KyivPost

Back Story: One growth industry is outsourcing

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July 19, 2012, 11:55 p.m. | Op-ed — by Michael Willard

Michael Willard is Kyiv Post CEO.
© courtesy

Michael Willard

I once stood in front of a printer for several minutes waiting for a fax to emerge.

When I have a problem with my hardware, software – some would say even Tupperware - I call for the IT specialist. What he does is magic, and, realizing my limitations, he tells me I don’t want to know how he made the simple fix.

By and large, IT folks want people like me to stay computer illiterate. Call it job security.Still, I was an “early adopter,” as they say in marketing. 

In the mid-‘70s, United Press International went overnight from clunky teletype machines where we typed our stories by punching holes in yellow tape to a small-screen computer terminal that was a basic word processor, and a finicky one at that. News copy often mysteriously disappeared from the screen. 

Then came the early ‘80s, when I lugged a 30-pound (14 kilo) “portable” Radio Shack computer around.  It looked and felt like a fully packed suitcase. Finally, in about 1985, I graduated to a real portable, a RadioShack 100, with 16k memory. That’s a speck of dust in today’s gigabyte world.

Technology and machines baffle me.  Unaided, I cannot operate more than a corkscrew, and in business today, my lack of prowess should be considered a disability.  

I was reminded of all this by a recent conversation with Vladimir Sharov, managing director of Global Logic in Ukraine.  Sharov gave me an hour-long lesson on the basics of his business. 

I was interested because the Kyiv Post/East Europe Foundation Conference this November is in the planning stages, and one area we will focus on is growth industries in Ukraine, and information technology is, along with agriculture and energy, at the top of the list. 

A futurist once told an audience I was in years ago that to be personally competitive, we should all learn Mandarin Chinese. I didn’t, and to my knowledge the doors of opportunity have not been slammed shut in my face. I don’t lose sleep over it.  However, I think I should get to know more about the IT world.

It’s not about everyone knowing what buttons to push, whether in social media or some other aspect of cyberspace, but that everyone in management knows that the buttons need to be pushed. In today’s world, no one wants a musty appearance when it comes to the miracles of technology. 

The Global Logic office is like several hot technology venues I have seen in Ukraine: People constantly bustle about in an informal, village atmosphere. There’s not a tie or high heel to be seen. Various mini-conversations keep the place abuzz. 

Sharov said there are nearly 200,000 programmers in Ukraine, and the country still represents less than two percent of the worldwide outsourcing market.  Sizable outsourcing takes place in India and China as well. He believes that Ukraine has definite advantages over these and other countries, due in part to Ukraine’s engineering culture. 

I recently had reason to look for a programmer for the Kyiv Post.  It’s easier to find an honest road policeman in Ukraine than it is to locate a self-proclaimed geek who can sit in front of a computer, tapping keys like a concert pianist performing Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2.  They often seem to be in a trance. 

Good programmers are relatively expensive compared with other technology workers, and they are in demand. People in the industry tell me there is a constant tug-of-war among companies for qualified people, driving up employment costs. Some companies dip down into the school system to spot promising employees early.  They often  poach staff from one another. 

Programmers are a different breed. They are challenged not so much by the prestige of a particular company, but by the specific job they would be working on.  In other words, they want the excitement of something new and interesting.  Where they plant their bums is less important. 

Ukraine’s big advantage is with its people, said Sharov. By definition, most countries with high outsourcing potential have lower labor coststhan countries where many multinationals are based. However, Sharov believes Ukraine’s engineer mentality makes doing business here more cost-effective. 

“When we promise to deliver, we deliver, and usually with fewer people working on a project,” said Sharov, who clearly believes in Ukraine’s competitive advantages over other emerging-market nations.
Should Ukraine’s government be facilitating the IT industry with laws and regulations tailored to this very specific industry?  What other growth areas could benefit from a little home-court advantage? These are questions that the Kyiv Post will be examining in our Nov. 26-27 conference, entitled “Ukraine: Will the Sleeping Tiger Awaken?” 

We hope you will participate, and we would be happy if you would like to sponsor one of the sessions. 

Kyiv Post CEO Michael Willard can be reached at willard@kyivpost.com

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