Back in the U.S.S.R.

The memories of working in the IT industry in a post-Cold-War Russia remain vivid for Virsto CTO Alex Miroshnichenko.

Virsto CTO Alex Miroshnichenko was in the belly of the red beast at the tail end of the Cold War. It was a time when working in IT meant working for the Soviet government, when the concept of computer technology advancements was oxymoronic, and when reverse engineering was something of a high, if bogus, art.

Born in 1962 -- during the era when Nikita Khrushchev was pounding his shoe on a lectern at the United Nations, and later proclaiming to Western diplomats, "We will bury you" -- Miroshnichenko graduated from university in 1985 with a master's in applied physics. Degree in hand, he was soon absorbed into the U.S.S.R.'s mammoth and monolithic communist bureaucracy, where he toiled until his eventual departure from Mother Russia in 1989.

Miroshnichenko wasn't a classic IT guy in the sense that he managed a data center or wrote a lot of code for line-of-business operations. "I was kind of a student, a developer, an engineer doing advanced R&D in super computers and network workstations, things related to looking at and evaluating the western technology -- whatever was smuggled in through the Iron Curtain," he recalls.

Although he did a lot of work related to developing high-end Soviet electronics, much of which was military- and defense-related, he was not directly involved in the electronic development of weapons design. Instead he was employed by the Academy of Sciences, which kept him at arm's length from hardcore military electronics.

Miroshnichenko has no shortage of interesting and humorous anecdotes about the pathetic, can't-shoot-straight condition of IT in the U.S.S.R. during the 1980s. For example, size mattered -- but big didn't mean better. "There were all kinds of weird designs for Soviet PCs, and they were huge, literally," he says. "There was a PC called the EC 1830 that was supposedly a copy of the IBM PC. It had two boxes that were about three feet by three feet and one foot high. The mean time between failures was about two hours, in my opinion."

Then there was the case of the Soviet PC that wasn't. "One day we got a phone call from some guys in the industry, and they said, 'Well, we built this Soviet PC, and it's almost the same size as the original. It's a breakthrough, and we're all going to get medals for it.'" When the PC was delivered to Miroshnichenko for examination, he was immediately suspicious, so he popped out the CPU and noticed that its top had been painted very carefully, but not its bottom. "They forgot to paint the bottom side that said 'Made in Malaysia,'" he recalls.

"On one hand, they were caught red-handed, but on the other hand, everybody knew it was a total joke in the grand scheme of things," Miroshnichenko continues. "They were apparently fulfilling some kind of order from their bosses and their bosses' bosses, and everybody was part of this totally dysfunctional government system. So that was funny."

Miroshnichenko eventually left the U.S.S.R. during its waning days to visit a well-connected friend who eventually became a high ranking official in the Pentagon during the Clinton administration. He stayed and started a new life, but retains vivid memories of the not-so-glorious days of the Soviet Union. You can e-mail me at bhoard@1105media.com.

About the Author

Bruce Hoard is the new editor of Virtualization Review. Prior to taking this post, he was founding editor of Network World and spent 20 years as a freelance writer and editor in the IT industry.

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