Russian programmers

As of today, the word “outsourcing ” is being associated with India. No wonder, these guys are street smart, they were raised in a democratic country, they are mobile, know what “s hot on the market, they speak English and are ready to start working tomorrow anywhere in the world sharing an apartment with five other programmers.

Now, let “s look at Russians programmers (I used to be one of them in the 80th ). After collapse of the Soviet Union, society started its painful transition to Capitalism. During more than 70 years of dictatorship, they learned the rules of the game, they knew when to keep their mouth shut, how to put non-existing-in-stores food on the table, but they lost the spirit of entrepreneurship . While western people were differently-rich, Russians were equally-poor: they had pretty much the same income, small but free apartments, good education and decent medicine. Proffessional emigration from the former USSR was minimal. All this started to change in early 90th. Now computer professionals who have enough money and want to work abroad can do it. While Russians are considered one of the top world coders, why are they lagging behind Indians in the outsourcing arena?

I see several reasons:

1. For years most of the Indian colleges were teaching in English, while Russians were under impression that sooner or later the rest of the world would learn the Russian language. Also, for many years the language of a “potential enemy rdquo; was German, so English was not too popular. This is changing now, but it takes time.

2. People in India do not think that they are the best nation in the world, while many Russians still do.

3. Many years of dictatorship have programmed the following rule in the minds of most of the Russian population: “There are only two opinions: right and wrong “. This included computer programming as well. I remember teaching programming classes that included Russian immigrants, and the faces of some of the newly arrived programmers were turning purple should I said something they did not agree with.

4. Some Russians programmers do not trust the software written by others. They are ready to reinventing the wheel on a daily basis. For example, some of them would rather create their own libraries of reusable objects than use someone else “s (see the item 14 from this list).

5. On the other hand, I had an honor to work with extremely bright software engineers from Russia, whose skills were top notch. As a matter of fact, last week I “ve teamed up with two of such experts for writing a book about rich internet applications.

Slowly, but surely the situation is changing, programmers living in Moscow and St. Petersburg earn a lot more then the rest of the country. I do not have official numbers, but based on the Russian online posts, the salary of a mid-level Java programmer is between $12-$18K a year. Senior programmers make $20-$40K. But the skill set of a $40K-a-year programmer living in Russia, is comparable to the skill set of a $100K-a-year western programmer. Majority of programmers living in large Russian cities do not have problems with reading English. Speaking skills are imroving too.

But Russian outsourcing model has to be a little different comparing to the Indian one. You can get the best value by dealing with high-end software developers. For years I know the CEO of one of the most successful Russian IT companies that builds its business not by selling cheap low-level programming to the West, but by focusing on specific business verticals. They “ve established their own tuition in one of the best universities to attract and “breed ” the most talented people. You can “t hire five of their employees for a salary of one American programmer, but these people are just brilliant.

In general, if you hear that someone offers you to outsource the project to a company XYZ just because they offer dirt cheap prices, get ready to a rough road. But many American corporations are still hiring cheap overseas labor just because it “s cheap. Many CIOs do not know about the real price they “re paying for such projects . When the mass of the failed outsourced projects will become critical, the outsourcing model will change and become smarter . It will shift to hiring experts in developing countries capitalizing on salary difference. The United States of America is still one of the leading world economies with high life standards, hence it “ll remain a desired destination for all the people who are not afraid of the challenges of the first years of living in a foreign land. On the other hand, majority of the Russian programmers will not leave the country enjoying modest living standards in familiar environment.

World leading technology firms feel themselves at home in Russia. IBM is pretty happy there , one of the insiders from Sun Microsystems told me that they consider Russia as one their most important markets (Brazil is also on Sun’s radar).

Creation of so-called techno parks is under the radar of President Putin, and if he “ll spend at least ten percents of the energy he put into imprisonment of Khodorkovsky , Russian programmers will play much more important role in the world software business.

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