War, IT, and the Eastern European “Silicon Valley.”

by Jobbatical July 11, 2017

When most people hear Ukraine, they probably think of war, but the country could easily be in the headlines for its surprisingly robust tech scene. While largely out of the spotlight due to the turmoil in the Middle East, since 2014 Ukraine has been a country at war, albeit not engulfed. I recently spent some time in Kiev, a thriving metropolis full of luxury stores, hipsters, and a respectable IT scene. This is not what I expected.

Kiev’s Freedom Square, where the first protests began that led to the conflict with Russia

Reminders of the ongoing conflict can be found in Kiev, a city far removed from the actual front line in the Eastern part of the country — but mostly only if you know what to look for or they’re pointed out by a local. Despite the ongoing conflict, the country is doing all it can to promote its nascent startup and tech scene.

What is making this country such a burgeoning hotbed that tech recruiters come from all over to source talent? I spoke with Volodymyr Nesterenko (managing partner of Digital Future — a Ukrainian VC) and Max Ischenko, (founder of DOU — a Ukrainian web hub for IT).

Ukraine’s IT industry is ready to accelerate

With the support of the government and a segment of industry fully immersed in the technology economy, Ukraine is striving towards a high-tech economy as fast as it can. Job growth in the IT industry has climbed 12% from 2015 to 2016. IT schools are churning out graduates at a rate of ten IT graduates per every IT vacancy. The graduates’ skills are comparable to Russia, India, and Eastern Europe but due to a comparable salary, along with geographic proximity to tech hubs, are even more competitive.

Ukrainian startups are also getting noticed, gaining more interest by outside investment compared to several years ago. Some are attracting high-level Silicon Valley investors and accelerators. For example, last year People.ai was picked up by Y Combinator and Ecoisme entered Richard Branson’s accelerator.

What makes tech talent in Ukraine so desirable to recruiters?

According to a survey by DOU, around 65% of the talent is at a middle or senior level, so the experience level is fairly deep. More than half of IT specialists have a specialized education either with a degree or special training. English is the preferred language of the Ukrainian IT business and around 80% have a good level of English.

According to Volodymyr Nesterenko, the IT sector has many PHP developers but lacks data scientists or specialties like machine learning experts, software architects, and more senior developers. Often by the time they reach a senior level or have a specialty in Ukraine, talent goes abroad. He adds, “Since the talent market for senior people is global, it’s quite easy to go somewhere to chase better opportunities.”

Ukraine also has a lack of senior sales and marketing talent with the international experience required to bring products to market. Therefore, many products are developed in Ukraine but sales and business development take place abroad.

Ukrainian tech talent is ready to pursue opportunity elsewhere

According to a recent survey by DOU, the majority of developers would think about relocating if the opportunity arose, with about half responding they are actively looking to relocate.

Most IT talent who want to relocate are fresh graduates and senior professionals. The main reason for relocation is an opportunity to lead a calm and safe life. The most attractive destinations are the USA, Canada, and the European Union.

Who recruits Ukrainian developers?

Surprisingly, Estonia seems to be the country most actively targeting Ukrainian tech talent through their Work in Estonia program.

Leonardo Ortega, Project Manager at Work in Estonia (WIE), “Work in Estonia has defined Ukraine as one of its target markets for several reasons. The talent pool is quite big. In 2015, there were over 90,000 developers in the IT/Tech industry in Ukraine.”

Culture, language, and geographic proximity also help with recruiting Ukrainian developers to Estonia, a country finding itself increasingly short on engineers to keep the fires burning in its white-hot startup scene. 32% of people living in Estonia are non-Estonians and Ukrainians are the second-biggest minority.

Estonia is also courting Ukrainian startups.

Rivo Riistop of Startup Estonia says, “Startup Estonia’s plan for 2017 is to raise as much awareness as possible among the Ukrainian startup ecosystem about the Estonian Startup Visa scheme and what Estonia has to offer to their startups. “ Why? According to Rivo, “Ukrainian startups are actively looking to relocate their offices to the EU in order to enter the EU or U.S. markets.”

As competition for tech talent accelerates, who will win the talent war?

Estonia has taken up the mantle of EU startup accelerator by proactively recruiting the best talent and businesses to its shores. For now, it looks like Estonia has an edge on Ukrainian talent and startups, especially as the U.S., Canada, and the rest of Europe wring their hands over the best course of action on immigration in the competitive global talent and startup market.

If you’re a company in need of tech talent or a country competing for business startups, perhaps you should consider rethinking your view of countries like Ukraine — and soon. At Jobbatical, a top UX designer and researcher from Ukraine is on our team, joining 27 employees from 11 nationalities. We’ve also placed Ukrainian developers through our service. Maybe it’s time your company began hiring beyond borders?


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