Last week, I returned home from a fabulous vacation with my wife in Paris and London. But prior to meeting her in Paris for our European adventure, I had the pleasure of working for 2 weeks in a far off land called Armenia.
At work, I’m a Software Engineer for a company called AtTask. We produce a web based Project Management Software and have remote Software Development, Quality Assurance and Customer Support teams in Armenia that work almost exactly opposite our time in Orem, Utah.
We employ more than 20 people right now in our downtown Yerevan office building. Having a team that works while the other team sleeps means that we should be able to get about twice as much work done in a day. But, It doesn’t always happen that way. The problem isn’t that we don’t have talented, educated, and brilliant people. The challenge is that many team members have never met or even spoken with their coworkers on the opposite side of the planet. Communication is limited to mainly email exchanges, instant messages, and the very rare voice or video conference.
So, with that in mind, my objective in coming to Armenia was primarily to meet each member of the team in Yerevan and build a relationship. That way, back in the United States, I will know who I’m working with, and will be more inclined to communicate and work more effectively with my new friends 7000 miles away.
Flying to Armenia from Salt Lake City is a pretty brutal trip. It takes about 24 hours to get from one place to the other, that’s flight and airport waiting time combined. This is the best case scenario, because it assumes you have a good flight plan, and that none of your legs are delayed or cancelled. Lucky for me, my flight path to Armenia was flawless and I arrived only an hour or so later than planned. Un-lucky for me, my luggage didn’t enjoy the same luxury. I had the pleasure of doing some forced clothes shopping in a foreign country with stores that had sizes that made me wish I had stuck to that diet and exercise regimen I planned for myself a few months back. But, thankfully, I had some very helpful Armenian coworkers that helped me find something to wear while I waited 182 hours for my luggage to arrive.
I knew pretty much nothing about Armenia before arriving. So, let me fill you in on some of my discoveries during my stay.
First of all, the people are extremely nice. I’m not sure if all Armenians are nice, because I mostly interacted with our employees there. I assume all Armenians can’t possibly be as spectacular as the people in our office, so I’ll go a head and say that we have the best people working for us there. A trip to Armenia wouldn’t have been half as good without being with the friendly, happy people I met in our office. They showed me around the city, took me sightseeing, guided me to all the best restaurants, and even hosted an authentic Armenian style Barbecue for us.
Most Armenians speak both Armenian and Russian, and most have a basic understanding of English and can speak it to some degree. The majority of people in our office spoke english quite well, and we had very little difficulty communicating. Work starts at 10am and ends around 7 or 8pm, with hours occasionally extending later if there is a morning meeting scheduled in the United States. 8 PM on a Monday in Armenia is 9 AM of the same Monday in Utah.
Downtown Yerevan is pretty nice, with most modern luxuries available to you. There are many elegant buildings with pleasant architecture in the city center. As you leave the center of the city, you can find older, more run down buildings. Many that are not well maintained and are not easy on the eyes. I noticed a lot of construction sites, some that seemed to be under construction for a very long time, and some that looked abandoned.
Traffic lights and stop signs seem to be a suggestion in Armenia. Most people go when they feel like going, and turn when they feel like turning. This goes for both pedestrians and cars. I think my heart skipped a beat more than a few times when we walked right out in front of oncoming traffic to cross the street on our way to lunch. But, it’s normal in Armenia. Cars stopped, or drove around us, and everybody made it to their destinations. The variety of vehicles is also worth noting. Roads are full of old Soviet Russia cars, White Nivas (Russian, 4×4 Off-road vehicles), and a plethora of luxury sports cars from BMW, Audi, Mercedes and Volkswagon. You have to look hard to find a Honda, Toyota or Ford on the streets there.
I liked most of the food I tried in Armenia. Most meals consisted of deliciously Barbecued Pork, Beef, Chicken or Lamb and Lavash, a thin tortilla-like bread baked in a hole in the ground. A true Armenian can’t resist a good piece of cheese with a fist full of “greens” wrapped in lavash and a tall glass of Tahn — a sour, watered-down yogurt drink (eww). Many restaurants serve a wide variety of cuts of meat, including parts we don’t normally eat in America — like brain, tongue, heart, and lungs. I tried heart and lungs. There’s a first…and a last for everything. You can always find Coca Cola at a restaurant, but fountain drinks are rare. Typically a bottle or can of soda is brought to you at meal time. People don’t drink from the can or bottle, instead soda is poured into an empty glass without ice. I enjoyed tasting the variety of sodas not available in the US. They have an assortment of tasty carbonated “lemonades”, my favorite was Pear. Often during your meal, at dinnertime especially, there is live music played while you eat. Wooden recorder-like instruments are frequently played at this time. Musicians fill their cheeks with air while playing so they can play without stopping, kinda like bagpipes.
Mount Ararat towers above Armenia and is often used as a symbol for the country. However, currently the mountain is actually part of Turkey. Mount Ararat is where ancient legend says Noah’s Ark came to rest after the flood. But no artifacts were preserved from that time that can prove such a story. Armenia is a Christian country, and has an abundance of historic religious sites dating back to 300 AD and earlier.
Most public areas in the city are not air conditioned. It seems that locals are accustomed to the warm humid climate, both outdoors and in. For instance, our office has an air conditioning unit in each room, but they were almost always turned off. Since I’m used to being refrigerated at all times back home, I insisted that the conference room where I worked most of the time was nicely cooled. But while working in other rooms, if I turned on the AC, it was only a matter of minutes before someone else would switch it to OFF.
One cool thing about Armenia is that it’s much easier to become a millionaire there. Their currency is the Armenian Dram (AMD) and in order to become a dram-millionaire, just save a little more than $2700 US dollars. OK, Ok, I know it’s not the same… but it’s still kinda cool. Actually, the US dollar does go quite a bit further there. My spending was mostly on food, but nice restaurant meals were often $5 to $10 and a 1 liter Coke light was under a buck.
Going to Armenia was awesome, and I’m glad I had the chance. It was my frist experience in another country and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was good to get to know the people there, and I like knowing that AtTask is making a difference in people’s lives there. I look forward to working more with the Armenia team, and hope to get an opportunity to return soon.