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Press about Auriga

Sep 8, 2004

U.S. Outdoorsman Logs Into Russia

The Moscow Times,
Denis Maternovsky

Computer programming may not be the first occupation that springs to mind when one imagines subsistence living in the Canadian wilderness, but that is exactly where Bart Higgins, a vice president of Russia's Auriga outsourcing company, began his career as a software engineer.

Higgins and his wife moved to a remote part of Canada, where they cleared a plot of land, built a log cabin and lived for 14 years.

"In the winter, because everything was frozen, you couldn't do much. So, when in the early eighties the first computers came out, I began to learn programming just to do something in the wintertime," Higgins said.

A native of Connecticut in the United States, Higgins' career has only recently led him to Russia, as he has spent much of his adult life in Canada. Like many Americans of his generation, Higgins, 56, moved there in the late 1960s to avoid being sent to Vietnam.

"I wasn't really drafted for military service, but I anticipated that I might be," Higgins recalled.

After getting his degree in literature from York University in Toronto, Higgins spent three years teaching American literature at the humanities department there.

But soon his life took a completely different direction.

"Both my wife and I were about to start our Ph.D. programs and we just thought: 'Is this what we want to do in life? While we are still young, let's take more risks, and we can always come back to this,'" he said.

It was then that Higgins and his wife moved to a remote and isolated part of northeastern Canada, on the coast of Labrador, facing toward Greenland, trying, as he puts it, "to recapitulate the core American experience."

The couple cleared a plot of land and built a log cabin, where the family lived for 14 years.

"It was frozen in the winter. There were no roads, no cars, we had no electricity and no running water," said Higgins, who is still fascinated with the wilderness and the American frontier.

In the early 1980s, Higgins bought his first computer, which worked off batteries, and learned Basic programming.

His first job was to make a cash register for a friend's shop.

Higgins and his wife then launched a small software company that took on programming jobs during the winter. In the summer, Higgins would work for the local fishing industry, as there was no other work in Labrador.

One of his early programming contracts was to make a scheduler for final exams at the local college.

"I was very afraid that the day that the first examinations were held, it would come on the radio that scores of people came to the same room at the same time, but it turned out okay," he recalled.

In 1993, when Higgins' daughter turned 13, the family decided to move back to the United States.

Several years later, at the age of 48, Higgins got what he described as his "first not homemade job" as a sales manager for Indian outsourcing giant Infosys Technologies.

After almost seven years with Infosys, Higgins resigned in 2003, and a few months later landed himself a job with Auriga, one of Russia's largest software developers.

He became one of the few Americans to work for a Russian programming company.

Although he works out of Auriga's small U.S. office in New Hampshire, he also travels to the Moscow headquarters on a regular basis, and most of his co-workers in the United States are Russians.

"I am taking Russian language courses so that the working environment does not feel so alien," he said.

Higgins has ambitious plans for Auriga.

He said that the company's objective over the next five years is to have a minimum annual revenue increase of 50 percent.

Higgins is critical of numerous aspects of Russia's outsourcing industry, which remains only a fraction of the size of India's.

In India, a company like Auriga -- which employs less than 170 people and last year had revenues of $4 million -- would not even be among the top 100 software firms, he said, while in Russia it is considered one of the largest.

By comparison, India's Infosys has roughly 25,000 employees and over $1 billion in revenues.

"We do look at India as our main competitor. It's just that they don't seem to notice," Higgins said, adding that for the most part Russian software companies are "not a presence" for India's outsourcers.

Among the reasons for Russia lagging behind in the outsourcing industry, Higgins cited restrictive customs legislation, high internet costs, the lack of an efficient system of incentives for programmers and, most importantly, a prevailing Soviet-style "culture of secrecy," as opposed to India's "benchmark-oriented" culture.

"I have never seen so many locks in my life! You can't hold things in two hands as you always need a free hand to open the door," Higgins joked, referring to the company's Moscow office.

While locks might be justified for safeguarding the companies' research, the fact that most local companies are not transparent, as far as their financial expectations and results are concerned, ultimately makes the market less competitive, he said.

But while he is aware of the local industry's shortcomings as a whole, Higgins has nothing but kind words for Russian programmers.

"They are not only deeply educated, they are broadly educated," he said.

"In the office I will talk about literature with the sales guy and we exchange books."

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