Nikita Shamgunov told The Bell about working at Microsoft and Facebook, talking with Gates and the MemSQL database

    Photo: RBC

    Yesterday, The Bell published an interview with Nikita Shamgunov. They called him one of the best programmers in Russia, and even if not to be categorical, he is really cool. From childhood, he studied mathematics and computer science, took third place at the World Cup in sports programming, worked at Microsoft and Facebook, and then created his own MemSQL database, which is used by Uber, Samsung, Comcast and many others.

    We selected the most interesting quotes from the interview.

    Why sports programming is more popular in Russia than in the USA

    The reason is that in Russia there are fewer opportunities for the implementation of a very talented person in computer science or mathematics. Here [in the USA] you can build robots, you can engage in artificial intelligence. You can go to Silicon Valley in the summer to work on Google, Facebook, Dropbox, Strike, Uber. You can study in the laboratory at your university or make your own startup. And all these things can also be done in Russia. But you need to be much more persistent to achieve different results.

    About the talent of Russian programmers and their desire to leave

    It seems to me, starting from the Soviet Union, there was a great emphasis on mathematics, physics, and then later computer science. This is the focus of our universities on computer science, which began in the 80–90s, and has only been developing since that time. Olympiads contribute, but even before computer olympiads, there were olympiads in physics, mathematics, biology, and the Russian language.

    I want [programmers] to be happy. And they had a good and happy life. I do not want to influence their big decision to leave or stay.

    A happy life is possible in Russia, in America, in Germany, in Australia, in India or in China. Talented people always somehow succeed. And in any environment there are always opportunities.

    How I got to Microsoft

    My boss moved to Microsoft. And as soon as this happened, I told him: “How can I move to Microsoft?” I have always been interested in databases, from the time I worked part-time in undergraduate studies. And then my former boss said: well, easily, we will now recommend you here in SQL Server.

    And when I went through the interview, they sent me a job offer. Compensation was there 20 times more than I was earning in St. Petersburg at that time. [Microsoft and Google] built their offices so that people like me, when I was 22–23 years old, could be left out of the office altogether, everything is there. Coffee, beer, delicious food to eat. You don’t have to wear a shirt; you can walk in a T-shirt and slippers.

    Why are more male programmers than women

    Often, from early childhood, we parents (I have two children) speak differently about our children, boys and our children, girls.

    The girl went to the dance, and we say: how great, how beautiful she dances. And we say to the boys how great he solves problems or how great he swims or lifts weights, or performs at competitions. And such things accumulate from year to year.

    We are trying very hard to have approximately the same number of men and women in the company. But, nevertheless, our team - this is called the executive-team - consists of all men.

    Work on Facebook vs own company

    When I joined Facebook, I was already obsessed with entrepreneurship. At that moment, I realized that I did not want to be an engineer all my life, despite the fact that I really like to write code.

    The amount of risk, time and effort that you need to spend to build something that stands firmly on its feet significantly exceeds the amount of money you will earn if you join a company such as Facebook at the right time. On the other hand, if you win, then you have financial independence.

    We first entered Y Combinator and started working on the product in the evenings. But then we left. And it was difficult because you are moving away from a lot of money [leaving, Nikita gave up Facebook shares for $ 2 million].

    Facebook development vs Facebook consumption

    On Facebook at the time I was there, it seemed that every person was really very strong. Facebook has invested heavily in tools. That is, engineers are as productive as their tools are. And Facebook built so many tools for programmers.

    I do not have Facebook on the phone, there is no notification. I think in 20 years we will look at the situation with phones, [as with history] with cigarettes. I noticed that when I turned off the application, my life improved. I am more productive, more focused, have a better time at our meetings. Because the phone is not in front of me.

    First investments and customers

    In that season, Yuri Milner gave each startup in the accelerator, in my opinion, $ 170 thousand. And since we stood out from the rest of the startups, he gave us twice as much - an additional 200 thousand. There were a

    large number of startups who wrote mobile applications or Web sites. And we wrote the infrastructure. There were very few infrastructure startups at Y Combinator. And in the whole history, in fact, there were few of them.

    After 9 months, in my opinion, we already had the first contract. We were paid $ 50 thousand for it. We lost this contract because the technologies were not ready. A year later, we signed a contract with Zynga.

    About Leonid Volkov, Navalny and politics

    I love him very much as a friend [Leonid]. We meet with him periodically. And he tells me political stories. And this is very interesting, this world in which I do not understand very well.

    I always want to learn and understand how people make decisions, understand the way of thinking and the logic of people, like Navalny and Volkov, as well as the logic of people who Putin and the team understand [why], they went to Crimea.

    I do not like corruption. I believe corruption affects economic development. And as a person, I believe in economic development. I believe that the faster the economy develops, the better for the country and for the population. I see a lot of corruption now. Just talking to friends in Russia. I like Lenya. But I have never seen or communicated with Navalny.

    About meeting with Bill Gates

    I really like Bill Gates. Firstly, he is very, very smart. Secondly, he is such a big nerd in life. Until now, he is completely immersed in technology and still looks at the world with such a little naive, open eyes. And thirdly, he built the largest company in the world, and he is an absolutely incomparable entrepreneur. Fourth, he did not go to the dark side.

    He does not buy islands in Hawaii. Not like Larry Allison, for example. And fifthly, he invests very much the money that he earned in things that the world needs.

    I met him once in the toilet. In my opinion, I said: Bill, if we, for example, eliminate malaria, we will improve the life of a certain percentage of the population, but if global warming really happens, if we cross this line, then we will all be very bad. So why do you spend your energy on these things, and not global warming?

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