Macedonia’s IT problem

A fancy image I borrowed from the interwebs.

Let me tell you a story about a small Balkan country that is facing a huge IT problem. Macedonia is the place I call a homeland, and Macedonia is the place I would doubt working at.


A country with a strong IT community

They talk about it in the news, it’s true. Macedonia is a country with a lot of IT talent. Companies from all over the world are opening offices in Skopje, and hiring students straight out of university. Frontend, backend, QA, mobile, you name it, we have it. In fact, we have so much of it, that it has become a problem.

I graduated as a bachelor of Computer Science and Engineering this year, and moved to Amsterdam. Why? I could have found work in Skopje without a problem. I already did a couple of internships at different companies during my studies, and I trust they would have me back. But I moved, because of the disposable asset problem, as I call it.

Having too much is never good

There are currently 700 students in my generation alone studying IT. That’s just my generation, and my university. Do 4 generations of it, since the program existed, and you already have 2800 qualified IT engineers. That does not take into account generations that study IT at other universities, nor generations before the special IT program opened.

This is where the problem begins .We have no intro exam, and they will accept almost anyone to the program, no matter how bad they scored on their high school graduation test (similar to the SAT). Rooms are packed, teachers and assistants can’t give equal attention to everyone, and the education program is unbalanced because you have people with years of prior programming experience, and people who haven’t seen anything more than Facebook on a computer.

Job positions and salary

Oh, there are a ton of job openings, all with wonderful starting salary of €300–€400 monthly. If you are lucky, you may get to €500 in a couple of years.

Now, people may argue that that salary is normal for the Macedonian standard, and I would just like to give you a comparison. In the Netherlands, there is a thing called a highly-skilled migrant (people from outside the EU that are considered to posses highly wanted skills, like IT). A company that hires a highly-skilled migrant must pay him a monthly salary of €3.071 (excluding holiday allowance) if the person is below 30 years of age, and €4.189 if the person is 30 and older [1]. Let’s take into consideration that you have to pay 42% tax on that income [2], which leaves you with €1781 or €2429 after deduction. That is 6 times more than back home. And living costs accumulate to less than double of that back home, so you are still way ahead working the same job with the same qualifications.

Disposable Asset Problem

But let’s say that even with the crappy salary, you do get a job in IT. You must never forget that an IT worker is considered disposable in Macedonia. Instead of being viewed as a valuable employee, there are just so many people that “can” do your job, that your company can change you on the fly. Notice the quotation marks around the word ‘can’. They are there to symbolize that there are so many people who say that they can do your job. Even if that is not true, employers get the wrong picture of a wide range of free engineers. So think twice before complaining.


Look, there are a exceptions, new companies that are opening offices in Skopje, and treating employees with the respect and salary that they deserve. But they are limited, and more and more of the other kind of ‘use cheap labor’ companies are appearing, praying on inexperienced students that are willing to do anything for any sum of money, just to work in a field related to their profession (something that in Macedonia is not that common, you can find veterinarians working at the supermarket, or lawyers working at the car-wash). Yes, we have a lot of outsourcing companies, but think about it, do outsourcing companies come to us because we have cheap labor? Is that how we want to be known?

Is there a solution in sight?

Yes, and it may not solve the whole problem, but to me it’s definitely a start. Drastically limit the number of IT students. When you only have 50–100 students per year studying IT, they can have a quality education, be trained in the right skills, take up quality positions after graduation, and be respected more, since you can’t just throw out a developer and find a new one in a week. Salaries will go up, people will be willing to stay and work in Macedonia, and maybe, just maybe, you can keep the youth inside the borders of their motherland.

UPDATE: OK, this may be too simple of a solution to too big of a problem, as some of you have stated. And that is true, there are multiple causes for people wanting to work abroad, and I am just addressing one of them here. But as I see it, having 700 students per year (this year they raised it to 930 [3]), then the education program can’t be adjusted to cover everyone’s interest. You have people who have programmed before in high school or have taught them selves, and people who truly come into contact with computers at this stage. Having this difference will make the quality of the education drop, since it’s now focusing on those with less experience, and the people who already have a head start, are left to work on own projects, do internships and find other ways of advancing their knowledge.

Once you cut down on the number of students (selection at enrollment), then you can have a program that is of higher quality, and covers more relevant material.

Conclusion

This is my point of view, and may be flawed, since there are more problems than this that cause the issue at hand, and I can’t say that I am the most experienced guy in the Macedonian IT sector. I would love to hear your opinion in the responses below if you agree, disagree, or if you think that there is another root cause to the problem :)



OK, enough of the rant. Here, have a cookie.

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