There are times in your life where you get a chance to experience something different and exciting and last week was one of these experiences which I will not soon forget. Last week I had the opportunity to be part of a Business Intelligence event being held in Minsk, Belarus by my new company EPAM.
The chance to go half-way around the world to speak about my favorite topics was at the same time exciting as it was scary. I travel a lot for work and pleasure but this was different. The countries of the former Soviet Union have always held a special connection with me; as my grandparents were from Latvia and the Ukraine and Minsk was right in the middle of both. I didn’t know what the trip might hold; would I be able to get around without speaking any Russian? Would they like what I had to say? At least we had some commonalities like hockey, the weather and our love of data. All my fears quickly dissipated once I finally left the airport. The Minsk airport is still a bit of a throwback to the days of Soviet rule.
The airport has only 6 gates and no lines. When you arrive in Belarus you need to purchase medical insurance ($2 Euros) and of course meet with Passport control to get final clearance into the country. This was the first time I travelled to a country which required a visa, and although before my trip I was anxious about entering the country it was a smooth trip to Minsk
I was headed off to visit the team at EPAM. I had a trip which took me through the countryside and into the city. I was struck by how much the Minsk area looked like any Canadian place. The forests of white birches was a welcome site. The cars that they drive there are no different from ours, but what was different was the grandeur of the architecture and how it seemed like a modernized version of the old Soviet Union. The streets in the city core are wide and grand. Below is an image of Independence Square which houses the Belarusian government and a huge shopping centre which is right below the square.
This is what I expected, these are the type of buildings which I pictured in my mind. The biggest realization was that the shops were fully stocked with goods, much like we have in Canada. The brands might be different and you can buy vodka for less that $10, but this is a country where success is coming as they evolve from their modest past. This is a country that has welcomed the new age and are working to bring and grow.
The visit to EPAM and speaking at a BI event in Minsk was my reason for being there. EPAM is company with a strong knowledgebase in many technical areas. They are a company of 9,000 professionals who deliver top-notch solutions and now with the purchase of Thoughtcorp they can begin to show that strength in Canada along with our team.
So back to the experience. I presented at the first <epam> BI conference held in Minsk. It covered subjects such as what is data and why is it important to how Oracle and Microsoft can support data solutions for it’s customers. It was a great time where I discussed the future of data and how important it is becoming today. Where businesses which embrace data and fact-based decision making can make a significant impact to an organization’s success. The audience was great and the questions where thoughtful and interesting. It was a great experience which I will not soon forget.
The next day was a visit to <epam> and I had the chance to talk about my experiences using Oracle and how we run data projects. I was again struck by the quality of the people I met. This was a strong team which wanted to learn more and get even better. We discussed Oracle direction around data and how we can get the most from our database investments. This is a picture of the offices in Minsk, with the lead of the Oracle Performance team, Andrei. It was a awesome experience and was a great introduction to the people and skills which EPAM bring to the market. I thank them all for letting me be a part of it all.
Of course no trip to Minsk would be complete without some comments about the food and drink. Belarus is known for some great vodkas and this trip I got to experience many choices. Straight vodka (awesome), cranberry vodka (awesomer) and some vodka made with Bison grass (a spicy, smoky awesomeness). The food was also an experience and reminded me of my childhood when my family would make very similar dishes. The potato pancakes were a throwback to the days when fried food was good for you. All of the food here is made from scratch and I am told it is all organic.
Overall, the trip to Minsk was an experience which I will never forget. The team at EPAM taught me a lot as well, it was a chance to see how a country like Belarus can rise to become a modern and technically advanced country, Belarus is a place with few natural resources but one thing they do have is a lot of smart people doing some very innovative things. It was great to experience and I look forward to my next visit to Minsk… after all I forgot my sports jacket in a bar in Minsk, so I need to go and pick it up!