Comparing Silicon Valley to the Silicon Mountains
Barkev Iskikian moved to Armenia from San Francisco in February 2017. Short experience working as a Head of Engineering at Teamable, HR-tech company transforming employees' social networks into the talent pool, is more than enough to gain an understanding of how things work in the Armenian tech sector.
From where it all began
I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. My wife Lisa and I had both visited Armenia a handful of times before the move. We had talked about retiring in Armenia one day, but upon returning home to California from our last visit as non-residents organized through the Armenian Volunteer Corps (AVC) program, we decided to make the move to Armenia sooner than later.

Both Lisa and I have a systematic approach to making decisions. As the move to Armenia was a big decision, we initially made a list of the Whys and Why Nots. The longer our list got, the harder it was to make the decision. Very quickly we decided to only consider the three most important factors and ignore the rest.

Considering those factors: life goal to live in Armenia and travel surrounding countries, a safe environment to raise children, and opportunity to continue on our career path, it ended up being a relatively easy decision for us to make the move. Fortunately, Armenia's tech industry was and still is booming and it took a couple of weeks for me to find open positions, apply, have an on-site interview, and accept an offer.

We made the decision to move at the end of December 2016 and, just two months later, we landed in Yerevan with nothing more than our suitcases of belongings and souls full of excitement.

Comparing Armenia to America
Immediately after arriving in Armenia I started working at TeamViewer. We were starting a new project so things moved quickly from day one. Aside from a salary, my job offered me access to great people who quickly became close to me. After successfully launching the TeamViewer Internet of Things (IoT), I joined Teamable as their engineering director in February 2019.

There are many differences between working at a company in the United States versus working at a company in Armenia. At the same time, there are many differences between working at Company X in the US versus working at Company Y in the US. I've heard many people draw comparisons between working in the US versus Armenia and my key takes away from all of it has been to take everything with a grain of salt. Many of the comparisons have been stated more as factual information rather than opinion. Such generalizations have led to a stigma which many people in Armenia have adopted, and that is that people in the US are smarter and better at IT.

There is a common train of thought that developers want to work in the US to validate their knowledge; to validate that they are good enough and smart enough. I must say my team on the IoT project was more effective and efficient than many of the teams I was part of while working in the US.

There are many reasons why Armenia is postured to succeed in the IT industry. One thing I've noticed is that many of my team members started coding and hacking when they were young teenagers. They didn't have personal Nintendos or Playstations or have a Blockbuster around every corner. Recently I looked at the resume of a university graduate and she had nearly eight years of experience working on tech position for legitimate companies. She had been working since she was 14 years old. And she is not a one-off exception but the general trend.

One key difference I have noticed, which might be a root cause for some of the issues others might identify, is the lack of experienced professionals, professionals with 20-30+ years of experience, having worked on multiple complex and diverse IT projects. Most of my colleagues are in their mid-20s and just a few who are 40+ years old. The lack of seasoned engineers in the field and the lack of upper-level management with concrete experience guiding their decision-making contributes to more nearsighted victories at the expense of longer-term strategy and sustainable scaling.

Another additional difference is the perceived risk level of being sued while working in the US versus Armenia. To mitigate the risks of a lawsuit, there are several mandatory procedures at the US-based companies, which add overhead, particularly for startups, which are driven not by the desire to be more systematic or efficient but by the fear of being sued. While the same risk is perceived to be lower in Armenia, many of the processes and interactions can still be considered raw and masked under the statement that "companies in Armenia are more like families."

Overall, Armenia's tech sector has not only been growing steadily, but it seems as though companies are popping up left and right. Demand for qualified talent is on the rise while the pipeline of the talent pool stays the same. This scenario is not sustainable and we are already seeing gross overpayment for talent acquisition leading to an inflated market.

But for many, who are thinking about starting a new chapter in their lives in Armenia, I suggest following Nike's slogan - "Just do it." The risks are low, the opportunities are endless. Be it for six months, two years, 10 years, or indefinitely, the small leap of faith pays dividends from Day 1.
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