Outsourcing & More: Poland’s investment attractiveness is not a surprise for anyone these days. We are among the leading countries as far as the number of new investments is concerned. This trend has also reached the IT sector. Do you think we are likely to maintain this strong position?
Paweł Pełtak: Definitely. Polish experts are assessed as great professionals and are renown both in Europe and worldwide. In HackerRank’s ranking of the world’s best programmers Polish specialists have been listed in third position, right behind China and Russia. And our Java developers have been ranked first in their category. Additionally, we’re a very attractive market for new investors as far as economic stability is concerned. And costs, which are relatively lower than in Germany, France or Great Britain work in our favour. The fact that global players have decided to trust us and open their IT centres in Poland can also be seen as a form of recommendation. Companies like HP, Lenovo, Dell, IBM or Accenture have been present on our market for years and nothing indicates that it’s about to change. I mean, the decisions to choose Poland were not made spontaneously [laughter]. Everything had to be thoroughly analyzed and each aspect had to be checked. Such companies cannot make mistakes.
OM: I have to agree on that one. However, it’s been estimated that our market lacks specialists- according to various sources we need 30 to 50 thousand more than we have now. Doesn’t it tone down the investors’ enthusiasm?
PP: Yes, you’re right. The insufficient number of IT specialists is a problem. The demand for those specialists is always on the rise, but let’s not forget that more and more young people want to develop their careers in the IT sector. Universities produce more and more graduates every year. Also state-run projects which help people change their profession and become IT specialists have emerged. One of those projects allowed its participants to take interest-free loans which they could use to pay for studies, trainings and certifications. It should be noted that Poland is not the only country where the sector is short-staffed. This is a global problem.
OM: According to a report prepared by the European Commission, by 2020 the whole European Union will be short of 825 thousand IT specialists. This data is shocking. Of course, the fact that young people are willing to enter the sector and that there are facilitations for those who want to change their career paths seems to be a solution to this problem.
PP: Yes, but we should not forget about automation. Scripts which will allow to optimize some processes are being created. For example, an automatic tester could today write a script capable of handling the workload of 10 younger testers.
OM: So is automation our hope?
PP: In a way. Of course machines will not do everything, but technological advancement may put an end to some understaffing.
OM: Let’s go back to universities for a moment. There’s still the problem of companies which require candidates to be graduates of a faculty of Informational Technology. Do you think limiting their interest to scientific minds only is the right approach?
PP: It is true that for some companies technical higher education is crucial, but in my opinion experience and skills are much more important than a university diploma. Of course, having a degree helps, but it’s not a substitute for real experience on the market. Some very good programmers I know have never studied, others dropped out from university after a year or two. Now these people occupy prestigious posts in various organizations, and I have to admit that a diploma wouldn’t really be of use to them. Experience is what really counts.
OM: So the problem is companies’ awareness?
PP: Yes. Sometimes these companies go even further and create a list of higher education institutions whose diplomas they accept. A candidate who didn’t graduate from one of those institutions will not be hired, even if he has a broad knowledge and years of experience. He’ll simply get rejected due to formal reasons.
OM: But that’s really anachronistic. So are you trying to say that such a big shortage of IT specialists is also caused by limitations imposed on the market by employers themselves?
PP: Unfortunately yes. And surely there are great well-known examples of people who never graduated from university but succeeded internationally- among them Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and many more.
OM: Looking at the numbers, all companies should strive to meet these expectations. Using commonplace patterns and labels doesn’t seem to make sense any more.
PP: I think that’s what they should do. And I really hope they start doing it. The employee shortage is a fact. If firms choose to ignore this fact and select candidates using strict criteria, they won’t be able to close recruitment procedures for months or even years. And even such a long time might not guarantee that they’ll find their perfect candidate. Eventually, they’ll will be forced to hire someone who doesn’t match their initial requirements.
OM: And how about career changes? This seems much easier in other sectors.
PP: I know many people who used to work in HR, administration, marketing or accounting and now are IT specialists.
OM: All right, but how did they do it?
PP: Internships are becoming more and more popular. The money is never big, but it’s more of a training course than real work. Usually an internship takes the form of a three-month remote employment during which an intern gets tasks to complete. Of course, he or she also gets all the necessary tools and a training cycle. Bootcamps and online courses for programmers are also in demand.
OM: But can anyone choose these paths to become a programmer?
PP: Unfortunately no. Some kind of aptitude is really necessary. Analytical thinking, patience and the ability to derive pleasure from coding. Trust me, most of us wouldn’t be able to do it. You have to be terribly patient, cause it’s a really laborious process. A good programmer must also be always willing to learn and develop new skills. You have to be up-to-date with new technologies or else you won’t be able to keep up with the market. New versions and tools are created all the time. You constantly have to learn and the world of new technologies doesn’t ever slow down. Fortunately, in the entire IT sector there are also positions which don’t focus so much on hard and technical skills. For example a scrum master is responsible for a team of programmers’ methodology and the way they work. This undoubtedly requires getting to know the entire work characteristics and the application’s architecture. But there are not so many technicalities involved, soft skills are much more important. A good scrum master simply has to know how to talk to people. He has to show the programmers how they are supposed to code- not the technical side but the schedule. In this job the crucial part is communicating with people, not machines.
OM: Is there any chance for people who do not have scientific minds?
PP: Absolutely. Companies also seek people responsible for business- people who could visit clients and make lists of their requirements concerning the way an application should be written. All needs of a customer should be taken into account.
OM: IT Key account managers?
PP: More like business analysts [laughter], but it’s based on the same rule. An analyst gathers business requirements and passes them to developers, who create the entire technical side. It can also be described as the job of a translator, who notes down the needs of a client in colloquial language, translates this text into a system programming language and gives it to coders in this form. This is not a fully technical role.
OM: So there is some hope for humanists and people who generally do not have a thing for exact sciences. Have you managed to create new methods of attracting candidates?
PP: In the IT sector it’s hard to attract a candidate and it’s even harder to keep him or her, which is why projects have to be interesting and meet the candidates’ expectations. Programmers do not want to use old technologies. They are not interested in maintaining what already exists. Nowadays they want to create new things, to have real influence on the way applications work, to share their ideas and make them come to life. Some firms have even made letting coders work on their own applications one day a week a standard.
OM: So companies allow their employees to develop in quite an unconventional way.
PP: Yes, but don’t forget that it has to be somehow connected with the firm’s field of operation.
OM: I understand that it’s a novelty on the IT market.
PP: Yes, it has appeared mostly in technologically advanced firms. Organizing hackathons is another interesting thing. I see the way you’re looking at me. A hackathon is a coding marathon. In a nutshell, you give programmers two days, for example Thursday and Friday to design an application. They can present whatever they want and nothing restricts their creativity. If the application turns out to be advanced, original and, most importantly, in line with the company’s field of operation, the employee is rewarded. More often than not it’s some sort of financial gratification, but prizes in the form of expensive certificates and trainings abroad also happen. Additionally, the worker can keep on working on his or her product and developing it. The only condition is that the results of this work are to be left at the employing organization.
OM: So nowadays an IT firm is simply a creative agency.
PP: It depends on how you look at it. There are still not too many companies like this, but we already have a few in Poland. It really works.
OM: Is creative work environment the key to making programmers stay at an organization?
PP: Yes, because they can develop their skills and do what they like most. They also fulfill their everyday duties of course, but they are able to do creative things and they can really influence their shape.
OM: And how about benefits? I don’t expect anything interesting has emerged.
PP: Many things that used to be treated as benefits are now considered standard. Nowadays benefits take the form of certifications, trainings or thematic conferences connected with each candidate’s skills. Investing in an employee is necessary. Without doubt the range of benefits available in Poland is becoming wider and wider, but it’s still way behind the ideas from Silicon Valley. One of the leading tech companies there offers its employees two months of paid vacation for the trip of their dreams. They can go anywhere they want to go. The only condition is that they really have to go somewhere [laughs]. The firm pays for everything. Another example is a company which in case of an employee’s sudden death keeps paying this employee’s family half of his or her salary for the next ten years!
OM: Wow, it seems like the only limitation is the level of a given company’s creativity.
PP: Exactly. One corporation offers women the possibility to freeze their eggs if they do not wish to become mothers right now but want to still have this option in the future.OM: Total science fiction!
OM: Total science fiction!
PP: Without doubt. We’re about to enter the third decade of the XXI century.
OM: In the context of everything you have said, have you changed your methods of attracting new candidates?
PP: First of all, I have to say that IT specialists are very demanding candidates. They know they are sought-after. They are offered large sums of money. And they are aware that their skills are in high demand on the market, so classic recruitment procedures just don’t work. More sophisticated methods are needed to reach them.
OM: What are these methods?
PP: Generally IT specialists are not people who actively seek employment. They don’t visit websites with job offers unless they are really dissatisfied with their current employer. So in order to reach them you have to stand out. Your offer has to catch their attention. Otherwise you just won’t be noticed.
OM: All right, but how?
PP: First of all, we have to avoid schematic thinking about IT specialists. People have to stop seeing them as geeks in funny t-shirts who love comic books and watch Star Wars. They are not a unified group! More and more women are entering the field- they also want to be active and noticed. We have a full scope of personalities and characters in this sector and we really have to take it into account. We must first meet their needs and focus on their diversity. On the other hand we want to flirt with them. We want to break that spell that gives them their superhero treatment. We want to play with them a bit.
OM: OK, but your last poster depicted Iron Man and the caption said “We’re looking for a superhero- a security architect”.
PP: That’s actually in line with what I’ve just said. On the one hand we appreciate their skills, their role in today’s world and the fact that they are indispensable for this world to function, and on the other hand we want to emphasize that they are normal people and belong to our reality. I can’t disclose more details. I just hope the campaign we’ve prepared will clear all your doubts.
OM: I can’t wait to see it. And what positions will be most popular now? Is there anything new?
PP: The situation changes all the time, new technologies come and create demand for people who are not even on the market yet. Many technologies are in their infancy. A couple of years ago in Poland there were no positions like UX Designer, DevOps Engineer, Pentester, Scrum Master, Hadoop Specialist or Cloud Architect. These posts were not even there, and now they are really popular. And those specialists form quite a big part of the entire number of people employed in the IT sector. New needs and things we have never heard of are created every day. As far as novelties are concerned- there’s Blockchain Engineer who is directly responsible for “Bitcoin mining”. Another interesting position is Machine Learning Specialist- he or she teaches machines how to do their tasks. Without doubt, all positions which today are new and not very common in a few years will be as standard as Java Programmers are now.