Off to Belgrade, Serbia

So I have had the opportunity to visit my team in Serbia twice this year.  Our first visit was to discuss Q1 plans and how things are going in the server business in Serbia and how our outreach was going to IT Pros across the country.  I love this team where 2 guys are doing the work of 15.  During our brainstorming, we decided to launch our first ever Influencer Summit in Central Eastern Europe at the Sinergija Conference.  Sinergija is the Serbian’s team largest IT Pro and Developer conference that has been running for more than ten years.  This year we decided to do a pre-day with our top technical experts across Central Eastern Europe to bring them together, share their stories, get additional trainings and understand better their needs for the support they do for local communities.  We brought 85 experts from Russia, Poland, Hungary, Greece, Romania, Croatia, Slovenia, Malta, Bosnia, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Serbia.  We also brought some MVP experts to speak, Microsoft Research and one of our Security experts from EMEA.  The poor team hit Murphy’s law like no other.  First, with an outbreak of swine flu that scared many from wanting to travel to Serbia.  Then the patriarch pasted away and the country was declared 3 days of mourning which put businesses on hold.  Then the track leaders of their Win7 sessions got the worse flu and had their demo machine stolen.  But the team still moved forward and drives an amazing conference!

As you can see from most of my trips, they are composed of the MS office, Conference Center, Hotel and some local restaurant.  So Jose, Gavin and I did a tourist trip on overdrive after breakfast.  We powered through the sites in 2 hours before we had to head and do our sessions.  So a little about Belgrade, Serbia...  Belgrade (Beograd) is the capital of Serbia, and has a population of around 1.6 million. It is situated in South-Eastern Europe, on the Balkan Peninsula, at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers. It is one of the oldest cities in Europe and has since ancient times been an important focal point for traffic, an intersection of the roads of Eastern and Western Europe.  Belgrade is one of the oldest cities in Europe, with archeological finds tracing settlements as early as the 6th millennium BC.  Belgrade’s wider city area was the birthplace of the largest prehistoric culture of Europe.  I was quite surprised to read this.  Also, Serbia has been conquered by many groups.  In medieval times, it was in the possession of Byzantine, Frankish, Bulgarian, and Hungarian rulers. In 1521 Belgrade was conquered by the Ottomans and became the seat of the Pashaluk of Belgrade, as the principal city of Ottoman Europe and among the largest European cities. It frequently passed from Ottoman to Austrian rule and remained an Austrian outpost until the breakup of Austria-Hungary in 1918. The united city then became the capital of several incarnations of Yugoslavia, up to 2006, when Serbia became an independent state again.

Couple of cool sites to visit: Kalemegdan Park, St Mark’s, Old Palace, Student’s square, parliament, and the walking area is pretty nice.  A few pictures below:


Visiting Budapest, Hungary

So I am a bit behind in my blog, so I am going to try to catch up with my trip to Hungary, Serbia, Ukraine, Romania and TechEd Berlin.  My last three weeks have been a little crazy.  So first stop Hungary.  We have a great team of Zoltan, Peter and Judith.  Unfortunately, our team of three is severely understaffed and taking on more work possible for three people.  For a team of three they are doing an amazing job but have a lot on their plate to make significant strides and changes in the business.  With this launch wave of new products (Windows 7, Windows Server 2008R2, Exchange, System Center, Forefront, SQL, Visual Stoudio, Office 2010 and the list goes on), my lead Peter is doing so great outreach and creativity with helping IT Professionals get up to speed, improve their skills and have all the resources needed to help their companies save money and be more efficent.  What makes things very difficult is the current economy.  After long days and many meetings, a little about Hungary…  A great article from the Economist, talks about Hungary is on its way out of this recession just a little exceprt below for detailed article visit-   
AFTER years of crisis, Hungarians are used to belt-tightening. Although Hungary was among the European Union members that suffered most in the recession—GDP will shrink by 7% this year, just behind Romania and the Baltics—the outlook is now better, thanks partly to recent austerity measures.  The government has trimmed public spending by fully 3.8% of GDP this year, with most cuts falling on social spending and public-sector pay. These cuts came on top of earlier ones that reduced the budget deficit from 9.2% of GDP in 2006 to just 3.4% in 2008. More are on the way. The Socialist government, led by Gordon Bajnai, wants to chop an extra 1.7% next year to keep the deficit within the IMF-approved limit of 3.8% of GDP. It has also set up an independent fiscal council to monitor compliance with budget-balance targets.  The combination of these cuts and a big IMF loan is having a marked effect. The threat of a run on the currency has receded. The banks, mostly foreign-owned, have not collapsed, as many had feared. The forint is not quite back to where it was before the financial crisis but the central bank has felt able to start cutting interest rates.  What Hungary really needs is a review of all areas of public spending. A slimmer state requires big reforms. Yet the likely election winner, the centre-right Fidesz party, has spent the past seven years zealously denouncing even tiny reforms as sell-outs to fat cats or as disasters that would condemn the country to poverty. As elsewhere, Hungary’s underlying problems arose from wage rises unmatched by productivity growth and social spending that is too generous. It may be optimistic to think that, like the rest of Europe, Hungary has now learnt its lesson.
A liitle about the country- Budapest is the capital of Hungary and is split into 2 main areas: Buda-The hilly West side of the Danube (Districts I-III, XI-XII, XXII) and Pest-The flat East side of the Danube, covering the modern commercial core of the city(Districts IV-IX). Top sites:
  • The Parliament Building (Országház). A neogothic jewel, beautifully situated overlooking the Danube. It is very much worth going inside, but you can only do that during guided tours, which are FREE (ignore those trying to pick you up outside the Parliament). Tickets for guided tours can be obtained each day from 8AM. You will have to go in front of the Parliament and queue at the ticket line. Again, ignore those that ask you if you want a guided tour. Just pick up your ticket inside and come back at the hour on the ticket. Guided tours in English are held each day at 10, 12 and 14.
  • St. Stephen Cathedral (Szent István Bazilika). The main church of Budapest is an important example of neoclassical architecture, recently renovated.
  • Great Synagogue and the Jewish Museum (Dohány utcai Zsinagóga) The biggest Synagogue in Europe, and the most impressive in the world. Next to the Synagogue is a small but impressive museum. In the rear of the Synagogue is a memorial for victems of the Shoah. The synagogue was recently restored to its former grandeur. A block away you’ll find a smaller, but nearly identical synagogue built long before the Great Synagogue. The plaque in front explains that this was used as some sort of assembly grounds for those persecuted during the Holocaust before they were deported. It has not been renovated, and you can see through the boards on the outside how decrepit it still is. A chilling sight.
  • The Royal Palace (Királyi palota). The most popular attraction on the hill. Very cool and there is a yummy wine cellar at the Palace- you must try….
  • National Gallery (Nemzeti Galéria) Inside the Royal Palace wings B, C and D houses an astounding collection of paintings.
  • The Fisherman’s Bastion and lookout terrace (Halászbástya). For impressive views across the Danube to Pest.
  • Matthias Church (Mátyás templom, aka Church of Our Lady). Dominant neogothic church crowning Budapest’s cityscape – nowadays is under reconstruction.
    Couple pictures from the trip: