September 18, 2020

The Boss: Frogs, Chessboards and Grids

My parents, one brother and I lived in a three-room apartment, which was common at the time. My father and I were always involved in engineering projects and spent a lot of time outdoors fishing, hunting for mushrooms and picking berries. I kept hedgehogs, wild rabbits and frogs under my bed.

My father taught me to play chess when I was about 3, and I joined an after-school, government-run chess club when I was 6. When I was 10, we moved to Lithuania, where I became a youth champion seven years later, in 1988.

As I grew older, my father was concerned that I might never have any marriage prospects, so he tried to interest me in domestic activities. He gave me pots and pans on my birthday and taught me to cook. Once we sewed a suit as a present for a cousin’s birthday.

It turned out he didn’t have to worry — I married at 19. I had met my future husband, Leonard, on the first day of an international chess tournament in Bulgaria. I was attending Vilnius University in Lithuania, and Leonard was from Ukraine. He proposed on the last day of the tournament, and we were married shortly afterward. We left for the United States in 1991, when the Soviet Union was collapsing and America was in a recession.

For a while, Leonard delivered pizza, and I worked at a dry cleaners in Cleveland and finished college at Case Western Reserve University. We wanted to give chess lessons, but we needed to advertise, so we asked a local activist and chess player to sponsor an exhibition in a city park one Sunday. I had 26 opponents and played them all at once. I won 20 games, lost three and had three draws. Standing on the sidelines, Leonard announced the opening of our chess academy and signed up students.

In college, I discovered programming, which captivated me. After graduating in 1994, I got a job at the Ford Motor Company in a fast-track management program for high-potential college graduates. After four years, I decided I didn’t want to be a manager; I wanted to create technology. I joined Sun Microsystems and became chief architect for the General Motors account. While there, I also worked on Wall Street trading systems and a fraud-detection system for a credit card company.

At Sun, we were working on cloud computing, in which a company’s computer functions are performed in an offsite network, allowing it to perform tasks on a large scale and handle a huge amount of Internet traffic. I knew cloud computing was the way of the future.

In 2006, I left Sun and started Grid Dynamics. The name signifies the large resources that a computer network, or grid, supplies, and the dynamic nature of those resources. Microsoft and eBay are two of our clients. Our corporate headquarters is in Silicon Valley, but our engineering headquarters is in Russia.

Last year, we tried to merge with another company but it didn’t work out. The attempted merger drained a lot of resources. I gained an appreciation of how important it is to have one culture in an organization.

My father had no fear of failure. I inherited some of that, which has made me step out of my comfort zone and try new things. On the whole, it has served me well in business and in life.

As told to Patricia R. Olsen.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=442d99337ea279cae21f1a96eee19b4e

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