Friday 8 April 2016

A tent in Kazakhstan

One of a troika of mature students who helped me through the maelstrom of my first months at The Institute, is still around.  He graduated last May with a 1st Class Honours degree, which he achieved by working really hard, and working the system in a way that only a grown-up is capable of.  When I was a student, I booted my finals because I was off doing what I thought [probably correctly] was original research rather than paying attention to what was going to loom off the page in the exams. That lack of focus caused a wholly avoidable block to normal career progression.  Which was fine, because I went off on an abnormal career progression that has been interesting and mostly good fun. You don't want life to the all good fun, because it means someone is about to lose an eye.

This smart graduate has been in Ireland for about 10 year having joined the brain-drain from Lithuania as soon as they got entry to the EU.  25% of the people in the Baltic states have fled their native land since they stopped being socialist paradises in 1989. Early conversations revealed that, although he spoke Lithuanian, his first language and allegiance was to Mother Russia. That made for interesting discussions when Russia seized the Crimea a couple of years ago. The Western press made Putin and the Russian out to be rapacious monsters and Ukraine a beleaguered friend. This student had a different, almost equally polarised, take on the matter.  Let's call him Pocc to differentiate from my pal Russ who hasn't a word of Russian and has never driven a tank.

In the run up to graduation Pocc applied for a number of jobs where he, and indeed I, thought, his skillset might be useful.  One of them was as an apparatchik of Enterprise Ireland EI, the quango that funnels tax-payers money into the wallets of multinationals.  No, no, that's the Industrial Development Authority IDA; EI helps Irish businesses to get a toehold in the market . . . with tax-payers money.  I'm sure there's a lot of overlap whatever their mission statements might be.  Now you want to know what their MSs are.
Helping Irish Companies to Achieve Global Success.
Maximise the impact of FDI in the transformation of Ireland into a global hub for innovation and commercialisation, bringing new employment opportunities and economic benefits for all its people by sustaining and winning high quality investment. In collaboration with other stakeholders, will ensure Ireland remains a uniquely attractive environment in which multinational companies can grow.
Okay which one is EI's? which one is IDA's? and who cares?  Who could write such opaque waffle and get paid a six figure salary for it? Which CEO would allow an unexplained jargon-acronym [FDI] in a mission statement? Have they not heard of Globish?  Would they pay me €100,000/yr to write carefully crafted Blobs for the export market?

ANNyway Pocc went up to Dublin for interview and aptitude tests at EI. Before he went I was bigging him up by saying that his skills in science, in networking and his connexions with Russia, not to mention fluency in the language would surely make him a shoo-in for the Eurasia desk at Enterprise Ireland.  I developed this fantasy that he would be sent on a mission to one of the ex-SSRs to negotiate a sweet-deal for Ballymaloe Relish or Irish Smoked Salmon.  After building up his contacts over there, he would be able to jump ship and start dealing on his own account.  "Why Pocc", I said, "in ten years time you will be Governor of an Oblast in Kazakhstan.  I hope you'll remember me when I want to go on holidays. Guest suite in the Governor's Palace: I'll only stay a week".  That never came to pass because EI decided they had enough employees who were fluent in Russian, and so Pocc stayed on at The Institute to do a Level 8 qualification in computing.  Like all such qualifications in the IT sector, graduation is contingent on a 12 week work-placement.

Pocc asked if I could help him get placed in the world of bioinformatics, where I have an extensive network of contacts. Turns out that a pal-o-mine could use an extra pair of qualified hands this Summer, so I have more or less negotiated a match. Telling him that his work placement was 'sorted', I said that he owed me one.  He replied that his dreams of power in Kazakhstan hadn't been dampened by know-nothing truculence from Enterprise Ireland.
"I will have a tent for you and your family in Kazakhstan", he cried, "and fresh camels".
"Tent? What about the guest suite in the Governor's Palace?"
"No, no, Kazakhstan is like Libya, Muammar Gaddafi always stayed in tents in the desert."
The USSR, in which Pocc grew up, was so vast that a citizen living in Lithuania could have fairy-tale fantasies about what life was like 5000km away in the same country.

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