The recent acquisition by online giant Snapchat of Odesa-based Looksery for USD 150 million has highlighted the strength and economic potential of Ukraine’s burgeoning IT industry. The Ukrainian IT sector is one of the few segments of the economy to have performed impressively over the past two years, continuing to expand despite the broader economic malaise gripping the country. Ukrainian IT employees are a growing class of upwardly mobile professionals capable of competing successfully on global markets, with the country recognised as one of the world’s top outsourcing destinations and a prime location for innovative research and programming centres.
The pace of this IT sector growth is now in danger of outstripping supply. Ukraine simply doesn’t have enough qualified professionals to meet the expanding levels of international demand for skilled IT staff. If the Ukrainian IT sector is to reach its potential as one of the engines of the new Ukrainian knowledge economy, a fresh generation of IT experts needs to be nurtured.
The BrainBasket Foundation is leading current efforts to prepare this new generation of Ukrainian IT specialists. Launched in 2015 and supported by a number of leading Ukrainian IT companies including main donor Ciklum, BrainBasket aims to facilitate the training of 100,000 new IT specialists by 2020 via a combination of informational support and educational initiatives. Business Ukraine magazine spoke to BrainBasket team about the vast potential of the Ukrainian IT sector and the challenges of keeping pace with developments in this most dynamic of industries.
Which areas of the Ukrainian IT sector currently suffer from the greatest shortages of qualified employees?
The Ukrainian IT sector is dominated by outsourcing companies developing products for Europe and the US. The industry lacks senior specialists in programming, quality assurance and project management.
According to your research, how many extra work places could the Ukrainian IT sector potentially provide in the short- to medium-term?
The Ukrainian IT industry is developing dynamically and can easily generate around 200,000 work places by 2020. Global research shows that Europe will lack 900,000 IT specialists in a few years, while the global shortage will be around five million. This means that more and more companies will need outsourcing options. Ukraine is well-placed to meet this demand.
What are the key advantages of the Ukrainian IT sector compared to other regional IT sectors?
Ukraine boasts excellent higher technical education standards dating back to Soviet times. As a result, the country had a range of highly-qualified mathematicians, cybernetics experts and engineers who joined the IT industry when it started to expand. The Ukrainian IT sector also offers highly competitive salaries compared to costs elsewhere in the region.
How is the Ukrainian education system adapting to meet the demand for qualified IT specialists with the requisite professional skills?
Unfortunately, the dynamics of today’s reality are such that universities can’t keep up with the speed of development within the IT industry. Many existing state study programmes have become quite outdated. To counter this shortcoming, a few years ago we began to see the emergence of a commercial educational sector. Now you can find around 50 educational centres all over Ukraine that offer courses on the most relevant professional skills and allow anyone to master new IT specialities in a matter of months.
Which areas of the Ukrainian IT sector offer the most exciting prospects for further growth and expansion?
The largest and most developed segment of the Ukrainian IT sector today remains outsourcing. Companies in this sector can vary in size from a handful of employees to hundreds. Another interesting segment is product development. This takes more time and expertise, but it offers far more potential for future global growth.
How much is the Ukrainian IT sector currently worth and what are your projections for future growth?
For the last 10 years, the industry has consistently grown at around 25%-30% annually. In 2013, it generated an estimated USD 2 billion. We believe that in the event of peace in east Ukraine and a return to economic stability, the Ukrainian IT sector could be generating annual revenues of USD 10 billion by 2020.
What would be your advice to any young Ukrainians looking to improve their chances of securing a career in the IT sector?
A good candidate for any position in IT should have a combination of strong tech and soft skills. Tech skills include core knowledge of information technology and programming languages. Soft skills include time management, social intelligence, teamwork, negotiation and communication skills. Another must-have for IT specialists is English language proficiency. Since a lot of communication is with international clients, English is the industry language and fluency is essential. If someone is unsure of what area of the IT industry they wish to work in, they can visit the brainbasket.org website and explore the career advice we provide.