Tech in the Valley, Working in Kathmandu

9 Mar. 2014 - - Total Reads 6,000

Nepal

The questions I get asked when people find our software development office is in Kathmandu, is why there? What is it like? Did you go hiking?

I first started sending work there around 10 years ago, checking out border countries India and China as comparisons. I was coding and selling software to Melbourne companies employing fellow students from Melbourne University. Engineering back then was probably the most global cultural melting pot you could imagine and the guys actually sparked the idea of building a team overseas well before offshoring was common knowledge.

What endeared me most about Nepal was the people I met. I note in the early 2000s when I first went to meet software engineers there, I had to get over the unstable political space: the ruling royal family was massacred at a dinner party and the rest of my hotel was occupied by the UN to help establish democracy. It was quite an incredible time. While there were bombs literally going off in and around Kathmandu, India I thought was far more of a battleground for a startup. Microsoft, Infosys and other large corporates were already pulling the best available talent, shutting out small startups like mine. Plus you couldn’t walk down the street without having 50 people follow you begging. A stark contrast to Nepal where the locals were like, ‘oh yeah another tourist’. The Nepalese family values were beautiful; a place I would happily visit every year. But another huge advantage was engineering/IT was a major export for the country. I’ve been 7 times in the last decade and we now have 40 in our office.

The country is, as most imagine, picturesque: a postcard around every corner, with some of the densest world heritage areas on the planet. But the city is crowded; with over half the population living in central Kathmandu, it is highly polluted like a lot of emerging cities. You’ll see me wearing a mask as I walk or transit to work on the back of our General Manager’s bike (don’t bother with cars there: there are constant traffic jams and only one set of working traffic lights). If you do happen to catch a taxi, the meters broke in the mid-80s, so its set fees and you should ask for the price upfront, but the range varies from driver to driver (sometimes double if they are feeling lucky!)

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I’ve seen nearly every corner of the country, except Pokhara which I’m saving till I can take the wife and kids. It is one of the truly magical places on earth – historical city on a lake in the Himalayas under Everest and the Annapurna range (Google images if you have a few minutes). I’ve fought with monkeys over food; bungee-jumped the cliffs between Nepal and Tibet; joined Hindu and Buddhist festivals; and witnessed ritual sacrifices in mountain temples across the country. In fact, in Manakamana it is said that a wish made during the ritual offerings will be granted in your life. I wished for a family and met my wife soon after returning to Melbourne, so maybe there is something truly magical happening there.

I haven’t hiked to Everest base camp or up any of the larger ranges, simply because I’m there for a week or two to work, and the shortest hikes are around 10 days. Plus the overpopulation, litter and almost daily deaths on Everest don’t feel like the right way to enjoy this incredible country. I’ve done short hikes of a day or two with my senior team members, tourist free, sometimes to their home villages – places that have remained untouched for centuries and care little for change. It is amazing to see how many of us would have lived decades and centuries ago: the challenges we have solved and created in the modern cities of the world.

My last trip had been after some major growth at &Mine – both clients and new team members across all offices – so I was busy working with the guys to optimise every aspect of the business I could. With some huge wins already on the board, we’ve got many more tasks ahead to build the world-class back-end office to rival those multinational rivals in India. We’ve also started networking with larger corporates across finance, banking, government, tourism and similar national verticals in Nepal to plan and be part of the next steps in the evolution which has taken place in their neighboring countries. On a commercial front through our business entities there, we are investing in property and looking at ways we can further support local charities.

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While I miss my family dearly (to be honest not the crying, nappies and dishes!), I look forward to my time there, as every year I learn more and more about Nepal, the business and interestingly, myself.

If you do want ever want to experience Nepal, it is one of the most unique places on earth, make sure you hit me up beforehand for some pro-tips, on-the ground connections and must sees.

– Michael

Michael Simonetti
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