Software developer shortage hits Eastern Europe: Romania's plan to stay ahead in the game

With more and more IT companies expanding or opening offices in the country, Romania has to come up with solutions.

Romania needs to increase its number of IT professionals in order to maintainits advantage as an outsourcing location and to nurture its startup environment. A shortage of skilled developers, a trend that hit the US before moving to Western Europe, is now beginning to extend to the Eastern border of the European Union. Companies currently require up to two months to hire a developer, and many of the more niche job offers posted online barely get a handful of applications.

"Over 100,000 specialists are estimated to work in IT, and between 60,000 and 70,000 of those are software developers. The others work in telecoms, networking, or [systems] integration," Andrei Pitiș, head of Romanian Employers' Association of the Software and Services Industry, told ZDNet.

The country is addressing the developer shortage issue on a number of levels: universities are being encouraged to educate more students in the field; software companies are joining forces to create their own academies; and a few startups are organising crash courses that promise jobs to those who join. In addition, some companies look for IT personnel in neighbouring countries, including Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova, where developers usually have lower paychecks than in Romania.

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"200,000 or even 300,000 developers would still not be enough, as many companies come to Romania hoping to hire specialists," Pitiș said. Recruitment agencies have decorated their offices and websites with 'wanted' posters for Java and .Net developers. Storage specialists and mobile devs are also hard to find.

Those with most at stake

Most technical job offers posted online barely get a few clicks. A Java developer position at Orange had 15 applications in 22 days on one of the largest recruitment websites in the country, bestjobs.ro. It was the same story for a senior Java developer job at Oracle, which got 13 resumes in 15 days.

By comparison, a marketing campaign tools specialist position at IBM received around 550 applications over 26 days, while an internal communications job at KMG Rompetrol got more than 1,200 CVs over a 16-day period.

The few that do apply for the tech jobs aren't all eligible for the position. "It's not that certain types of professionals are totally absent in Romania, but many times they don't reach the level required by the employer or they can't have enough experience on certain technologies, mainly because those are relatively new," Roxana Barbu, IT&C recruitment consultant at Brainspotting, said.

Hiring personnel is easiest for big names such as HP, IBM, Oracle, and Ubisoft, which already employ thousands of IT specialists in Romania. Microsoft has a team of developers in the country as well. Some work on optimising its Bing search engine, while others offer support to clients across Europe.

"The recruitment process can take up to two months, given the complexity of the interview," a Microsoft Romania spokeswoman told ZDNet.com. "It takes time to specialize on a certain technology, and the company is one step ahead of the market in terms of acquiring cutting-edge skills."

An enthusiastic environment, access to new technologies, training, and career advancement opportunities both in the country and abroad are all part of Microsoft's pitch to would-be hires.

The quick solution

Educating a developer requires years of hard work, and importing one with the right skills from abroad is sometimes easier. Some devs are lured with money, as salaries in Romania usually exceed those in neighbouring countries, in part because of the tax exemption for IT staff. Last year a typical senior software developer had a take-home pay of €1,700 to €2,200 a month, five times the average salary in the country, while junior engineers earned between €700 and €1,100 a month.

"So far, all the foreign developers we recruited have adapted well to Romania. In general, they are welcomed by the teams, especially in large companies where expats are common. Some have even learnt the language and decided to move here permanently," Brainspotting's Barbu said.

In the past year Luxoft relocated several hundreds of developers from Ukraine and Russia to Romania, Bulgaria, and Poland, where the company expanded. Viktor Remezovskyi is one of them. He left Kiev in August and moved to Bucharest for a program manager position.

"I wanted to improve professionally, and it's a good experience to work abroad," he told ZDNet. He didn't take the decision lightly. "You need to find some reasons, some rewards, and some [valuable] experience." Remezovskyi adapted quickly, as English is spoken by most young people in Bucharest.

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Trained as a developer, with a .Net and Java background, he says Romanians are more focused and ban distractions at work, compared to Ukrainians, who like to entertain themselves while solving tasks. "Romanian people are fully committed when working. The atmosphere is really quiet," he said.

Although Luxoft relocated many develpers, it has continued operations in three locations in Ukraine. A statement published on the company's website earlier this month said that "business operations in all of its delivery centers in Ukraine - Kiev, Odessa and Dnepropetrovsk - are stable, no incidents have been reported at any of our sites. There are no disruptions in transportation, telecommunication, or other infrastructure and logistics. We currently continue hiring developers in all three Ukraine locations".

Other foreign developers come to Romania from the Republic of Moldova. Many decided to move while at high school or have received their university degree in Romania. The languages are almost identical, and there are educational agreements signed between the two governments.

Almost every medium and large software company in Romania employs at least a few people from this neighbouring country. For those not trained here, the hiring procedure can take a long time, as The Republic of Moldova and Ukraine aren't part of the European Union. It took Viktor Remezovskyi, for instance, three months to receive all his papers.

"The Republic of Moldova is a good resource [for hiring developers]. Still, many of the companies in Romania try to avoid bureaucracy and the long period of time required to obtain a working visa," Brainspotting's Barbu said.

The idea of recruiting foreigners is not unique to Romania; Bulgaria has a similar plan. The country's economy minister Bozhidar Lukarski said in February that his country is experiencing a shortage of around 10,000 IT professionals. Many of those can be relocated from abroad, he argued during an interview for bTV station.

Building developers

In Romania, the number of IT specialists should increase by 7,000 a year, judging by how many young people are studying the subject. Some of them, though, choose to work in other sectors while others leave the country. "A conservative calculation shows that we add about 3,000 new software engineers a year," said Andrei Pitiș, head of Romanian Employers' Association of the Software and Services Industry.

The education system doesn't have all the answers, however. "The academic environment cannot provide a largely increased number of ICT specialists in a reasonable time interval by opening new study programs or new faculties," said Professor Bogdan Logofătu from the University of Bucharest's faculty of psychology and educational sciences.

He said that bureaucracy, conservatism, and even academia getting too comfortable are among the factors that prevent the wheels from being set in motion. "The viable solution is alternative education systems. We already have companies that created their own academies, for instance Cisco," he told ZDNet.

Another example is IT Informal School, a privately supported academy that has taught computer science to over 100 Romanians who majored in philosophy, music, or geography. "Courses take four to six months, and even if someone doesn't have experience in IT, they can learn the basic concepts of quality assurance," the head of IT Informal School, Sebastian Văduva, told local newspaper Ziarul Financiar. Classes run for six hours during weekends, and students require an additional 10 hours a week for homework.

The startup Jademy has a more packed schedule for those who want to learn how to code. Classes begin at 9am, last until 6pm, and take a month to complete. People aged 20 to 45 learn to create Android apps using Java there. After graduation most of them are helped to get a job. "Their profiles are very different: students, sales professionals, architects, even military personnel," Sorin Popa, founder of Jademy, told ZDNet. "They didn't code before, yet they created simple games within a month. We emphasize practice."

Another software company, RINF, has created a project dedicated to women. They target university students and offer them a three-month course, the Girls Oriented Programing Academy, that aims to get them get up-to-date with the latest in the Java field. The course is followed by a two-month internship at the company. During the past year, several other initiatives that encourage women in the field of technology have appeared in Romania, including Girls Who Code and Girls in Tech.

Most Romanians believe that a career in the field of IT is a ticket to well being, as salaries offered in the industry are among the highest in the country. People begin to understand that not only those with genius IQ scores can make it. The demand is huge even at entry or mid-level positions, where jobs can be obtained by those who have a diploma in a different field.

Retraining could be part of the solution to the software developer shortage. The country's selling points as an outsourcing location are strongly connected with the salaries developers are paid - which is influenced by the number of professionals available.

"Romania won't lose its outsourcing advantages soon. The culture and the proximity to Western Europe will remain," Romanian Employers' Association of the Software and Services Industry's Pitiș said. "Of course, its attractiveness is also connected to costs, and costs are slowly converging to those of Western Europe."

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