An astounding number of American technology companies employ engineers in Ukraine, but you might never know it. 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 Deutsche Bank’s Risk Management System, among many others.
Most U.S. companies don’t have formal offices in Kiev, preferring to hire people through intermediaries. And many companies would prefer to not publicly acknowledge these employees exist, given that “outsourcing” is a dirty word in U.S. politics.
But given the continuing political 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 its future economic success. Today, the volume of exports of software service and development from Ukraine is about $2 billion annually. By 2012, there were more than 4,000 IT outsourcing companies in Ukraine, and the sector was growing 25 percent year over year; economists project that the $2 billion industry will grow 85 percent over the next six years.
Perhaps the most telling statistic 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 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 their knowledge along to their kids and secure a better future for the country as a whole. If that educated segment leaves because of turmoil or general disillusionment, the inevitable brain drain will have global ramifications.
What can you do?
- Assure your Ukrainian coworkers that their jobs are safe through these trying times.
- Allocate travel funds for them if the situation escalates.
- Donate to nonprofit organizations like the Brain Basket Foundation, which provides educational opportunities for aspiring IT specialists, or this IndieGoGo campaign to send a Ukrainian startup to IDCEE, a respected international developers conference, held this October in Kiev.
Along with our offices in Emeryville, Calif., Chicago and Detroit, TubeMogul has an office of full-time engineers in Kiev, and we at felt compelled to do something in the wake of the crisis. Tech4Ukraine — which formally launched this week with 10 member companies — was conceived out of that concern. Tech4Ukraine’s mission is nonpolitical: We aim to raise global support and awareness for Ukraine’s information technology industry. We aren’t unrealistic — our efforts won’t stop the conflict — 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 co-founder and CEO of video ad software company TubeMogul. In the late ’90s, he started the e-commerce company YouCanSave.com, which he built to $70 million in revenue and sold to HIG Capital. Wilson also founded digital agency Mariner Marketing and worked at Accenture, where he led system implementations for Fortune 100 clients including Adecco, Republic Industries and Caesars World International. Reach him @bjwilson34.