The book about the "Paragraph" on Habré. New chapter - about programmers-cooperators: "Beta"
A couple of weeks ago, I laid out the first chapter from a book about Paragraph , on which I work. The experiment as a whole was inspiring. The post caused a whole discussion. Which, I confess, sometimes took a somewhat unexpected direction for me.
I didn’t expect to meet so many people here who are nostalgic for the USSR and are ready to prove with a blue eye that when communists schoolchildren ate caviar for breakfast. There is something to think about.
I am extremely grateful to everyone who draws attention to errors and inaccuracies, and also shares additional information. All this will be taken into account when working on the final version, which will go to press. For the sake of such comments, I post the drafts.
The new fragment of the book tells about the emergence of the cooperative movement, the first - mind-blowing - software sales deals and the foundation of the “Micro-contour”, from which the Paragraph will later grow.
The protagonist of this chapter is the famous programmer Anton Chizhov.
Photos of 1992 from the magazine "PC World"
Technically, the book is the fourth chapter, one after it was published two weeks ago. The previous discussion deals with how Stepan Pachikov, with the help of Garry Kasparov and Vice-President of the Academy of Sciences Evgeny Velikhov, organized a children's computer club in Moscow. Thanks to this club, he got a lot of new acquaintances in the computer get-together.
This is a curious story, but we’ll skip it for now. I want to go straight to the description of events that I think will be of particular interest on Habré: the emergence of the cooperative movement and the formation of the first computer companies.
But for those who want to read all the chapters that are ready for today, as well as receive all subsequent ones by mail, I advise you to simply subscribe to my newsletter and get the whole manuscript in one file.
Advertisement of the cooperative "Microcontour" (from the archive of Stepan Pachikov)
They gave out so much money that it was scary to stay on the street alone.
Programmer Anton Chizhov went to the nearest telephone booth, called his sister and asked her to come - so that she would take him home.
Sister hardly corresponded to her role as a bodyguard. But there was no one to call for more - but the two of them are not so scary. Knocking on the head of a lonely passer-by is a trifling matter. Immediately attack on two - an enterprise that requires much more arrogance.
However, these reflections had little to do with the real situation. No one knew what was in his bag. Why would anyone attack him?
However, for some reason I really didn’t want to go home alone.
While waiting for reinforcements, Chizhov tried to comprehend what had just happened to him. And this is what happened: in one instant, without even waiting for it, Anton became incredibly rich.
Developing a Russification system for IBM computers, he didn’t imagine that he could make a fortune on it. Made purely from sports interest - and the love of art.
Imported computers, however, despite all the difficulties gradually penetrated the Soviet Union. The need for driver Chizhov grew. Without him, IBM simply could not be printed in Russian letters - and it was difficult to understand how to manage these things.
All programs tried to explain themselves to Soviet citizens in English, which they did not know. Russifier Chizhov solved this problem.
Like other members of the computer movement in Moscow, Anton attended Velikhov's computer seminars. Academician and introduced him to Artem Tarasov.
Tarasov was neither a programmer nor a scientist - he was a co-operator, a representative of the first generation of Soviet entrepreneurs who appeared in the country with the coming to power of Mikhail Gorbachev and the announcement of a new political course of the communist power - Perestroika.
Formerly, in the USSR, they were imprisoned for private commercial activity — if not shot. Now, having opened a cooperative, any Soviet citizen could quite legally provide services or trade.
One of the first opportunities opened took the new acquaintance Chizhov.
Tarasov established trade in computers under the sign of the cooperative "Tekhnika". He wanted to supply cars with the Chizhov driver installed on them, in order to save buyers from the hassle of finding a crack. For this, he promised Anton to pay a fee for each copy sold.
A few months later, the businessman invited Chizhov to his home to pay for the driver. Going up the stairs of a typical Khrushchev, Anton thought it would be good to get a hundred or two rubles.
Tarasov laid out two dense packs of hundred-ruble notes - twenty thousand. Two hundred rubles in the late eighties was considered a good monthly salary for a person with education.
Thus, on the table in front of the programmer lay an amount that would be enough for about eight years of life. In a modern equivalent - somewhere around half a million dollars.
Chizhov left Tarasov, staggering, and was able to catch his breath only in the telephone booth. When the sister arrived, the two of them safely brought the wealth to the house.
Anton had understood before that new times were coming in the country. Holding in his hands two bundles of hundred-ruble notes, he felt it.
Historians still can not understand what goal Soviet leaders actually pursued, allowing people to open cooperatives and engage in commercial activities - to produce and sell goods, provide services and earn income.
It is hard to believe that the government began to deliberately dismantle the planned socialist economy, verbally maintaining the loyalty to the previous course.
Rather, she simply tried to straighten out the ugly everyday life of a Soviet person, giving small private, insignificant to the state, services — restaurants, taxis, laundries.
But how could one not see that the new laws contradicted the very foundations of the official ideology? After all, she considered private property the cause of all earthly troubles, and “the exploitation of the working people” by those who owned this property was the main sin of capitalism.
However, at first, co-operators were forbidden to hire employees - it was only allowed to divide the income between members of the cooperative. So, the authors of innovations could say that the cooperators did not exploit anyone.
However, it was clear that this restriction is an empty formality. To bypass it was not difficult. Apparently, therefore, already in May 1988 — less than a year after the legalization of the private initiative — the cooperatives were officially allowed to use hired labor.
Lawmakers "overlooked" another, even more serious threat to the current system: the emergence of cooperatives led to a loss of control over the planned economy in general - and over the money of the state in particular.
Formerly, the director of a state enterprise couldn’t spend extra rubles on his salary account at his discretion. Money for settlements between organizations was essentially a separate currency and it was forbidden to transfer them into cash.
In addition, because of the availability of a plan, the money had a rather ephemeral value. Even with extra funds in the account, the company could not buy the equipment it needed - for example, several trucks - because the truck manufacturer did not have such a deal in the plans.
In a planned economy, money played a secondary role. But now everything has changed.
Now the co-operator could conclude an agreement with the state enterprise, render services and receive payment for them at his own expense, and then give the participants of the co-operative money earned by cash.
Thus, the cooperatives opened for the Soviet people unprecedented opportunities for the organization of how large-scale, as well as elementary corruption schemes.
Often, part of the cash received by co-operators from a state-owned enterprise for providing services or selling goods was simply returned to its director in an envelope - or a suitcase.
Even those co-operators who wanted to work honestly, turned out to be willy-nilly involved in illegal schemes.
To establish even a small cottage industry, entrepreneurs needed raw materials - but with a planned economy there was no open market in which to buy it. Co-operators had to "get it" - often by the same illegal methods.
Obviously, the authorities did not realize what they were doing. It is not surprising that complete confusion began in the minds and affairs of the Soviet people. What is already allowed, and what is still prohibited, did not even understand the officials themselves, who were supposed to prohibit and allow.
In this muddy water in the cooperative movement were involved people who were pursuing a variety of interests. However, there were among them those who saw in the new laws the possibility of creating a real business on the Western model - as far as it was possible to imagine him born in the USSR.
One of these people turned out to be another acquaintance of Chizhov in the Velikhov seminar - the founder of the children's club “Computer” Stepan Pachikov.
For these new times, he was prepared like no other - and not only because he already had a room, computing power and connections.
Reading Western IT magazines and studying the specifications of new computer gizmos, Pachikov willy-nilly acquainted with the history of Western innovative business.
Of course, for a scientist who had never been to America and hadn’t seen a single millionaire with his own eyes, Microsoft founder Bill Gates or creator of Lotus Mitch Kapor remained the same mythical characters as Sherlock Holmes or Indiana Jones.
However, the result of the work of Gates or Kapor could be bought, turned on, used. So, they could not be real.
Somewhere, beyond the border cordons, across the ocean, thousands of miles west of Soviet Moscow, everything Stepan read about in magazines, sneaking through the jungle of unfamiliar English words, was actually happening.
Each person with his head on his shoulders can come up with a revolutionary product in his garage, create his own company, build a big business and change people's lives for the better, and along the way make a couple or two million.
This concept did not look very fantastic for Pachikov - unlike most Soviet citizens.
In August 1988, the head of the “Computer” club published an article in the journal “Vestnik NTR”, in which he called on the country's leadership to abandon attempts to start production of its computers.
He argued that the train had left - to overtake the West is no longer possible. It is more expedient to focus on software development. This will be the best application of the mathematical talents of Soviet scientists.
“In 1988, the sales of software products by American companies will be twenty-four billion dollars and will continue to grow,” the author reported, “if the USSR borrows at least four to five percent of the American software market alone, then this is equivalent to exports of one billion dollars.”
In modern terms, Stepan Pachikov proposed turning the USSR into a world center of offshore programming.
Cooperative movement made it possible to make a contribution to the implementation of the plan, without waiting for decisions at the top.
The founder of the computer club offered Chizhov to unite. Open your co-op. Sell the driver yourself - instead of contacting such businessmen as Tarasov. Call other programmers who have already created popular products. Be engaged in the creation of a new revolutionary software. And there, what the hell is not joking, to go out somehow to the world market. Why not?
A few years ago, these daring dreams bordered on complete madness. But now, after announcing a policy of liberalizing strict Soviet laws under the banner of Perestroika, things took a completely different turn.
If earlier for the storage of the book "The GULAG Archipelago" was sent to prison, now maps of Stalin's camps were printed in newspapers.
If earlier religiousness was condemned, now the millennium of the baptism of Russia was celebrated at the state level, and the “Bible” was already published in hundreds of thousands of copies.
If earlier they pretended that sex did not exist, now Soviet films with bed scenes were playing in cinemas, and Komsomol organized beauty contests where girls walked around the stage in bathing suits.
If earlier unofficial artists and musicians were pursued as parasites and insane, now rock stars gathered in stadiums, and the Soviet avant-garde sold tens of thousands of pounds on Sotheby's - not abroad, but directly in Moscow.
Life was changing so fast that everything seemed possible.
True, many people in the USSR believed that all these perestroika liberties would soon end, as happened after the sixties. And those who believed in another fleeting thaw will end up behind bars.
Both Pachikov and Chizhov were ready to take the risk and put on the fact that this time the change is forever. Anton agreed to join forces with Stepan and donate part of the new revenue from his driver in favor of their company and its future prosperity.
It was even easier to go to this step because the programmer did not know where to put the money.
Even in spite of the development of the cooperative movement and Perestroika, in the Soviet Union, wealth in itself was still worthless — and could not somehow change a person’s life significantly. Money at that time did not solve almost anything - communications, influence, party status played a far greater role.
The store shelves were empty - and the same goods were sold there. Going abroad is a whole story, and it’s not yet a fact that they will be released.
It would be possible to buy a car or a cooperative apartment, but Chizhov had a place to live, and there was a queue behind the car. Yes, and not really wanted him to have his car. In the absence of a normal service, you would have to mess with it yourself.
As a result, Anton spent a significant part of the fee received from Tarasov on the purchase of two video recorders. Together they cost like a car - several thousand each.
One stayed at home, the other was donated to the school where the child attended.
In other words, earning twenty thousand rubles, Chizhov remained at the same time who he was - a programmer. And like any normal programmer, the prospect of creating the first software company in the USSR tempted him much more than receiving another bundle of cash from Tarasov.
The organization of its own cooperative, however, in 1988 turned out to be not so simple. The dual nature of a private enterprise in a country that denied private property created many obstacles to the first co-operators.
In order to register his “Technician”, Artem Tarasov, for example, had to literally take the official of the Moscow City Council into oblivion.
Having received the refusal at first, the entrepreneur began simply to watch on duty at the office of the responsible person. Callus to his eyes. Then the chief took pity - and allowed Artyom to bring himself home. Then he began to give small assignments that Tarasov unquestioningly performed. In fact, he became a personal assistant to the official on a voluntary basis.
Finally, he gave permission to register the cooperative. The whole operation took three months.
To avoid such entertainments, novice Soviet entrepreneurs often preferred to join an already operating cooperative — using the “roof” of those who had already overcome bureaucratic obstacles. Pachikov and Chizhov decided to go the same way.
Then Stepan was helped by his get-togethers around the club. Eduard Minkovsky, one of the participants of “Computer”, introduced him to his uncle, who managed to open a building cooperative “Kontur”.
Pachikov persuaded the co-operator to take them under his wing - and let them open a more or less autonomous unit for the development of computer projects under “Contour”.
Metal boxes filled with electronics with hundreds of kilobytes of RAM on board, along with displays, scanners and printers, occupied the entire desktop at the time, if not immediately two, but were called "microcomputers." Therefore, the computer unit "Kontura" called "Microcontour."
The meaning turned out to be double: with a large building society - a small division, which also deals with microcomputers. There was also a hidden self-irony: the plans of the micro-cooperative were already in vain, though vague, but quite ambitious.
The company began operations on October 3, 1988. The first officially arranged employee of "Microcontour" was Stepan's younger brother - George.
The dawn of the cooperative movement caught him at work as a programmer at the Moscow Art Theater - one of the leading metropolitan theaters. Georgy was responsible for the performance of the stage equipment there, but for the most part - he was just fooling around, enjoying the artistic atmosphere.
In addition, he actively assisted in organizing a computer club. When Stepan asked for help with the cooperative, the younger brother agreed without hesitation.
Work "Microcontour" began in the premises of "Computer" on Rozhdestvensky Boulevard. But it soon became clear that the firm interferes with club activities. For the cooperative, a separate room was rented on Petrovsky Boulevard - a ten-minute walk.
The first co-operators, one way or another related to technology, usually made money from selling computers.
Few people believed that by selling one software, you can earn something - after all, no one in the country understood why pay for software if you can simply copy it from disk to disk. In a state in which everything was common, intellectual property was considered bourgeois excesses.
The copyright prevailing in the countries of the potential adversary was not recognized at the state level, copying all the western practices that were possible, from tape recorders to automobiles.
Actually, the Computing Center of the Academy of Sciences, in which Anton Chizhov worked, was partly what he did.
So that the Soviet people would not be left behind by the digital revolution, its employees hacked foreign software brought from Western countries on copy-protected discs so that nothing would hinder their distribution in the Soviet Union.
However, for the authors of the first Soviet programs, the existing system of attitudes towards copyright had its own advantages.
Both Alpha and Beta — both versions of his driver, spelled out the letters of the Greek alphabet — Chizhov created at work, on computers belonging to the Academy of Sciences. If it happened in the twenty-first century - or at least in a capitalist country - his employer would consider the cracker his property and claim all the money received by the programmer.
However, the computer center worked according to the laws of a socialist planned economy. No additional income from the sale of the crack in his plans did not appear.
How to explain the origin of profits from the sale of software in the language of Soviet economic science? Nobody knew that. Therefore, the direct authorities of Chizhov, knowing that he earns a driver, preferred to turn a blind eye to his “unearned” incomes.
So he could dispose of them at his discretion.
And if private users did not even think about paying for software, then with organizations it didn’t look so hopeless. Directors of enterprises were not spending their money and parting with them easily.
In addition, many needed advice and setting up programs and were not averse to entrusting this work to a cooperative founded by members of the Academy of Sciences.
Pachikov understood that on one driver Chizhov would not go far, so he immediately began to collect other programmers under the roof of the Microcontour.
At the first stage, the cooperative did not have anything that a trading company should have - neither adjusted sales channels, nor trained salesmen, nor a coherent commercial strategy, nor even minimal expertise in trading.
But the cooperative had a seal, the ability to enter into agreements with other organizations and receive money into your current account. And then it was already enough to attract the creators of the best programs.
In addition, Pachikov was for them his man - a computer enthusiast, an expert, a scientist, an organizer of seminars known all over Moscow in the “Computer” club.
It also helped that he was not greedy, offering programmers extremely favorable conditions. Selling someone else's software, Stepan was ready to keep a very modest commission - fifteen percent. The rest got to the creator of the product.
It was quite practical, mercantile generosity. The creator of "Microcontour" did not plan to immediately become a millionaire - he wanted to create a successful software company. And for this he needed the best programmers.
To involve them in the activities of the cooperative, he was ready to sacrifice short-term earnings.
This strategy has fully justified itself and tactically, because programmers often came with their customers. From "Microcontour" was required just to spend the money.
Thanks to such a loyal policy, the Pachikov Cooperative soon began selling all the main products that made it possible to work fully on IBM computers with text documents in Russian.
Evgeny Veselov, another employee of the Computing Center of the Academy of Sciences, gave “Microcontor” to distribute his text editor Lexicon. And Andrei Skaldin - a set of Russian fonts that were adequately displayed when printing on laser printers.
The revenues of Microcontour were not in any comparison with the turnover of Artem Tarasov, who soon became the first official Soviet millionaire. But profit was enough to keep the company afloat and begin to implement more ambitious plans - the search for ideas for their own breakthrough development.
Neither Stepan himself nor the other participants of Microcontour have yet imagined what they could undertake - and that could not only benefit the people, but also a good income for the creators of the software.
However, they were well aware that hundreds of top-notch scientists worked in Soviet research institutes, who often could not realize their ideas because of the inactivity of the Soviet bureaucracy.
They languished from longing in their research institutes, not realizing that the world has changed. What is unthinkable to do in a public institution can be realized in a private enterprise.
Besides, being talented mathematicians, not everyone was “on you” with computers - and still did not realize what opportunities home computers opened up for humanity.
In order to make a breakthrough, the founders of Microcontour had to simply find these geniuses - and open their eyes to them.
And, fortunately, Stepan Pachikov already knew where to find them.
To be continued
All finished chapters:
Chapter 1. “Wait a minute,” said Mzhavanadze
Chapter 2. Scientist-janitor
Chapter 3. Computer people
→ Chapter 4. Beta
Chapter 5. “We can solve any problem”
Chapter 6. Wild East
Chapter 7. Eight hrenyatin
Chapter 8. I am a walrus
Chapter 9. Armature into caterpillars
Get all the chapters and subscribe to new