Of all the people in the world, Russians are probably the ones that get stereotyped the most. Russians and former Soviets are often thought of as villains, spies, or hackers. And this being portrayed in films and mainstream media in the same light, only drove people’s misconceptions in the wrong direction. Ivan Drago in the 1985 film Rocky IV, the main characters on the FX series The Americans, and the computer technician in the 1995 James Bond flick Goldeneye come to our minds.
Three scholars of Russian studies from Northeastern University want to break these stereotypes. Their co-written book presents an entirely different picture, one that casts light on immigrants from the former Soviet Union who made significant contributions to the US technology sector. “We wanted to portray people as they really are, rather than as stereotypes that often appear,” said co-author Daniel Satinsky.
Titled Hammer and Silicon, the name is a reference to both the bygone symbol of the USSR, the hammer and sickle, and the silicon chip, which symbolizes the United States’ high-tech industry. The authors interviewed 157 people, from Russian scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs who settled in either the Boston area or Silicon Valley in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The book chronicles the personal and professional experiences of more these 150 highly educated people who emigrated from the former Soviet Union to the United States over the past four decades.
Some of the interviewees have worked at technology giants like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook. Others paved their own entrepreneurial paths by launching startups in the high-tech sector. The book aims to bring to light scientists in the Boston area who have contributed to path-breaking research and discovery at universities, hospitals, and medical schools, and biotech and pharmaceutical companies.
These talented bunch of russians raised and generated turnovers of billions of dollars which, eventually, helped the US market and technology to grow. The book also highlights the experiences and contributions of four Northeastern faculty members: Slava Epstein, Vladimir Torchilin, Dmitri Krioukov, and the late Alexander Gorlov, who died in 2016, who have achieved great feats such as the discovery of a new antibiotic with the ability to combat drug-resistant pathogens to inventing a dam-free water turbine. “We have ample evidence in our book of immigrants getting the job done,” said co-author Sheila Puffer.
“Immigrants from the former Soviet Union contributed significantly to the U.S. innovation economy, but those contributions have been undiscovered, unrecognized, and unpublicized,” said Daniel McCarthy, co-author. “This book is an attempt to bring those contributions to light.”