's founder) and Frank McGee

Well due to cultural differences it is highly advisable to have someone from the originating country to be on site full time to provide guidance, motivation and serve as a liaison. You could easily have a failure to produce product based on a failure to communicate between teams. There are other extra costs associated with doing business in CR, flights, currency exchange, bringing the developers to the US for team integration, telephone, and office costs. The local laws can be draconian. A local Czech managing director is essential. Having local Czech customers for the product matters too as it allows engineers from your lab to have direct experience of customer needs. In the case of Elixir we had CSOB, Skoda, and others using the product before it was launched on the world markets.

(8) what advice might you give to a start-up recruiting agency seeking to specialize in matching local software and high tech talent with foreign companies?

To understand that it takes time to build trust in those you hire, to be patient and observant of cultural differences. Making friends takes longer still. A buyer of Czech software services cannot simply come in and out of the CR and expect a local operation to function. You have to therefore be realistic with a foreign companies about really committing people and time to the Czech operations.

(9) what advice might you give to any Czech software and other high tech talent in approaching foreign markets?

Hire someone who has worked in the real global market who understands the language and tactics of marketing and competition in the world arena. Dont try to do distribution or make development deals without someone from "the other side" on your team.

(10) what other sources of knowledge / insight on this topic might you recommend?

Gosh, search the web? Hard to say, talk to someone who has been involved in the local technology industry.

I'd really appreciate you time to send me a reply and provide some answers to my questions (don't worry about doing it in stages. I also welcome your questions about how things may have changed here in the Czech lands.

Is it still such a magical yet frustrating place? Are people still as kind and still as opaque? Has commercialism and traffic killed the spirit and feeling of Prague?

Steve, I hope this helps!

Bruce


- Steven
Reporter-Analyst
EuroIntelliTech s.r.o.
Czech Republic: tel. +420 608 470690
Germany: tel./fax +49 89 92185371
UK: tel./fax +44 20 6812247
USA: tel./fax +1 650 6181563
www.eurointellitech.com

 


Original Prague Team members at Dobra Cajovna, Prague, June 2001

Notes and Topics


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