From Moscow to Silicon Valley: How Alexander Kirov Improves Pebble Smart Watch

    Would you like to get a job in Silicon Valley and participate in the development of a product that thunders around the world? Is this not the dream of every second geek? At Alexander Kirov , the former product-dizanera out with Mail.Ru, who calls himself a very disorganized person (he dropped out of the two institutions), a recipe for dreams: if you are rebuffed, do not be afraid to knock again, until you can not get her . He, for example, was sewn by both Google and Facebook, but in the end Alexander left for California and joined the American team Pebble , which became famous all over the world with the same smart watch (and also kicked it first). We asked Alexander to tell how he managed to crank it up and how his new life differs from the old one in Moscow.


    - There have been quite a lot of attempts and searches in my life. But it turned out that they formed my character. So, I didn’t have a good time with studies. After school, I studied for a year as an IT specialist, then another year as a manager, but in both cases I quickly got bored, and I dropped out of school. True, he always worked in parallel - first as a system administrator, then he managed website development at Eto Easy, and was a project manager in the digital division of a large advertising agency Lowe Adventa. Then I started studying for a while and realized that it was more interesting for me to engage not in management or programming, but in more creative work. I decided to try myself in design.

    In 2011, I got to Mail.Ru. I saw the vacancy of a mobile designer, hoping for nothing, did a test task and unexpectedly passed the selection. At that time, I did not have the fulltime experience directly in design, but for several years I had been quietly doing design projects on freelance, and at the advertising agency I distributed tasks so that I could do the design work myself.

    In Mail.Ru, I became the first designer to deal exclusively with mobile projects. Previously, company designers worked on mobile applications and web interfaces. But six months before me, Yura Vetrov came to the company, he first began to share these areas. There I found myself and finally realized that I had made the right choice. Therefore, in parallel with the main work, he continued to engage in freelance work, slowly adding projects to his portfolio.

    Facebook, google and other disappointments

    In 2011, I signed up for AngelList, one of the world's largest platforms for investors and startups. There is a special Talent service, which allows companies to post vacancies and select engineers, IT specialists and other specialists from related fields as a team. Sometimes small job offers came from there, nothing serious. This went on for about a year and a half. I did not set myself a special goal to get to America and was not particularly upset that it somehow did not add up to the proposals.

    After a while, quite unexpectedly, the Facebook ejchar found me .

    A little later, they managed to interest the guys from Google .

    During the time that I worked on Mail.Ru projects, as well as on many freelance projects, my level has improved. As a designer, I felt quite confident.

    I think Facebook found me through my article on the Scoutzie blog on how to become a mobile designer - it turned out to be quite successful in both Russian and English. My portfolio was also different from the standard “see how I can” design pictures. Instead of a bunch of scattered images, from the very beginning I tried to make the portfolio structured so that it showed my work on products for a long time. Perhaps this also played a role.

    A fragment of the case " iPhone Mail " from my portfolio

    Both on Facebook and on Google I went through several stages of the interview, but eventually fell off. It was hard not to perceive these failures as personal failures.

    A little advice for those who want to tighten English: take orders from English-speaking customers. It was in this way that my English pulled itself up from a practically zero level to quite tolerable. In the near future it was very useful to me.

    In 2013, at Pebble, my friend Kirill Zubovsky recommended me (he founded the service for designers ). Cyril introduced me to Canadian Eric Magikowski, the founder of Pebble.

    We wrote off with him and even agreed on an interview on Skype, but first, Eric forgot about the appointed time for the interview (a very busy person, what can you do about it), and after it did take place, he told me that so far they have nothing to offer me , and disappeared for several months.

    Later, I found out that Pebble then had problems with production, and they simply did not have time for me.

    50 IDEAS

    The conversation with Eric inspired me very much - after our conversation, several ideas spun in my head at once, which I could implement within Pebble. These thoughts sat in my head, but alas, everything was dull in Pebble. Then I gathered my courage and a couple of months later wrote to Eric again - after all, he did not give me an official refusal. And then - oh, a miracle! - He literally immediately invited me for an interview , right in their office in Palo Alto. Now I sometimes wonder what would happen if I hadn’t written to them again?

    Full of hope, I went to the Valley. As a test case, I worked at Pebble for two eight-hour work days. On the morning of the first day, the engineers gave me a smartphone on the android and the watch itself (I did not have the opportunity to get to know them in Russia), they asked me to study them and tell them what, in my opinion, could be changed for the better. I sketched about fifty points and closer to dinner I voiced them to the engineers. They asked for some ideas to be worked out separately. At the end of the first day, I presented them my solutions, visualizing them in the form of draft layouts. On the second day I was asked to elaborate on two or three of the most interesting cases. By evening, I coped with this task.

    Pebble managers sit in this part of the office.

    For some reason, Pebble was sure that I had another day left, but it turned out that my plane was leaving the next morning. I had to quickly curtail. But literally a few days later an official job offer came to my mail. I quickly considered the pros and cons and decided to go, because the opportunity was absolutely unique, one of those that are provided once in a lifetime. But getting a work visa to the USA is a long process - therefore, for the first eight months I worked remotely from Russia, receiving hourly pay. Together with my wife, we finally moved to Palo Alto only in April. And here, finally, I managed to learn from the inside what work is in a successful startup in Silicon Valley.

    And this is the technical area. Green things protect from the sun - in the roof there are large windows and in the afternoon direct sunlight falls on you, nothing is visible on the screens. The solution to the problem was found in IKEA.

    Compared to Mail.Ru, my income at Pebble doubled, but the cost level after moving increased even more. In addition, income taxes here are two to three times higher than ours, this should also be borne in mind. In general, it was very difficult at first with money in the USA. The company paid for airline tickets, car rental and hotel for the first time. But, having moved, I had to leave liens, deposits and down payments everywhere - after all, everything is tied to a credit history, but I don’t have it. By the way, our company does not rent housing for expat employees. But Pebble has its own large guest house, it is called in the Spanish manner Casa De Pebble. There live business travelers and those who have just arrived and while they are looking for an apartment in a new place.


    Pebble’s workflow approach is markedly different from what I'm used to. In Mail.Ru, all my working hours were scheduled for meetings and tasks. Here, on the contrary, I am my own boss. Formally, I have a boss, in fact not. Here they look only at how quickly and efficiently you cope with your tasks. How many hours you spend in the office is not so important. Thanks to this, there is no stressful feeling that you are constantly being driven.

    My work place

    Now we have more than fifty people in the office, about a hundred more work remotely. What is striking is that Pebble does not have a clear separation of professions: it often happens that managers who conduct business and establish partnerships program themselves, and developers often make business decisions. The team due to this exists as a living organism.

    Since Pebble design is part of almost any process, and not a separate direction, I regularly have to join various projects and adapt to their realities. For comparison: in I worked on the design of one product (I was mainly engaged in “Mail”, and later on “Calendar” and several side projects) on a bunch of different platforms. Here I touch on a lot of areas - this is the design of mobile application interfaces, and the design of concepts for future interface solutions, and hardware design, and sites. Plus, I work closely with the marketing team - together we come up with and create advertising campaigns.

    For example, Pebble has recently been a partner and sponsor of the San Francisco Running Marathon. Especially for this marathon, we created a separate application, and I was engaged in its design. The team, in addition to me, has quite a few designers - but for the most part they are directly involved in developing the appearance of the watch itself, together with the engineers. The working day looks different. As a standard, I arrive at the office by 9-9.30 in the morning, and leave at six in the evening. In general, people here are trying to start work as early as possible and finish as soon as possible.

    By the way, waking up early in the morning is much easier than in Moscow. Maybe this is due to the climate.

    At the same time, sometimes colleagues can come in two days and leave at five in the evening, and it does not bother anyone. If there are no urgent matters, no one bothers to leave earlier. And if there are urgent tasks, you are delayed in order to be in time. For example, in my eight months udalenka it happened that I worked for several days in a row from morning to evening, and then for a week or two I did nothing at all - there was time to do concepts and experiments.

    Outdoor dining area

    I am a very disorganized person, I can easily forget about a meeting or an important matter. Back in Mail.Ru, I had to accustom myself to tight time management. Everything is simple here - I use online gliders. It used to be a Wunderlist application, now I switched to Todoist. The habit of planning developed quickly, and has long been automatic. At Pebble, I’m also used to setting myself a deadline for each work task, regardless of whether they are asked to complete it on time or not.


    When I left for Pebble, I was afraid that spoken English would be the most serious obstacle — after all, I didn't have much practice. But nothing of the kind.

    It turned out that both in the office and beyond, Americans are very loyal to any level of knowledge of their language. It was a cultural shock for me.

    Earlier, in Russia, I used to work with expats, and it was difficult. Here, everyone adjusts to you - if you are a beginner and while you speak not very well, no one will tease and make complaints to you, on the contrary, everyone will try to speak more slowly and in a simpler language. And it doesn’t annoy anyone. Two months at the Pebble office were not in vain - now I communicate with colleagues on professional topics much more freely.

    I still have no confidence whether the product designer needs special education. Neither in Russia, much less in the USA, no one asked me about the tower. Everyone looks only at the portfolio and the completed test task. Nevertheless, while still working in an advertising agency, I entered the Institute of Business and Law of Moscow at the advertising department (specialty “Design”). He quickly realized that studying at the university does not give me anything and will not give me, but it’s a shame to drop out of the third institute in a row, and I wanted to get higher education purely from the principle.

    Now I'm at the finish line. Recently I came from California to Russia for a week to pass the state exam. By the way, when leaving the United States, I did not personally notify any of my colleagues - I simply wrote in the internal calendar that I would be working out of the office for a week. This is quite enough with us.

    You can follow Alexander on Twitter .

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