Did you know Romania is a top country in the IT sector? We are worldwide known for our skills! Oana is the perfect representative of this extremely talented group: she is co-founder of Romanian IT, a global association with its HQ in Paris, over 1000 worldwide members and a few local centers in the most relevant countries on Earth. Today's interview is about the success of Romanian performers abroad, about the huge potential they have, about what Romanian IT does to support them, and many more.
Name: Oana Bouraoui
Abroad since: 2013
Living in: Paris
Current position & company: Cofounder & Vicepresident @ Romanian IT
TGR: Oana, is really Cluj the Silicon Valley of Europe?
OB: Cluj is a very vibrant city, full of life and opportunities. Is it the Silicon Valley of Europe? It could be some day, but no, today it is not.
A few months ago, I had the chance to attend an open Q&A session with Sam Altman, the president of Y Combinator. I asked him exactly that. What is the secret behind San Francisco's success and what is keeping us, the European countries in general and Romania, from getting there.
I agree with him 100% when he said it's all about the mindset. He went on and gave us the following example that in my opinion sums it up perfectly: if you tell somebody from Silicon Valley that you want to quit your job, go on and start raising pink poneys, he is going to say "That is awesome, how can I help?". If you tell the same thing to somebody from Europe, you are most probably going to get an answer like "You are crazy, you can't do that."
Besides mindset, I believe that the second thing keeping us from getting there is the fact that we just recently began to understand the huge importance of networking, and we still haven't figured out how to make the most of it.
Maybe we should focus more on finding and exploring the things that make us unique and build our own success story, instead of always striving to become the next Silicon Valley and see all the things we are still lacking.
I strongly believe in the huge potential Romania has, regarding the IT sector and in general, and I know someday we will get there. This is one of the main reason we have founded Romanian IT.
But with so many tech hubs in Romania, we should be a top country in the IT sector. Do you feel we get the acknowledgement we deserve worldwide?
Romania does have many tech hubs, the IT sector is one of the main drivers of our economy. I believe we are already very competitive, Bucharest is listed in the top Eastern Europe startup Ecosystems.
I have recently attended the Open Innovation 2.0 held in Cluj Napoca. There were a lot of international guests and I got to talk to quite a few, just about that - to get their feedback and to get a feel of the city trough their eyes.
To my surprise, most of them were very impressed by what they found in Cluj, and said we should show the world more of what is happening here.
So I guess we are starting to become pretty visible. The fact that we managed to attract and host such a conference is a very good sign.
What about you? What made you move to Paris?
That is a question I get asked a lot. Honestly, there wasn't just one main reason.
At the time I left Romania, I was 26 and kind of confused about what I like or want to do and what should come next.
All I knew is that I had to make a change. I needed to gain some more perspective on life. I felt I was stuck here in Romania and that I wasn't seeing things clearly enough. Together with my husband, we decided to move to Tunisia for one year and then go to France, and that's exactly what we did.
We both needed a new challenge, and for me moving to Paris to work as a designer & developer was pretty exciting and scary at the same time. It turned out to be the beginning of an amazing personal and professional journey.
So, to answer the question, I left because I felt there is more out there, that I need to learn more about the world and about myself.
And Paris seems the best place for you to discover yourself...
Well, I had the chance to travel around a bit. I still haven't seen a more beautiful city than Paris.
Running is one of my biggest passions. Paris has some of the most beautiful parks. To be honest, running around the city is the main way I discovered it and fell in love with its charm.
The city has never failed to amaze me, whether I was just driving around the narrow streets or the wide boulevards, visiting the museums of the amazing royal gardens. It truly is the city of lights, and you can feel history soaking in your skin while walking around the city. I admire the respect French have for history, and how determined they are to preserve every little bit of it.
When I have friends over, I always like to take them far from all the touristic areas and give them a chance to discover Paris the way I have.
Is there anything you'd like to be different?
It's not necessarily about Paris, but about big cities in general. I was born and raised in Cluj, a welcoming middle-sized city in the heart of Transylvania, where people are known for their calm and warmth. It was a bit of a challenge to adapt to the fast-paced life in Paris and especially to the French people, who are not especially known for their extremely warm nature.
I guess the only thing I think could be better is concerning people there. Everybody is so busy, time is limited, so this makes people very careful with how they spend their time. This makes it a bit difficult to make new friend there.
Pros and cons like anywhere else, but most importantly, the perfect environment to launch an ambitious project like Romanian IT...
Romanian IT is very dear to us, the founders, Vlad, Valentin and I. It all started as a crazy idea. Looking back, we are all so grateful for having the courage to pursue it, despite everything that was telling us not to...
We got the idea after we moved to Paris, and it appeared as a response to a need we felt at a personal level. It came as a solution to our desire to give back to Romania, keep our connections to the Romanian IT sector and to our home.
It is the best way we found to make a difference and give others the chance to do the same. We are trying to define a new way of living and working, not just building yet another community.
The people are at the center of everything we do. Our goal is to create opportunities for them. Educational, professional and networking opportunities. We have started to build this global framework that is meant to connect them, give them a chance to collaborate, innovate and exchange.
That is how all positive change comes about. Bringing amazing people together, empower them to be their best and give them the tools they need to become positive change agents.
So, our long term goal is to consolidate an actionable network that, through collective global action will bring about positive change for Romania, and help it reach the potential we all know it has.
In six months only - you have managed to open a branch in every developed country. Do you feel you have missed any opportunities so far?
No matter how fast we go, we feel that it's not enough and sometimes that can get a little frustrating. We have a lot of ideas and projects and we are very determined to make them happen. We always feel like we could do more, and I don't think that will change anytime soon.
This has been a great life lesson: we had to learn the hard way that you won't always finish everything you start... Even if it's hard, you need to learn when you need to give up some of the projects and focus on the most important ones.
Which is your personal role in Romanian IT?
Working with people and travelling have always been the two things I loved most. It was therefore a natural choice to take over the task of building the community, the communication and marketing of global and local teams. It involves moving around a lot and interacting with people from all over the world. In one way, I see this as creating my dream job when I failed to find.
How many full time members are working for Romanian IT?
The only people working almost full time is us the founders. The community is developed with the help of our ambassadors, volunteer teams and members from all over the world. Romanian IT is an NGO, we don't have a full time paid team yet, but it's one of our objectives for the near future.
On the other hand, it's a huge energy boost for us to see how many amazing people all over the world are volunteering their time and resources to help develop the community. It is the main fuel that keeps us going.
Which is the project you are mostly proud of so far?
I have two favourite projects.
The global campaign "IT without boundaries" is one of our first and most important campaigns. It is basically about discovering the places where there are communities of Romanians working in tech, going there to launch a local Romanian IT chapter and start building the local community.
I am very fond of this campaign because, as the lead on community building, it has given me the chance to meet so many amazing Romanians all over the world. I get to talk to them, listen to their stories, and I am very happy to see they haven't forgotten about Romania. Most of them want to get involved in projects that will have a positive impact back home.
The second one is the global mentorship program "Find my mentor" that we have recently launched in partnership with LSRS (Liga studentilor romani in strainatate). It is very important to me, because I believe education and access to the right resources are the key to making real changes. This program allows Romanians worldwide to connect, create lasting relashionships and most importantly to learn from one another. It is meant to get the know-how flowing between the members of the community globally and to get them to collaborate. That for me is priceless.
Oana, so you travel a lot as I can see - what about Romania? You have been recently to Cluj, haven't you?
At the beginning of the year, I decided to spend the summer here and take a tour of Romania. Since May, I have mostly been here in my hometown Cluj, getting ready to start the tour in August, when I will be targeting the tech hubs and must see places. I want people to learn about what Romania has to offer and along side with them, I will too.
While I was in Romania, I was only in Cluj. It feels like people here are living in a bubble, isolated from the rest of the country. I want to understand how things are outside Cluj, see how people live and work. I am trying to reconnect.
What did you have back home and cannot find in Paris?
Family. But that's not completely true, because I consider my friends as part of my family. I feel very lucky to have met amazing people all over the word. They have become an important part of my life, we learn from each other and support each other. That for me is the definition of family, and I have realized you can build one wherever yo go.
Please tell me something particular about Romania that you would usually say to a foreign friend.
I am happy to see that a lot of people are starting to put Romania on their travel list. What I usually tell them is that they must visit because of the beautiful landscapes, rich traditions and of course all the music festivals and parties for which we have become very well known.
How does your future look like? Would you prefer focusing on entrepreneurship, do you see yourself programming again?
My job brings me a lot of satisfaction, and I really enjoy it. Lately though, I have dedicated less and less time to that, Romanian IT is slowly taking over most of my time. I don't consider myself an entrepreneur, I feel like I still have a lot to learn. I guess I might be considered a social entrepreneur.
Having my own business has crossed my mind many times, and there is no doubt that in a year or two I'll go that way. Right now, I want to focus on building Romanian IT, shaping it into what we envision it to be; take it to the point where the community will be autonomous and will be able to grow by itself.
What is your biggest dream?
What I want most is to travel. I want to visit every country in the world. For me traveling is the highest form of education. It opens up your mind and soul.
Since I quit my last traditional job, I have one goal: to live a simple life, and the most important thing, to be able to do what I want, when I want and how I want.
I want freedom to make the choices that feel right. In other words, I want to be the only person that has control over my decisions and my life. That’s why, every time when I have a choice to make, I ask myself how that is affecting my freedom.
Chris Guillebeau, the guy who visited all 192 countries in the world, talks about the art of non-conformity and about living a customized life. He says we should focus on living a fulfilled life, instead on living a balanced one. Looking for balance and conformity limits us and it's not the way people who want to make a change choose.
That is what I'm looking for. Finding my own way.
And your first steps have been done - maybe your way is to connect people, and you seem to do a fabulous job for the time being! Thank you, Oana, for your time!
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