Most of you are aware by now that Convekta produces the most innovative software for learning and studying chess. However, it is probably safe to say that many people don't know very much about Convekta as a company. And even though I've been associated (and corresponding with them) for over 8 years now, I've always wondered about the people that worked there. After all, you can't really get to know someone solely via e-mail or instant messenger.
So I resolved to take a trip to Russia this summer, and find out more about the company and its employees. I've decided to write this up, so that all you loyal Convekta fans can learn a bit more about them. I also know that those of you living in the US probably have more than a few misconceptions about what goes on in Russia.
The headquarters of Convekta are located on the campus of Moscow State University, which is commonly known in Moscow by its initials (MGU, pronounced “em-gay-oo”). The university is located on the Sparrow Hills southwest of the Moscow city center, so there are some pretty wonderful views from the main clock tower there. Convekta also has an office in the UK, but I really can't say much about that one. Unfortunately, many of the campus buildings have seen better days, but suffice to say, appearances are only skin deep, and quite a lot of interesting work goes on there.
The main offices of the company are located in one large room, and a smaller one on the campus. Since these spaces really can't accommodate all the developers and business people, there are also some other software engineers working by themselves in other rooms and parts of the campus. It turns out that Convekta does not just produce chess software, but is also involved with other efforts, like distance learning.
Nearly all of the people involved with the business end of things are located in the largest room. Convekta has about 25 employees all total, and around half of them are located here. When somebody places an order, this is where it is processed and fulfilled. Thus it contains quite a bit of chess merchandise (see picture below), as well as a large number of workstations. This room also contains the working areas for technical support, and some workstations devoted to the creation of tutorial materials (like CT-ART for example). Also, there is one person that deals mostly with Russian speakers, and another that deals mostly with English speakers. It turns out that Convekta is the largest retailer/wholesaler of chess books, equipment, and software in all of Russia.
While everyone wasn't present on the day I made my visit, I did manage to take some pictures of the people that were there (my apologies to those that were not included). So without further ado, here is list of Convekta personnel, in no particular order.
This lady is Olga - she handles Convekta's finances.
This is Natalia K, she responds to much of the English language correspondence, maintains the English website, and is a support manager.
Larissa very carefully packs each order before it goes out.
This is Lydia, she mostly handles correspondence and business with Russian customers.
This is a selection of some of the merchandise that Convekta sells.
IM Mitenkov, who is involved with the creation of chess teaching materials for Convekta.
IM Kodinets, who is involved with the creation of chess teaching materials for Convekta.
Tanya helps to assemble packaged Convekta products.
Many of you know this gentleman as Sasha. He does many things at Convekta, including such important tasks as product testing and technical support.
This is Sergey, he's the business manager, and is in charge of the previously listed folks. Incidentally, I will be writing a bit more about Sergey in another article.
Like I mentioned earlier, there are actually two separate physical rooms where Convekta personnel sit. This second room contains most of the Convekta developers, many of whom will probably not be familiar to you (with one exception). This group of folks is headed by none other than Dr. Victor Zakharov. Many of you know Victor from his occasional posts to the chessreviews mailing list, and the interview that I did with him previously. So here is quick selection of pictures for you to look at. Once again, not everyone is included, and I hope those that are not will accept my humble apologies.
This gentleman is Volodya. Like many of the Convekta developers, he works some incredible hours. Volodya is responsible for a lot of the internal workings of ChessPlanet, and is also involved with other network-enabled software.
This is another Volodya :-), who has worked on many diverse CA functions, including the tree, chess engine linking, and advanced search technology.
This gentleman is Misha, who does work on the Chessplanet GUI kernel.
This is Anton, who also works on ChessPlanet and Convekta's new teaching programs.
This is Alexey, a 2600 rated player who assists in many aspects of CA development (opening tutorials, tree mode), and who programmed the dragon chess engine.
This is Nadia, who is currently authoring flash tutorials of Chess Assistant with GM Volkov.
Nikita works on CA development, including the classifier functions, assembling the CA install package and many other things.
This is Victor, sometimes mad scientist, jack of all trades, and the primary creative genius at Convekta :-) Victor has been with Convekta longer than anyone else, and is now in charge of all the developers you see above.
Incidentally, if you're the type that's interested in the kind of computer hardware Convekta uses, you can find a little more information in this article.
Personal Observations and Impressions
I think too, that I should give my general impression about what goes on at the company. While I did not spend a lot of my time interviewing folks, I did spend quite a bit of time talking with some of the people shown above, while in a social setting. Generally, I asked people whether they were happy, and their honest answer was an enthusiastic "Yes". It turns out that just about everyone has something interesting to do, which contributes greatly to morale. As many of you are aware, Convekta is never content to sit still, and constantly tries to improve its products (for example, witness the gradual evolution of their tutorials on various chess openings).
Another thing I noticed was a very democratic method by which important decisions are made. This is very much an enlightened management philosophy, which allows people to see that their input is valued and important (one of the things I witnessed was a selection of new domain name for Chessplanet, which is now www.russianchessclub.com). It was also clear that people were taking initiative to do things, never mind whether it was specifically in their position description or not.
So the bottom line is that Convekta has assembled a very good team of happy, intelligent employees. This company could have been located anywhere, such is the management philosophy. Frankly, I am very honored to be associated with these folks, and think that this company has incredible potential. Forget what you've read about the old-style soviet methods. Convekta, IMO, represents the very best of the new Russian economy.
A Few Observations about Moscow
I was speaking with Helen, Convekta's webmaster, and she mentioned that Moscow is "a city of contrasts". I think that this sums up my observations remarkably well. Parts of the city are falling down, while there are other sections that are absolutely beautiful. Indeed, there is construction going on all over the place, and there is a veritable army of folks that maintains all the public places and sights.
Incidentally, Russia is maybe not quite as chess crazed as some media would have you believe. However, there are a few signs that you and Toto are no longer in Kansas. On one of my forays into the city, I ran across this billboard, and snapped a few photos of it. The drivers that passed me must have thought I was insane, but where else would you see a photo of Alexandra Kosteniuk being used to hawk a new laptop from LG?
* But never thought to ask.