An astounding number of American technology companies employ engineers in Ukraine, but you would never know it. Most don’t have formal offices in Kiev, preferring to hire people through intermediaries.
Many companies would prefer to not publicly acknowledge these employees exist given that “outsourcing” is a dirty word in in U.S. politics. But given the continuing crisis in Ukraine, now is the time to stand up and speak out. Many companies might think they are powerless to do anything but wait out the crisis – but they’re wrong.
Ukraine’s IT sector is impressive. As one of the country’s largest industries, IT in Ukraine is a key component of their future economic success. Today, the volume of exports of software service and development from Ukraine is about $2 billion annually. By 2012, there were over 4,000 IT outsourcing companies in Ukraine, and the sector was growing 25% year-over-year; economists project that the $2 billion industry will grow 85% over the next six years.
Perhaps the most telling stat about the importance of IT to Ukraine’s economy is that in 2011, IT services exceeded the volume of Ukrainian arms exports for the first time in the nation’s history. The Ukrainian tech industry is responsible for Ford’s in-car infotainment systems, Reuter’s award-winning photography app, Nokia’s customer retail experience and Deutsch Bank’s Risk Management System, among many others.
The importance of education cannot be understated. In 2011, Ukraine was ranked second worldwide in percentage of population with a university education, following Canada (the U.S. was third). We know that U.S. college graduates with technology degrees typically won’t go wanting. But technology is interwoven throughout every corner of the world’s economy, and we need a workforce prepared to handle that demand. A large part of the Ukrainian IT workforce is made up of young educated workers who will undoubtedly pass on their knowledge along to their kids and secure a better future for the country as a whole. If that educated segment leaves because of either turmoil or general disillusion, the inevitable brain drain will have global ramifications.
So what can you do?
- Assure your Ukrainian co-workers that their jobs are safe through these trying times.
- Allocate travel funds for them if the situation escalates.
- Donate to non-profit organizations like the Brain Basket Foundation, which provides educational opportunities for aspiring IT specialists, or an IndieGoGo campaign to send a Ukrainian startup to IDCEE, a respected developer’s conference.
As a company with an office of full-time engineers in Kiev, we felt compelled to do something in the wake of the crisis. Tech For Ukraine – a nonpolitical organization that formally launched this week with over ten member companies – was conceived out of that concern. Tech For Ukraine’s mission is non-political: we aim to raise global support and awareness for Ukraine’s information technology (IT) industry. We aren’t unrealistic – we’re not going change the world – but hopefully we can at least show solidarity with Ukrainian technology professionals and raise some money to foster their growth.
One thing is certain: now is the time to act. We have to stop wondering what will happen and show support in every way we can. There is an opportunity to make a difference and a moral obligation to try. What will you do?
Brett Wilson is CEO and Co-Founder of TubeMogul and a founding member of Tech4Ukraine.com. This story initially appeared on re/code, a US tech news, reviews and analysis site.