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East Europe in the Dot-com-and-go aftermath

By Quietti in Culture
Thu Jun 14, 2001 at 01:54:30 PM EST
Tags: Round Table (all tags)
Round Table

After reading today's thread on East Europe's current situation and upcoming issues, a question came to mind:

  • What is the IT situation like in East Europe, in terms of employment possibilities and market trends?
I am an ICT manager with multilingual abilities and am considering investigating new challenges in either Estonia, Hungary, Latvia or Russia, so I would appreciate observations on each country (and other East European countries not in my list as well -- to benefit the greatest amount of readers), including easements or restrictions in getting work permits and possibly obtaining landed-immigrant status. What are the key players in the Internet, Mobile and Network Security fields in your country, how do you view your country's position in regards to competing neighbors and EU countries, how are foriegners generally treated, etc.

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East Europe in the Dot-com-and-go aftermath | 25 comments (18 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
Eastern Europe (3.75 / 4) (#1)
by nobbystyles on Thu Jun 14, 2001 at 05:56:38 AM EST

An Austrian friend of mine who runs a Eastern European financial site called Blue Bull with branches in virtually every eastern European country has found the going easier in some countries than others.

Poland is good as it has a large population, reasonable telecoms infrastructure and a western entreperneurial culture. The drawbacks there are a lack of broadband and the bureacracy. The other countries are more difficlt as they have smaller populations and some are very poor like Romania and Bulagaia and lack really exciting opportunities for tech based companies.

Poland! (5.00 / 7) (#5)
by MSBob on Thu Jun 14, 2001 at 09:18:03 AM EST

Consider Poland. Warsaw has a reasonable infrastructure but it's getting more and more expensive in terms of accomodation or office space. They are still a bargain compared to say office space costs in Moscow. Given the fact that the country is immensely more stable than Russia your choice really should be a no-brainer. Oh, and Prague would be an excellent choice too. I'd avoid baltic states for now as democracy is still not cristalized there. Forget about Russia, the economy is in shambles and the crime rate is rampant.

It used to be v. easy to obtain a work permit for Poland. Unfortunately with the imminent EU enlargement new policies are put in place to limit the amount of immigration. However, if you get a job it's still a relatively easy task for your employer to get a work permit. Almost certainly nobody will knock on your door and drag you to the airport and deport you. It just doesn't happen. Last year there was a bulgarian bus driver who got caught working illegally. However, because he'd been doing it for years the authorities just clarified the situation by granting him Polish citizenship. Unfortunately the landed immigrant status in Poland is difficult to obtain. If you go for becoming a full fledged Pole you'll be happy to learn that Poland respects dual citizenship. Getting a Polish passport if you're younger than 28 is not a good idea though as you'll be eligible for six months to a year of military service! Poland has an asylum policy too. A number of asylum seekers have been granted the right of abode in the last couple of years. You could try going on a tourist visa and making informal contact with a couple of prospective employers. There is a paper in English called 'The Warsaw Voice' which should be a helpful guide and should give you the feel for the rythm of the country and will be a good source for job ads. You can get one at most MPiK stores and at airports.

Polish Telecom is a privatised state monopoly and hence pricing is higher than it needs to be. Also there is no xDSL service yet. You have to go with ISDN or get a leased line so there is no happy medium. Other than that most services you've come to expect from a western society will be available.

Like the other poster said some of these countries (most notably Czech Rep, Poland & Hungary) are very enterpreneurial in spirit so you should not have a major culture shock. Just keep telling everyone what a great country it is :). Stick to big cities.

Finding reasonable accomodations will be a challenge. Your most economic option is renting a studio flat in a tower block. Even though the tower blocks are not terribly pretty they are not necessarily bad areas. Find a someone from Warsaw who speaks English to guide you into which areas are best. Generally avoid Praga Polnoc especially Targovek. Pricing will be from 800 Zloty (~$200US) up to anything you're prepared to spend.

If you have a degree and a few years experience you can command around 4000 Zloty a month esp if your skills are sought after (like Software skills for instance). This will leave you with around 2500 Zloty net for your living expenses. It'll satisfy your needs but if you want a car and a boat right away better bring some dosh with you! If you land an executive position in one of the established western companies in a new branch sky's the limit for your earnings. Salaries of 20000 Zloty a month are not unheard of. Menial jobs OTOH are poorly paid and you'll have a hard time surviving on a single job if you're a brick layer for instance. The national average wage is around 2200 Zloty per month. The currency is relatively stable and hovers around 4Zloty to $1USD. The inflation rate is approximately 8.5%

Getting around:
Warsaw has excellent mass transit. That is about one thing the communists did right. Though the congestion is really beginning to show if you drive a car, you can still use a tram (street car) and get from one end of the city to another in less than 40 minutes. All parts of the country are accessible by train (use the Intercity service if available it's fast and comfortable). You can also use PKS busses but I personally much prefer trains. Roads are in good condition but many roads outside big cities are one lane. if you don't drive fast try driving close to the right line to give other drivers the ability to pass.

I hope you give Poland a thought. It's a nice country and the transformation is happening before your very eyes. There is lots of foreign investment coming so it's a good time to try for one of the top jobs. If you're going to come let me say "Witamy w Polsce"!!!

Take care and drop me a line at grzelakc@nospam.yahoo.com if you need more info.

I don't mind paying taxes, they buy me civilization.

with nospam: bounce, without: bounce. Gde Bob? (none / 0) (#19)
by Quietti on Thu Jun 14, 2001 at 02:37:56 PM EST

The whole point of civilization is to reduce how much the average person has to think. - Stef Murky
[ Parent ]
oopsie (none / 0) (#20)
by MSBob on Thu Jun 14, 2001 at 04:02:00 PM EST

grzelakc@nospam.yahoo.ca should work. remove the obvious
I don't mind paying taxes, they buy me civilization.

[ Parent ]
Be careful in Russia (3.75 / 4) (#7)
by wiredog on Thu Jun 14, 2001 at 09:29:18 AM EST

I'd be very wary about working in Russia as there's not much in the way of law there. My former employer owned a company there and he had to pay protection money to the local mafiya. The police, in St. Petersburg, were supposedly a wholly owned subsidiary of the mafiya, and this is apparently the case throughout Russia. St. Petersburg, the Venice of the North, is the most "western" of Russian cities, and is apparently quite beautiful, but I wouldn't want to try to do business there unless I was very well compensated and had good life insurance. In the USA we talk about "killing off" the competition. In Russia they really do.

"Anything that's invented after you're 35 is against the natural order of things", Douglas Adams
Peter the Great (none / 0) (#18)
by Quietti on Thu Jun 14, 2001 at 02:33:55 PM EST

St-Petersburg is a beautiful city, where I have Russian acquaintances studying. I visited and it indeed is worth the look. By contrast, Moscow has impressive Soviet skyscrapers, but is grey and polluted. However, that's where the business is. Peterburg is more of a cultural European center. Fitting in for a week caused no problem, as I speak a fairly good Russian; limitted vocabulary, but perfect accent, according to several friends.

Corruption and petty crime is everywhere in Russia, that's a fact. However, I never got bothered, quite the contrary. One funny thing that happens regularly in Vyborg is, I'll go to some bar or restaurant and start talking with my Russian friends' pals. A week later, I run into them again and am seen speaking fluent Finnish with acquaintances from accross the border. Say... Where the hell are you from, man? You speak both Finnish and Russian like you were born here, yet you don't look from anywhere around. Ask the Grey aliens, they might know...

The whole point of civilization is to reduce how much the average person has to think. - Stef Murky
[ Parent ]
The situation in Romania (5.00 / 3) (#8)
by Gutza on Thu Jun 14, 2001 at 09:42:12 AM EST

The IT situation in Romania is quite interesting. There are two apparently contrasting but correct statements which would describe the Romanian IT situation:
1. Romanians are very skilled with computers.
2. The computer ownership and literacy rate are way way behind the rest of Europe.

The second statement has obvious reasons: even though people would probably want to buy computers they're too poor to. As simple as that.

The first statement is, however, somewhat surprising - I think this happens in the whole of the Eastern Europe and Russia due to the education system. We've always had very strict rules, and many people tended to learn exact sciences as opposed to arts. That's why you see so many Russian and Eastern European scientists in top US universities and research environments.

The result of the situation is that some people did, do and will immigrate. They do much better in the Western World than over here.

Another result is that western companies started to open offices in Romania - the programmers are skilled and the cost is low. The fact that Romania doesn't have a great IT infrastructure is no problem: you can always buy the computers you want and ISP's exist, even if they're a lot more expensive. But this is not a big problem since you don't need to be online all the time - you just type in the code and send it over when it's done.

And yet another result is that more and more Romanian IT (or related) companies appear, working as contractors for foreign companies. These use two distinct policies to penetrate the market: since incomes are smaller than in the western countries they may either charge similar amounts but they won't ever do a bad job once they get a contract - they may even add extra features just to keep the customer happy, or they're much cheaper than similar western companies, but won't always yield great results. I personally would prefer the former, but western companies seem to disagree since I only see the latter thriving.

I myself live in Romania and I'm working for a company in Austria doing web design. We're trying to develop exactly what I described in the paragraph above.

Due to the country's economic status companies like mine doing exclusively export with products they manufacture have great financial facilities: if you apply for this feature you can get to pay only 5% taxes! I didn't do this yet so I pay 17%, which is anyway better than the usual 30%. The 13% tax discount is due to the fact that I do export - but not specifically exporting products the company manufactures.

The only problem for you is that it's a little difficult to get money out of the country - when you receive US dollars for example they get converted to the national currency (ROL - i.e. "Romanian Lei" - in our case) and you can only use ROL when doing business in Romania. But you can then exchange ROL into USD after being taxed and send those back - you only lose some 2-3% by exchanging USD to ROL to USD. Add this to the 17% tax and you get to pay only 20%, regardless of the amount.

Who's your vendor, who's your vendor? — Scott Adams
time is K5
Poland at a glance (4.66 / 3) (#9)
by jabber on Thu Jun 14, 2001 at 09:52:38 AM EST

I recently visited Poland, and I was quite impressed. I didn't spend much time looking into it, as the trip was a vacation and not job-shopping but still. I got invited to some galla bash thrown by one of Poland's top systems integrators (Oracle, Solaris, etc). Very glitzy and slick.

Now, I know that it's hard to judge the health of an industry by it's parties, but in a way you can. Solidex went all out, and does so several times per year. Models wrapped in silk greet you at the door of a rented Warsaw U library (a brand new architectural landmark, which is why it was chosen this time) and give you a quickie tour of the digs.. Here's all the food tables (dozens if not more) where you can find anything you want.. Really. Well, almost. (What? No lobster? Ah, there it is..) There's the table area where you can eat in peace... Here's the dance floor and main schmoozing zone..

They (the models) then float through the crowd, squeezing through the tightest groups of people (did I mention the silk? I think that's all they were wearing) and making sure that no one is not holding a glass of wine or beer. I don't do wine, but the beer served was Heineken and better. The food was excellent BTW.

After a few brief rah-rah speaches by top execs and a few reps from Sun, they brought out Kayah (of I'd say Mariah Carrey caliber, for Poland) whom they also rented for the night. So she howled a selection of her old and new (new being not at all bad) stuff, and got tipsy on stage, which was amusing. I watched the 20-somethings dance themselves into a frenzy while the execs played all the usual games and I got to chat with a few techs about tech.. Sharp people. I should have brought a resume, or at least business cards - but it was a private vacation.

I got a $5 bottle of Irish Stout upon vacating, as did everyone else, so at least Solidex is doing too well to complain. They've been there for about 10 years now, and they've had better and better years each time.

That is my experience from the inside of the tech industry in Poland. Draw your own conclusions. Suffice it to say, it was very much like something that a Western company might do, with better food and booze.

The papers seem to devote about half their business sections to matters of IT, and telecom and connectivity are the clear top subject of discussion. The logistics of running digital cable to every home, HDTV, satellite communications, cellular, data backbones... I spent half my flight over reading about it - serious ramp-up and plenty of work for network people, sysadmins... The articles in the paper were surprisingly technical and well written. A real pleasure to read after dealing with the CNN style of coverage. Some, like an article on personal crypto for example, read like whitepapers. The tech reporters actually understand what they're writing about.

I don't know about the pay scale, but I suppose it all depends, just as in the US. I don't think anyone will hand you the keys to a new Ferrari just for knowing VB, but if you're competent, you will be comfortable. Bear in mind (especially the USians) that economics work differently there. Cost of living is significantly higher than Stateside, while the cost of luxury afterwards is relatively more attainable. That is to say that, once you clear the economic hump of living day to day, nice things are easy to get. It seems that IT pays well enough to get you nice things.

The general population runs the gammut. I met people who were very literate, and some who are completely clueless. The younger generations for the most part know whatever they need to about technology, while the War Era seniors tend to be completely ignorant - though there are exceptions, same as here.

I would say that, among the people I met, 2/3rds have computers at home, half are online from home, and 5% have cable internet. Their hardware is more out of date than their software, and pirated code can be had for a handshake.

Regulations are not catching up to technology and human ingenuity, and the legacy of 50 years of an oppressive system has certainly made people more opportunistic. If you want something done within the beurocracy, bring plenty of grease to get those wheels moving.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

ick (4.00 / 1) (#12)
by cp on Thu Jun 14, 2001 at 12:42:38 PM EST

Now, I know that it's hard to judge the health of an industry by it's parties, but in a way you can.
I hope you're not the guy in charge of standardizing on which IT systems for your company.

The only thing you can tell from attending the parties is whether the companies are spending money. This could have either of two explanations:

  1. They are doing well and have lots of money to burn.
  2. They aren't doing well but want to give the appearance of doing well via a sort of marketing loss leader.
If you're going to be an employee for the latter sort of company, then it might still be fun to play with the money as it burns. On the other hand, as the layoffs in Silicon Valley have shown, it's probably not a good longterm employment option.

[ Parent ]
Context.. (MSBob, you around?) (none / 0) (#13)
by jabber on Thu Jun 14, 2001 at 12:52:10 PM EST

Very true, which is why I included the bit about such events being relatively frequent, and that the company has been doing better and bigger for the last 10 years. A company can not bleed money like this for 10 years and not die, if they are not doing well.

I was really hoping to see a follow-up comment on this event from MSBob, since he seems to have his ear much closer to the ground in Poland. I was just visiting, and could only contribute based on what I had seen.

MSBob, if you're around, any more info on Solidex?
Bear in mind, English is their second language.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
[ Parent ]

I'm around... (5.00 / 1) (#14)
by MSBob on Thu Jun 14, 2001 at 01:17:29 PM EST

I'm not in Poland right now unfortunately, but I keep in touch with my friends from there. When I worked there I didn't get invited to many of such lush parties you mentioned :). Events such as boat sailing in Mazury were a great perk though. But we were just a small poor startup... However, companies doing big infrastructure work there (such as modernising state owned banking systems) have loads of money and wouldn't be surprised if they sponsored private holidays for their executives. I don't think there is much in a way of "money burn" as most banks still won't lend much money to a startup essentially meaning that they have to be profitable from day one. Perhaps the situation has changed since. Glancing at Solidex's web page they are already profitable though the company is eleven years old and doing infrastructure work... My bet's that they'll be around for a long time to come.
I don't mind paying taxes, they buy me civilization.

[ Parent ]
Solidex's financial statement (5.00 / 1) (#15)
by MSBob on Thu Jun 14, 2001 at 01:24:24 PM EST

is here: http://www.solidex.com.pl/en_ourfirm_results.phtml
I don't mind paying taxes, they buy me civilization.

[ Parent ]
Latvia (4.00 / 1) (#16)
by garias on Thu Jun 14, 2001 at 01:26:49 PM EST

would also be a great place to explore opportunities, although I'm not entirely sure what the IT situation is there. In *very* generally terms, though, the culture is extremely literate, in technical terms, and presents an interesting mix of Scandinavian and Western European culture, with a little Russian thrown in for good measure. I'm a little biased, as I'm originally from there, but if you can get past the freezing winters, not a bad place to spend a year or so.

Ukraine (3.00 / 1) (#21)
by prostoalex on Thu Jun 14, 2001 at 10:49:23 PM EST

Currently the high-tech is experiencing its mid-life crisis in Ukraine, that for many years hasn't been able to move much ahead from being the USSR republic.

The level of computer literacy there is quite decent in big cities, the Internet usage grows, but there's a lot of constraints coming from the government, that still has the idea of supreme control of everything that's happening within the country boundaries.

Perhaps to the outer world Ukraine is best knows for getting a top spot on the IFPI report on the pirating and mass CD production, the software piracy rate there is tremendous, although it looks like it's coming down with the government being forced to adopt the intellectual property laws. Maybe I am wrong, I've lived in the States for almost a year, and thus could miss some things, since my knowledge comes mostly from news and message boards.

There are many Americans, though, who like it over there, the country's standard of living is quite low, and for a small amount of money you can get pretty decent conditions, live in a nice apartment, go to good restaurants and have good beer.

The IT sector has its ups and downs, the good thing is that it doesn't depend on the NASDAQ fluctuation, or at least it seemingly ignores what's happening in the outside world. Most of the companies in the IT sector, however, are PC and hardware resellers, there are a few Internet companies, and there is no software industry as such, although offshore development is thriving.

Big cities are friendly to the foreigners and if you decide to visit Kiev, you will find a lot of places that are considered local hangouts for Americans, they don't even serve a menu in Ukrainian. The crime and freedom of speech are apparently an issue, but it's generally better currently than it used to be, and unless you are involved in some political activities, you should be quite safe.

There is some demand for the foreign people with IT skills that could serve as project managers for large shadow industry of offshore programming and Web development. The salaries perhaps are way lower than you would expect in the US, but on the relative scale it is perhaps even more.

Lithuania! (none / 0) (#22)
by Gleb on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 06:42:35 AM EST

I was surprised not to find Lithuania in your list of countries. During Soviet time many hi-tech developments were made there, notably in Kaunas (the second largest city after Vilnius, the capital). Now there are several IT companies, like Elsis that do advanced telecomm stuff, contract programming, etc. The level of IT specialists in Lithuania is very high, because many of them look at their job as a hobby, too, and feel enthusiastic about it. Of course, there are many problems related to a hard economic situation, but this can be said fo most ex-Soviet countries. Mail me for more information, if you are interested.

I'm NOT American! I'm från the Mounties' homeland (none / 0) (#23)
by Quietti on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 09:23:08 AM EST

Just to clarify matters, I have been working in Finland for the last 3 years. I speak the language fluently and have relevant IT Management skills, but regulations for hiring non-EU nationals have now become impossibly stingy since the Schengen treaty was enacted. Many companies would love to hire me, but end up giving up in the face of Schengen red tape.

Having travelled a bit in East Europe and learned Russian, being the travelling type by nature, I was thinking of relocating after a few years anyhow. Maybe the European Union helpped me decide to continue in East Europe right now, instead of later, by acting like xenophobist idiots. Davaite tchas!

The whole point of civilization is to reduce how much the average person has to think. - Stef Murky
Hungary (none / 0) (#24)
by dabadab on Mon Jun 18, 2001 at 06:34:05 AM EST

[ Before anything else, I'd like to point out that Hungary is in Central, not East Europe. Thanks for your attention :) ]
If you come to Hungary, you will most probably end up in Budapest (capitol, 2 million ppl (that's 20% percent of the total population)). A big, busy, dirty city though it definitely has nice parts.
You find here the usual corporations: Nokia, Siemens, Ericcson, etc have their branches here. I would consider .hu one of the most advanced countries of the region.
The infrastructure is not bad, ADSL - though rare yet - and cablenet (available at many places) is quite affordable.
In the supermarkets you will find prices similar to the EU but restaurants, bars, etcc are significantly cheaper. Pay is not that great and taxes are high, but hey, that's part of the feeling ;)
The language is unique, it's in the same family as Finnish though I did not see too much similarity between the two :)

Humm, that's Hungary in a nutshell :)
Real life is overrated.
Budapest is nice, Hungarian very similar language (none / 0) (#25)
by Quietti on Fri Jun 22, 2001 at 05:54:46 AM EST

I visited Budapest last summer and loved it. It is still untidy from years of Soviet negligeance that will require a mentality upgrade, but nonetheless really nice.

As for the resemblance with Estonian and Finnish, you mostly find it in the 200 words or so that are related to body parts and hunting vocabulary:

  • kez = käsi = hand
  • ver = veri = blood

However, none of the endings are the same as Hungarian. Between Estonian and Finnish, the difference is much smaller. To my ear, Estonian sounds like Finnish with the endings truncated - like someone was speaking with a hot potato in their mouth and with a slightly Russian accent. It remains easily understandable, though.

The whole point of civilization is to reduce how much the average person has to think. - Stef Murky
[ Parent ]
East Europe in the Dot-com-and-go aftermath | 25 comments (18 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
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