Category Archives: Blogging

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 glip.com/pricing 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.

Monthly Mentions: October 2015

Monthly Mentions recaps my publications, citations, and appearances for the month. My goal is to share broadly my thoughts on women in technology leadership, cloud technology, entrepreneurship, and more.

In the press this month, I published:

Making Collaboration as Pervasive as Dial-Tone on the Huffington Post

Learning the Product-Market Fit Tango on the Huffington Post

On my blog this month, I wrote:

 The Future Is Now

Making Collaboration as Pervasive as Dial-Tone: This Week on HuffPo

Takeaways from RingCentral’s “Magic Quadrant” Recognition

This Month on HuffPo: Learning the Product-Market Fit Tango

On my LinkedIn page this month, I shared:

My Top 4 Productivity Hacks

The Future Is Now

Learning the Product-Market Fit Tango

The Future Is Now

 

In the movie “Back to the Future Part II,” Marty McFly travels to October 21, 2015, to save his children, yet to be born in the original “Back to the Future” in 1985. Watching these movies in the 80s, who didn’t covet the ultimate time machine, Doc’s DeLorean car? Fast-forwarding to today, the future is now. Cars may not be time machines, but they do have some pretty amazing capacities.

Could Doc have imagined that Silicon Valley — not Detroit, or Germany, or Japan — would hold the future of the automotive industry? Drive through the Valley, and, chances are, you’ll see lots of Teslas, built nearby in Fremont, California. Tesla is not just an automaker; it’s also a technology and design company with a focus on energy innovation. It has revolutionized the automotive industry by taking the maintenance and high gas costs out of owning a vehicle. With a battery that can be recharged at home taking up very little space underneath the car’s chassis, Tesla has changed not only the face of automotive energy consumption and related pollution reduction; it has also altered how we use space in cars, as there are markedly less parts in these low-maintenance electric vehicles.

In Mountain View, California, chances are that you’ll come across one of Google’s self-driving cars. Making the case for such vehicles, their website reads: “Aging or visually impaired loved ones wouldn’t have to give up their independence. Time spent commuting could be time spent doing what you want to do. Deaths from traffic accidents—over 1.2 million worldwide every year—could be reduced dramatically, especially since 94% of accidents in the U.S. involve human error. “ Who knows if and when these vehicles will become mainstream, but those statistics make a compelling case for their ongoing exploration. And rumor has it that neighboring Apple, in Cupertino, California, is also staffing up an automotive division and is about to enter this race for the future of cars.

Amid all of these exciting advances, there remains much work to be done. My iPhone doesn’t interface with my own car. I wonder, are Americans picking their cars now based, in part, on interface capabilities? The New York Times covered this a bit in September in a piece called “Complex Car Software Becomes the Weak Spot under the Hood.” Advances like automated braking have huge upsides safety-wise, but then, too, there is new potential for multiple points of failure. My friend’s Jeep Grand Cherokee, which has an interface she loves, was recalled for a software upgrade because hackers proved they could take control of one of these SUVs remotely. That’s scary!

Innovation in this industry may never reach time-machine capabilities, but the future is exciting, including what’s available here and now. I don’t doubt that Marty McFly and Doc would be surprised at the technological advances they’d find between 1985 and 2015 — or have much sympathy for the inability of my phone and my car to talk. We’ve come a long way in thirty years, and who knows where cars will be in thirty years — perhaps not only self-driving, but flying! After all, the Terrafugia prototypes are well underway. Now that would really be something.

Making Collaboration as Pervasive as Dial Tone: This Week on HuffPo

 

This week on the Huffington Post, I discuss workplace communications and collaboration technology. With RingCentral’s acquisition of Glip this summer, we now offer a single stream of communications that flows across all devices and flexes to support multiple modes of communication and collaboration: team chat, document sharing, project and task management, plus voice and video calls and conferences. This blending of synchronous and asynchronous communication reflects the real workstream of a team and allows for maximum communication and collaboration benefit.

To get work done, we need to communicate, and we need to collaborate. The distinction between the two will fade as we break down the barriers between different modes of interaction – all the ways we exchange messages, share documents, or connect in real time.

We built our company around reinventing phone service in the cloud. We recognize businesses need a broader range of communications and collaboration options, but to really make a difference they need to be broadly used. Collaboration needs to be as pervasive as dial tone. Read my case for this on this week’s HuffPo by clicking here.

Takeaways from RingCentral’s “Magic Quadrant” Recognition

 

As EVP of Innovation for RingCentral, my delight in our company’s positioning as a leader in the 2015 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications as a Service report is palpable. RingCentral’s position as the most “visionary” company on the quadrant is particularly noteworthy. It is truly an honor for any company to receive this recognition from the most distinguished and capable analyst firm covering technology. Now, the task ahead for me and for my company is making sure that we retain our position as a leader in this space ongoing.

Just because we’ve been recognized at this high level doesn’t mean that we’ve “made it,” or that we can rest. There is a bigger and more receptive mainstream market to which we need to deliver cloud communications, and we are up against some mighty competitors with more resources than we have trying to capture our same market. With today’s workforce being highly distributed, increasingly mobile, and accustomed to ease of communication across devices and locations, we must continue to innovate to stay at the forefront in our industry. This is no time to slow down; this recognition is motivation and is just the beginning of much more growth, innovation, and expansion for our company.

Continuous focus on innovation and strong execution is how we will remain atop our game. I’ve written before on the importance of three types of innovation: invention, acquisition, and partnerships. With the launch of our RingCentral Connect platform for developers, our acquisition of collaboration platform Glip, and integrations with companies like Microsoft, Google, and Salesforce, RingCentral has demonstrated our skill in innovating all three ways. Moving forward, we will remain laser-focused on innovation as we execute on our forward-facing vision. Combining our awareness of evolving customer needs and technological progress with building on our core strengths and core products, we will expand horizontally, vertically, and internationally. Expanding horizontally requires broadening our suite of products. Expanding vertically means broadening our reach into other industries. Expanding internationally will extend our global reach. We already serve a global customer base with offices all around the world, and we need to make sure that we stay on top of supporting them.

Product innovation makes great companies. Being recognized as visionary in that realm is incredibly motivating and begets more excitement about more innovation. Supported by our vision, strong overall company execution, an expanding customer base, continuous growth at a sustainable rate, and sound financial planning, our company will continue to balance it all — to fire on all cylinders — in support of our leadership position in Gartner’s “magic quadrant.”