Ukraine’s tech workers soldier on
Imagine you are at your desk one day working on some software code when your Slack channel starts pinging with incoming messages.
Rather than the usual technical chatter, the message gathering excited replies is different - the Russians have invaded, and it’s time to move to emergency procedures.
That’s the reality Ukraine’s 80,000-strong IT workforce faced on February 24 when Russia’s army began hostilities across the country in an offensive that has turned into a grinding war of attrition in Ukraine's eastern regions.
With a highly-educated and tech literature workforce and offering lower labour rates than the US and the rest of Europe, Ukraine had become a major destination for IT outsourcing projects. Many multinational tech companies have located research and development labs there.
The Ukrainian IT Association has found itself fundraising for strike drones
So how has the IT community coped with its country being on a war footing? This Information Week piece gives a good insight into what they have been going through. After the initial disruption caused by military action, it seems an evacuation of tech workers to safer areas, switching to remote work and shoring up internet infrastructure with the use of satellite broadband where necessary, has allowed the tech sector to stay productive.
“It was one of only a few industries to return quickly to the operational stage,” Alexey Syrotyuk, vice president at Sigma Software Group, told Information Week.
“The biggest companies only needed one to two weeks, depending on the size.”
Many tech companies relocated their workers to Lviv, in the west of Ukraine, which was already an established tech hub. The Ukraine IT Association claims that during the first three months of the war, exports of computer services actually increased 6% compared to the previous year.
Tech still earning export dollars
“For the first five months of 2022, the export IT industry provided US$3.2 billion worth of foreign currency income to the Ukrainian economy,” it claimed.
That’s in stark contrast to Ukraine’s commodities producers. For instance, blockades of key ports have slashed the export of grain by two-thirds, a situation only now showing signs of easing as Russia permits the resumption of grain exports from the port city of Odessa.
Tech’s weightless nature allowed it to roll along as a productive industry at 80 - 90% of its pre-war capacity, with overseas customers staying loyal to their IT services suppliers.
“At the same time, the IT industry is fighting on several fronts,” the Ukraine IT Association points out.
“3% of specialists serve in the Armed Forces; approximately 12-15% are involved in the cyber front.”
The war has seen the Ukraine IT Association in the unusual position of helping coordinate assistance on military projects. A current campaign sees the association partnering with Ukrainian singer and produce, Andriy Khlyvniukr, to help fundraise for the purchase of ten reusable Punisher airstrike drones.
“The Ukrainian IT sector fully realizes its responsibilities,” lemon.io’s Hanna Zasukha, told Information Week.
“The more we earn, the more we can donate. So, we keep doing everything to maintain the normal workflow and maximize our profits.”
Business resilience is key
Ukrainian IT workers, therefore, feel that one of the best ways to help their country resist the Russian invasion is to keep working, to stay on the tools and produce export revenue that can be channelled into the war effort.
A similar level of disruption to the IT industry is most likely to strike here in the form of a natural disaster rather than a military invasion. The Christchurch quakes over a decade ago showed the importance of having business continuity plans and Covid-19 cemented the remote working movement, which is what is allowing Ukrainian IT workers to keep doing even under the threat of airstrikes and artillery attacks.
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