The "cyberwar" in Ekaterinburg will close the gap in the labor market
25.06.2014 — Analysis
Unless the winners leave.
Ekaterinburg is hosting the 38th World Finals of the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest. Organizers of the event are the ACM Association for Computing Machinery, Ural Federal University, the company SKB Kontur, the administration of the city of Ekaterinburg, and the Sverdlovsk regional government. IBM is the title sponsor.
Bill Poucher, the executive director of ACM-ICPC, told RusBusinessNews that contest applications had been received from 243 universities in 49 countries. And 122 teams from universities in 44 countries have reached the finals. Each team consists of three students, equipped with one computer, and all the contestants are given an identical set of problems and have five hours to create a computer program to solve them.
The final "game" will be on June 25, 2014. Discussion of this event rarely goes beyond the IT community, but this "cyberwar" may be even more significant for the development of the Sverdlovsk region than INNOPROM, the 2018 World Cup, or the Russia Arms Expo. The ACM championship is the only (!) currently known method of fostering programmers whose training is guaranteed to meet the requirements of the market. And it is also the way to create a new industry.
Today, the production of non-tangible goods such as software is responsible for the majority of the revenue in the global economy. In many countries the post-industrial sector plays a much more prominent role than traditional industry and agriculture. And the Urals can already feel how the IT sector is having a more substantial impact.
According to Sergei Frolov, the deputy minister of transportation and communications in the Sverdlovsk region, it's not possible to develop manufacturing companies today without using digital technology. Modern software is essential for constructing effective business processes, as well as logistical, technological, and other algorithms. "IT technology is a focal point for growth. Companies in the Urals are investing in this tool, which means that we're part of a global trend," he emphasizes.
The financial adviser Evgeny Gilbo noted that for a number of American companies, software purchases now make up 50-90% of all their investments. And soon the entire economy of the US and many other "advanced" countries will find themselves in a similar state.
The manufacturers of industrial equipment in the Urals also point out that intellectual product plays an increasing role in their sales. This might include, for example, the know-how that is integral to new products (at Ural Turbine Works, SVEL, and others), as well as IT solutions in their purest sense (SKB Kontur and Prosoft Systems).
"In our design of new products, software is a major component that keeps expanding," claims Dmitry Zhelobanov, the head of the design development team for automated process control systems in substations at Prosoft Systems, LLC. "That allows us to compete successfully with world-famous manufacturers."
The championship is an expo of talent
Ural Federal University is considered one of the leading universities in Russia for programmer education. Mikhail Rubinchik, the coach for the university's team and the manager of educational programs at SKB Kontur, told RusBusinessNews that UFU is one of only four universities in the country that has fielded teams that have made it into the finals of the ACM championship every year for the last decade.
According to Andrei Popov, the head of the Center for Labor Market Study (USUE -SINKH), even in Ekaterinburg the demand for IT professionals almost always exceeds the supply. And the representatives of companies operating in the software segment all say the same thing.
"One of the most acute problems in the IT industry has been and remains a shortage of skilled personnel," claims Dmitry Mramorov, the general director of SKB Kontur. "On average you get only one resume in from a decent programmer for every four vacancies. Universities provide theoretical knowledge and a way of seeing things, but often do not provide the practical design skills that the business world needs."
Dmitry Zhelobanov offers even more specific complaints about how programmers are educated at universities. According to him, some applied aspects of software creation are taught well in the Urals (programming languages and algorithms), but schools provide almost no overview of the approaches to creating industrial software systems and products, which is what businesses really need. Andrei Popov agrees, "Educational institutions simply cannot keep up with the rapid development of the industry, and cannot provide much current expertise, so most of that ends up being self-taught."
In such an environment, choosing an applicant to fill a programmer position is truly a momentous task. Documentary evidence of the job-seeker's qualifications (a university diploma, course-completion certificates, and other paperwork) can rarely provide an objective picture. Nor can an applicant's potential be revealed through testing mechanisms in any industry as unique as IT.
Spokesmen for programming companies in the Urals and throughout Russia claim that for them the annual Programming Championship can be a real lifesaver. Igor Ustyuzhanin, the head of the office of new product design at SKB Kontur, told RusBusinessNews that several generations of finalists from ACM ICPC have worked at his company at various times and that they were able to prove their mettle when involved in a wide variety of projects. There are currently 13 Urals-based finalists from the world championships working at SKB Kontur. "We are certainly ready to offer positions to those who do well in these competitions," he noted. "They're trainable, capable of methodical and systematic work to resolve a problem, and know how to work as part of a team."
Interestingly, not all representatives of the "cybernetic" business agree with this position. For example, Dmitry Zhelobanov notes that the ACM championship rewards superstar programmers, while businesses need experts in industrial programming. "In the tournaments the programmers are focused on coming up with a quick way to solve specific challenges with no regard for subsequent product development. But that approach thwarts the aims and objectives of the IT companies," he emphasizes.
But in general, experts concur that even in its current form, the ACM ICPC contests help to dramatically improve the state of affairs within that industry's labor market. SKB Kontur with virtually no competition hires students who have done well at ACM. They are the least risky contingent, according to the company.
"History shows that outstanding results at ACM ICPC are in no way a promise of success in industrial design work," emphasizes Dmitry Mramorov. "But at the same time it's clear that, more so than any other event, the World Finals works for Ekaterinburg's reputation as Russia's 'Silicon Valley.' Which means that there will be gifted students and programmers who will stay in the Urals even after graduating."
As Dmitry Zhelobanov observes, today the main task is to create an environment in which talented professionals will want to stay and work in Russia instead of emigrating.
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