Monthly Archives: November 2015

My Experience as a Refugee in America


With today’s news reports of violence, terror, and refugee crises, it feels more important than ever this holiday seaseon to take a moment as Americans and consider the freedom we have to live good lives. While I’ve written before about my immigration, like my tale of my first American summer camp experience, I haven’t addressed what it was like for my family of refugees to land in America. This is that story.

When my family left Odessa, Ukraine in the late-1970s, we emigrated because of discrimination against and persecution of Jews like us. We were unable to practice our religion, or any religion, in the Soviet Union. Part of what drove us to America was freedom of religion. Also, in general, my parents wanted a chance at a better life.

We arrived in the United States with family already here, including my mother’s brother (my uncle) and my mother’s parents (my grandparents), so we weren’t entirely alone. Family helped where it could, and, when we were in greater need, Jewish Family & Children’s Services stepped in to help, like by sending me to Camp Tawonga. This was the experience of many Russian Jews who were refugees in America: private service agencies helped a lot, much more so than the government. It was very rare to find any of us reliant on governmental help.

My parents found success here in America. In Russia, my father was an engineer who designed toys, while my mother taught Russian language and literature and worked as a librarian. Here in the U.S., my father retrained as an electrical engineer and worked for a hardware manufacturing company, and my mother became an accountant working in personnel for Seagrams. They both felt lucky that, in this country, being a refugee wasn’t a barrier to success. They had opportunity. In fact, in my community, it seemed like the success rate was really high; our parents, and then me and my peers, had an intense drive to succeed in our new country.

As a child, I watched my parents work hard to establish our new lives here just as I worked hard to figure out how to fit into this new culture and place. It felt like drinking from a fire hose every day! Even though my family wasn’t particularly disadvantaged in Russia, we had still come from a poor country. In America, we were surrounded by excess in a way that we couldn’t have dreamed. So many things were mind-boggling, like the abundance of food at the supermarkets, and all of the things for sale all over the place. We had so many struggles to fit into the culture at all, to learn the ways of America, plus a language barrier. Without mastery of the English language, especially, we were truly handicapped at first.

Here, for a long time, I was afraid to raise my hand in class because I was afraid of how my words would come out. But I soon realized that the U.S. had true diversity. It felt like nobody was born here and that there were immigrants from everywhere, especially in the Jewish community, where it feels like we were all only one or two generations away from somebody’s parents or grandparents being fresh off of the boat. In Odessa, people rarely moved from place to place, but here, people are more mobile, even among cultures. We had a saying in Russia that you were born speaking Russian and you died speaking Russian, but here, it felt like you could be born in one culture and become another. It was okay to be different in the U.S., but not in Odessa, where conformity was the norm. It took a while for me to realize that the reason they call the U.S. a “melting pot” is that you can be anyone here, that it doesn’t matter if you are born into money or not, or if your parents do or do not have connections. In Russia, you had to have your parents’ connections to succeed at all. Here, networking helps with business success, but it’s rarely, if at all, family-driven.

And of course, part of the reason we came – freedom to practice our Jewish religion – became part of our lives and joy. This is where I want to end my story, because, on today’s news, the perception is that religion is polarizing and devastating nations. That this is untrue in the United States is is one of the things for which I am most thankful. My family did not have religious freedom at all in the Soviet Union. As polarizing as religion can seem here at times, let us never lose sight that we have the freedom to practice our faith, whatever it is, as well as the opportunity to create new, successful lives. There is no doubt that my family’s lives are far better than they would have been had we stayed in the Ukraine. This holiday season and always, I am grateful that my family had that opportunity.

Postscript: There are important distinctions between my family’s experience as refugees and that of today’s Syrians. My family experienced no violence or anything close to what Syrians are experiencing in their Civil War. The experience of today’s Syrians is a lot more like Jews’ experience in World War II. It is a humanitarian crisis. That was not my experience. I don’t write this piece in an attempt to speak for all refugees, or even to enter a political dialogue, as sensitive as I am to the plight of refugees. I write this piece to put a human face on one story, one experience – my own – in a time when we are considering what it means to be a refugee in America.

* In memory of my father, Roman Makagon, who passed away on August 23, 2015 *

Voice is the New Text


As EVP of Innovation for RingCentral, a communications company that recently expanded into the collaboration space with the acquisition of Glip, I’m a keen observer of evolution in the tech industry. I’ve written before about how the way we work is changing rapidly, especially as collaboration tools facilitate information sharing. Sharing isn’t only about e-mail, spreadsheets, calendering, and endless typing at a keyboard anymore, though. These days, information sharing can be voiced. In fact, I believe that Voice is the new Text.

Over the next five years, talking and typing will become increasingly interoperable. Already, your voicemail can be sent to your phone and converted into a text. Or as an alternative to text-based messages, Apple lets you send voice-based messages through iMessage. If you want to send a text specifically, you can speak into your phone, which will convert your speech into text. This no longer requires special software; phones come embedded with this technology. As well, we’re evolving from the days of tapping away on small smartphone keyboards. With the advent of wearables, imagine trying to type a text on that. It’s practically impossible! It’s not hard to imagine the near-future of voice messaging as talking into a smart watch.

More features and opportunities for voice messaging technology lie ahead. What if you had a voice-based personal assistant, like Siri on the iPhone, but more advanced? For example, if you’re talking about a to-do item, you could be prompted by your system: “Would you like me to schedule a task?” or “Would you like me to schedule that meeting now?” Notes from your meeting, whether in-person or virtual, can be transcribed with follow-up tasks scheduled and assigned with minimal, if any, in-person intervention. Voice and text truly will become interchangeable, with voice transcribed into text inline while you’re reading or typing a document. Many of the systems we use will begin interacting with voice systems to streamline our lives in this way. If you think about it, many cars already have these features so that we can communicate hands-free. The workplace will follow suit.

The ways in which we communicate and collaborate are constantly evolving. Some companies in this space are marrying communications and collaboration to create something even better, as RingCentral did with its acquisition of Glip. As integrating one powerful application with another becomes easier, it will be exciting to witness how much more efficient and hands-free our workspaces will be as Voice increasingly becomes the new Text.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn on November 11, 2015.

What Glip Means to RingCentral


The world is just starting to see why RingCentral was so excited to acquire Glip, back in June. Now we are beginning to make Glip team messaging and collaboration software part of a complete business communication and collaboration platform.

As RingCentral’s Executive Vice President of Innovation, I was one of the leading advocates of the acquisition because I believe we need to go beyond voice. Phone service is the essential backbone of any business, but traditional wired phones are not very exciting. Why is a smartphone sexier than the phone on your desk? Mobility is just part of it. Since the iPhone arrived, the mobile phone has turned into a multifunction device that just happens to include a phone. Meanwhile, desk phones remain stubbornly boring. I want RingCentral to be exciting.

Of course, our engineering and operations staff could tell you there is nothing boring about delivering reliable business phone service over the Internet. We jazz it up with software controls for reconfiguring phone networks, forwarding calls, and allowing employees mobile access to the corporate phone system from their personal phones. Still, if we think of voice as a communication and collaboration application, it is one of many. We have to go beyond that if we want to play a bigger part in the productivity and success of our customers.

What Glip gives us is a modern communication and collaboration framework that streamlines all the ways we work together in business. For any project or departmental activity, we can use team chat to keep everyone continually informed without the need to resort to annoying “reply to all” email threads. We can share files, assign tasks, track work, and maintain a team calendar. Contractors and consultants can be added to these teams as guests as needed and dropped from the team when their participation is no longer required.

When we need to connect in real-time, we can do that, too. With the latest update to the Glip platform, RingCentral Office customers can initiate a voice or video conference with the team as easily as they can send a chat message. Glip already offered video chat and screen sharing, which we now support under the banner of RingCentral Meetings.

Glip users with a RingCentral Office account can call a coworker by clicking on their photo. They can launch a conference call without the need to email dial-in details. Glip now lets users log in with their RingCentral Office password or corporate single sign-on. These are just the first steps in an experience we will continue to make more seamless as we weave Glip and RingCentral Office together at a deeper level.

While the calling features require RingCentral Office, Glip will continue to be available as an independent product – including a free version you can use with an unlimited number of coworkers, unlimited storage, and a free trial of RingCentral Meetings for video calls and screen sharing. At either $5 or $10 per user, per month, paid accounts include 24/7 support and thousands of minutes per month of video for each user (see for details).

Glip is already introducing us to new customers for RingCentral Office, and we expect that trend to accelerate as we prove the value of combining voice with other modes of communication. We are not the only ones who see the time is right for this: Gartner projects that by 2020 over 90 percent of enterprise voice calls in the digital workplace will originate from collaboration applications, up from less than 30 percent today.

Glip is our way of harnessing the innovation unleashed by cloud, mobile, and social technologies without the fragmentation. Workers can send a message, assign a task, schedule an event, share a file, and make a call, without the need to toggle between multiple single-purpose apps.

Our customers had been asking us for instant messaging as part of RingCentral Office. With Glip, we are giving them much more than that. Glip and RingCentral Office together empower businesses to keep their people connected, aligned, and on schedule to deliver great results. That is worth being excited about.

This post originally appeared on the RingCentral blog on November 3, 2015.