Ukraine’s IT sector has provided some of the country’s most optimistic news stories over the past year. At a time when Ukraine is struggling to overcome the devastating economic impact of a Russian hybrid war in its industrial heartlands and the occupation of Crimea, the relentless growth of the IT industry has produced some much-needed optimism while offering inspiration for young Ukrainians looking to choose their future career path. However, with annual growth rates of around 25%, the sector is currently in very real danger of outpacing itself. In order to maintain its current breathless expansion, Ukraine’s IT sector will need to attract a whole new generation of specialists, while also honing the entrepreneurial skills of those already in possession of the technical abilities to produce world-beating IT innovations.
IT TV arrives in Ukraine
The latest initiative to help promote IT awareness among Ukrainian audiences is Brain TV, a new digital channel designed to offer tutorials on all aspects of the IT industry while highlighting the individuals and companies shaping the sector. The Kyiv-based Brain TV project launched in April and is currently available in Smart TV format and on the Divan TV platform, which theoretically gives it global reach. However, the initial priority audience is inside Ukraine itself. “Our primary goal is to expand the Ukrainian IT industry community,” explains the channel’s Executive Director Bozhena Sheremeta. “There are a lot of IT schools springing up in today’s Ukraine, but many are overcharging for the services they provide, pricing many potential students out of the market. We wanted to provide access to IT educational materials to a wider audience.”
Focus on educational content
In true startup tradition, Sheremeta currently leads a small full-time team of colleagues supported by dozens of volunteers. The channel is backed by the BrainBasket initiative and relies on funding from financial sponsors drawn from within the Ukrainian IT sector including Ciklum, ControlPay, Terrasoft and Jooble. Content is a mix of interviews, live-streamed coverage of Ukrainian IT events, and educational materials donated by partners including Ukrainian IT schools and America’s Harvard University. As the channel grows, there are plans to add more English-language original content and develop talk shows and news programming. “This year, the goal is to develop the whole concept of the channel and gauge audience reaction. We plan to communicate regularly with our audience via social media and will be conducting our first viewer survey on Facebook in May,” says Sheremeta.
Supporting Ukraine’s growing IT economy
The arrival of Brain TV is arguably long overdue, given the growing importance of the Ukrainian IT sector for the Ukrainian economy as a whole. IT companies currently contribute around 3% of the country’s GDP, placing the industry behind agriculture and metallurgy as one of Ukraine’s top three economic drivers. However, analysts believe the IT contribution to GDP could rise to as high as 15% by 2020 – a staggering expansion that would allow the country to ease its reliance on the traditional industrial sectors inherited from the Soviet era. The increasing importance of the IT sector is already changing the profile of the Ukrainian economy. Many analysts view it as a positive strategic trend towards a more knowledge-based economy offering the kind of skills and services that will allow Ukrainian companies to integrate into global markets.
To achieve these ambitious growth projections, IT industry leaders have set the target of increasing the number of IT professionals in the country by 2020 from the current total of approximately 100,000 up to 200,000. Sheremeta says that as well as boosting numbers, it is also vital to foster the non-technical skillset required to succeed in the international IT industry. She sees Brain TV’s educational programming as one way of promoting this goal, and advocates greater focus on business skills and marketing awareness as a way of promoting a more entrepreneurial outlook within the industry. “At present, outsourcing companies are recruiting from a limited pool of employees who might otherwise be working in the startup sector. This is understandable, as the terms offered by outsourcing companies are very attractive. They can offer good salaries and the kind of stability that many people see as a priority. Nevertheless, it is starving the upstart segment of human resources.”
IT professionals need business savvy
Sheremeta regards the growth of the startup sector as a crucial component part of the country’s ongoing IT evolution, and wants to see greater focus on training programmes geared towards practical professional skills. “Technological training courses are not enough. People need access to training in subjects other than programming and coding. Entrepreneurial skills are essential to all startups. We need to be encouraging IT professionals and students to learn more about things like digital marketing and producing a winning pitch capable of impressing international investors.”
Sheremeta’s focus on the business aspects of the IT industry is no accident. Prior to taking on the challenge of managing the Brain TV project, she was employed at a startup incubator, worked in IT sales and digital marketing, and also served for a period as an IT journalist. The 23-year-old IT expert says she had often considered the idea of a TV channel dedicated to the Ukrainian IT sector before she was approached in late 2015 with the idea of heading up the Brain TV initiative. “I think the channel is something that can have a major impact on the evolution of the sector,” she offers. “We are trying to develop an entirely class of Ukrainian IT entrepreneurs. The launch of the channel was the first step. We are just getting started.”