Tech firms relocate Ukrainian developers

Companies tapping Ukrainian coding talent are working to relocate employees willing to move. Tech firms, in the longer term, may need to rethink resiliency plans due to the war.

When Lithuanian game developer Nordcurrent launched two studios in Ukraine, one as recently as December, the task of relocating employees in a time of war was unthinkable.

Today, it's an ongoing operation amid the Russian invasion.

"We did not expect something like this to happen, and until the day it happened, we still sort of thought nothing like this could be possible in the 21st century," said Victoria Trofimova, CEO of Nordcurrent.

Nordcurrent has thus far relocated 25 Ukrainian developers, along with family members and friends, to Vilnius, Lithuania's capital and Nordcurrent's headquarters. The company employs 120 people in its Dnipro and Odesa studios.

"We have offered all our employees assistance with relocation," Trofimova said.

We did not expect something like this to happen, and until the day it happened, we still sort of thought nothing like this could be possible in the 21st century.
Victoria TrofimovaCEO, Nordcurrent

Not everyone wants to relocate, she added, noting, for example, that some employees have joined the Ukrainian territorial defense. For those who want to leave, Nordcurrent makes the arrangements via Ukrainian transport companies. Employees and families are dropped off at the Lithuanian border, and Nordcurrent sends a bus for the last leg of the journey to Vilnius. It's about a 15-hour drive, in total, from Dnipro or Odesa.

The bigger picture

Numerous IT companies and IT-driven businesses find themselves in Nordcurrent's situation, to varying degrees. Hiring esteemed Ukrainian developers provides a way for companies to ease the tech talent gap. But the technology disruption also extends to Russia and Belarus. Gartner estimates there are about 250,000 people in those countries working for IT service providers that serve clients outside the region.

Gartner lists EPAM, DXC Technology's Luxoft company and SoftServe among the consulting and outsourcing firms with employees in the region. Enterprises such as Bosch, Nestle and Siemens operate research and development centers in the affected areas, according to Gartner.

"Most of the non-Ukrainian-owned companies with development centers in Ukraine have been offering programs to move them out to other countries," said Neil Barton, vice president with Gartner's technology and service providers team.

He pointed to Poland as one example, citing the country as a nearby technology hub. The number of developers on the move, however, isn't particularly high, he said. People have chosen to stay and fight or are compelled to do so if they are men of military age.

Exacerbating the talent crunch

Technical talent, difficult to find under normal circumstances, will become even more so as the Russia-Ukraine war continues.

"It was hard to get people three weeks ago," Barton said. "The supply was stretched even before this event."

The effect on tech providers will vary with their dependence on developers in the region and whether they had prepared a contingency plan. Inadequately prepared IT services firms with developers predominately in Ukraine can expect three to six months of business disruption while they look for developers in new locations, according to Gartner. The market researcher estimates that only 1% to 2% of businesses with developers in the region fit that category.

But even tech firms with minimal exposure in the region will face an increasing challenge to retain developers, Gartner noted. Those companies hiring software engineering talent can expect to pay more, Barton added.

Updating resiliency strategies

The COVID-19 pandemic caused enterprises to revisit their business continuity plans. Many may be dusting those off, once again, due to the war and its effect on the people part of the supply chain.

"Global supply chains can be fragile as well as highly efficient," Barton said. "This is the second seismic shock the system has had in two years."

Companies relying on developers, whether global enterprises or global systems integrators, can pursue a few strategies to boost resiliency. Barton cautioned that none of them will work overnight, but can help improve the situation over time:

  • Recruit software developers in your own country, focusing on people with nontraditional backgrounds. Barton suggested hiring and boot-camping workers outside the computer science field. People are making midlife career changes, especially in former manufacturing centers where jobs may be lacking, he noted.
  • Invest in low-code development platforms. Such tools make it faster to develop software -- and with a lower level of expertise -- than writing code from scratch in C++, Barton said. He recommended IT organizations consider whether future applications can be created with low-code technology versus developing them in a conventional development environment.
  • Use machine learning (ML) to boost software developer productivity. Barton views ML as a longer-term approach, but said the number of products and platforms has been growing over the last two years. ML-assisted tools learn from a developer's coding patterns and make suggestions to improve efficiency or steer developers away from introducing potential bugs.

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