Belarus Is a Hot IT Destination – with Vasili Yavorchuk

The secret is out software development in Belarus

More and more clients know that software development companies in Belarus are producing quality code, are reliable and are easy to work with. So, what is it that makes Belarus so successful while other countries struggle to break through quality, culture, and language barriers.

Vasili Yavorchuk is the CEO of Exposit Digital Systems in Grodno, Belarus, and joins us today to share his insight into what makes outsourcing to Belarus such a great destination, and what it’s like to work with Belorussians.

Transcript of This Interview

Dave: Hey, everybody. I’m Dave Hecker and today we’re going to be talking with Vasily Yavorchuk from Exposit Digital Services. He will be joining us from Grodno, Belarus and he’s going to share his thoughts with us about why Belarus is such an up and coming outsourcing in destination and what it’s like to work with Belarusians. Before we start, I want to apologize for the quality of the audio and video of the interview. It’s pretty bad. We have some technical issues but it’s still usable. So sorry for that. Here we go.Okay. Today I’m here with Vasily Yavorchuk who is with Exposit Digital Services. They are out of Grodno in Belarus. And today we are going to talk a little bit about Belarus software. A lot of Americans don’t know much about it, but it’s one of the premier upcoming outsourcing destinations. Welcome, Vasily.Vasily: Yeah, welcome. Nice to meet you here. And thank you for inviting me for that interview.Dave: You’re welcome. It’s good to have you. Most Americans aren’t very familiar with Belarus, although recently it’s been on the news a little bit because of the meetings about Ukraine and Russia that happened in Minsk. But I think probably most Americans still can’t find it on the map and they don’t know much about it. Will you give us some idea, please, about why you think that Belarus is becoming such a successful software destination? What is it about Belarus? Everybody loves it now.Vasily: Okay. So first of all, it’s quite easy to find it on the map, if you know where to look for. So if you look above the Ukraine, or west to Russia or east to Poland, there you will find a small place called Belarus.Dave: Excellent.Vasily: Yeah. It’s quite a small country. There is 10 million citizens here and what differs us from our neighbors is that we do not have the national resources. We do not have oil or gas or the other national resources that makes us to take care about us with the other way. So they develop science and in particular the I.T. branch just to be competitive with the neighbors. Yeah? Belarus was a construction plant of the Soviet Union. There was a lot of technical universities. We had a good higher school for the mathematics, for the software, for the electronic and so forth. So we somehow have defended it and we are utilizing this at the moment.In the I.T. industry, Belarus is quite well known because we are making a lot of software services for the companies all over the globe, in the United States and then Eastern Europe. One of the very famous companies, which is famous for a big software vendor, it’s known in United States and it’s traded on the New York Stock Exchange. It’s EPAM Systems, coming originally from Belarus and then glad to be personally, I know personally their founder and C.E.O.Dave: Really? Was EPAM originated in Belarus?Vasily: Yeah, EPAM Systems was created in Belarus.Dave: I thought it was in Russia. I never knew this.

Vasily: No, it’s Mr Dobkin. He is originally from Minsk. I met him some nine months ago. So it was found in Belarus.

Dave: You know, I’ve taken a few trips to Belarus. I’ve always been to Minsk. I’ve never been to Grodno. I hope to come soon. But people are always telling me there that it’s the education system, some of it is leftover from the Soviet Union, but the way that the universities and the schools work is Belarusians, they love science. They have so much value on it and they really love problem solving. But what is it about the universities there that is producing so many good software developers? How do you do it?

Vasily: Okay. It’s not so easy. As for me, I have graduated in 1999 in local university in Grodno. There is several faculties where they prepare software developers. And since then, we are in very tight cooperation with the university. I personally make lectures there. Past two years, I was making the lectures concerning the software developer, the development languages and stuff like that. Last year, I regularly made them a list of lectures for methodology of the software development for the organization of software development process and so forth.

So we are always in a tight contact. The life is changing now and it’s very important to be in tight contact because the knowledge gets out of order too fast. We are rotating the languages, the technologies and so forth. And it’s very important that the business takes part in the education. So since the third year of studies in the universities, normally people come here to our company and they start training here so that when they are graduated, they have such an experience in a practical software development. Then they’re ready to us.

Dave: But is it true that in the culture in Belarus, people don’t just respect science, they put a huge value on it? I keep hearing this from people in Belarus. They don’t just value science and engineering, they think it’s one of the highest, most prestigious careers you can have. Do you agree with this?

Vasily: You know, here in Belarus, we do not have so much options, as I said. We should be educated and I.T. is one of the best ways we can do with what we have. We do not need a lot of investments with I.T. What you need is your head, your computer and the people who can teach you how to do that. So that’s a very natural way for Belarus to make what they can. So we are trying to become real experts in this.

Dave: Okay. But you know, there’s a lot of countries trying to do this. They are trying to do this in Vietnam and Costa Rica and a bunch of other places and it’s not quite as successful as Belarus. Let me ask you another question. Belarus is becoming such a popular destination for software that I’m beginning to worry that it will become too popular and then it will be a little bit like in San Francisco, you know? It becomes so popular that the rates become very high and then the developers become a little bit spoiled and it’s not so good anymore. Do you worry that the industry will be so successful that it will start to lose focus and lose quality over time?

Vasily: Okay. I don’t think so. In 21st century, we are competing with all the globe. So we are, in Belarus, we are competing with the companies in Belarus, we are competing with the companies from India and so forth. So you are successful at the time when the rate between your price and the quality you deliver is proper. So I know we are in open competition now.

Dave: Yeah. But don’t be too sure. Because if you look at like in Kiev now, well, now things are difficult in Kiev. But recently the rates have become so high in Kiev because it was really the number one destination for a long time that the developers are constantly jumping from one place to another, and it’s affecting all of the quality and all of that, and it’s beginning to affect the reputation in Kiev. So you don’t worry that something like this will happen in Belarus?

Vasily: You know, I think this is a problem of particular people and particular companies. You should always be trying that your prices correspond to the quality you deliver. I don’t only mean the quality of the software itself, of the software code, but also of the quality of communication with how complicated projects you have to do. The prices may vary. Bigger companies who have to do these really complex problems here, these really big projects and have higher costs because of it, they set up the bigger prices. And if their price will be too high very fast, they will be out of the competition because the world is so tight now. It’s not so complicated to find them as a vendor. I understand the problem of the particular clients when their vendor starts, for example, increasing the prices without having a real reason for it. It’s a kind of a monopoly, the dependency of the client on them. It’s a very bad idea and I think it’s a very bad strategy for them. But still there are such people, and for this question, I can give just an advice.

You asked in the list of questions you kindly sent me before, it had to do with freelancers, but the same is about vendors. If you see the reasons to start worrying about it, you should remember that, one, it’s bad. You should not come into too deep dependency on the people you do not trust. If you get what I mean.

Dave: Yeah.

Vasily: One supplier is bad, one customer is again bad. So it should be balanced. If you see sometimes that your vendor starts behaving in not cooperative manner, not taking into account your need, it might be a time to take a look and to make some insurance. That’s what I can say about it. In general, I think our prices are very competitive. I shouldn’t make advertising. Answering your question, no we are not afraid about it.

Dave: You know, the pricing in Belarus right now is really good. It’s easy for a Belarusian company to compete worldwide. I mean, I see it’s not the lowest, cheapest place in the world, I don’t think, but the quality for the money is very good. So I worry that it’s going to rise like it did in Ukraine. But maybe not. My impression of people in Belarus, after being there quite a bit, is they are very serious. They move slowly. And I don’t think they are suddenly going to begin raising prices in an emotional way because they can. They’re building companies very slowly. And a lot of Americans call me, and they don’t really know about Belarus software outsourcing, so they’re asking, what is it like to work with them, the culture? And I always tell them there’s one thing that I learned. It was a Russian kind of expression and it translates something like, “In Belarus, we mount our horses slowly and we ride them fast.” Have you ever heard this one?

Vasily: I know I haven’t heard this one. But we have set an identity. When you tell Russian that you imagine they are the bear, and the vodka and so forth, for the Ukrainians, there is such an explanation. For Belarus, all our neighbors, they have the identity and it’s a word hard to translate, but the closest English word is, they are patient. So Belarus have never started any wars known in its history. We are always a part of Russia, of Poland, of Lithuania where wars come in over us, but we were not aggressive. We are patient. That means that people here are just making their job.

Dave: Yeah, I can feel this in the software. There is a patience. It’s like a steadiness, you know? So I’ve had a lot of good experiences. I’ve done a lot of work with Belarus software outsourcing and what I know is that when you begin a project, you’re not going to see some code on the first day. The Belarusians don’t work like this. They want to have the foundation, they’re going to set everything up, they do some analysis. They don’t do too much. It’s not ridiculous. But they will have everything organized before they begin. And then later you see the benefit of this. But you know, Americans can be the opposite, right?

Vasily: Yeah.

Dave: Americans are cowboys. So they say, “We want to be very agile. So I want to see a release in the first week. I don’t care. I want something in the first week.” And I’m always trying to advice the Americans that in Belarus, this is not a good culture fit. You have to trust them to build the foundation and work in a different way, and you get a return later on. But is it true? Is it your experience with Americans, they really want things fast and they push for it?

Vasily: Okay. For every country you have to do this, you have certain differences. For America, it’s definitely, you are very fast. Everything is done very fast. The contracts are met fast and broken fast. The ideas are raising up fast and closed fast. That’s the way of doing business in the United States. It’s very different not only to Belarus, it is different to all of the Europe.

For example, if you like to make a contract with these Germans, normally it takes 3 months, 6 months, 12 months before you make a contract. They are discussing, they are prototyping, they are meeting with you several times, they are calculating and negotiating, and if you finally make the contract, they are with you for many years. Their planning is very far away. So I think it’s European way of doing. As for Agile methodology, I think it works very cool. What you said about it’s just two different approaches to the software development process. Well, I understand the first you told, it’s a classic waterfall when we are clarifying the specification, we are clarifying the details, we are making the concrete estimation and the plan, and after that we are executing it just like that.

It’s one of the ways to make the software, and we are utilizing it very much. One of the key preferences or one of the key advantages of such kind of the process is that, for example, you can get a fixed price for the project, and you can be sure that you will get what you ordered for what you get paid at the moment what was guaranteed for you. The Agile process is just another approach to software development. It’s not better, it’s not worth. It’s just different because it has another initial stage and another style of reaching the goal. When you are prototyping very fast, you don’t spend your time on making specification, on coordinating a lot of requirements for 2 months forward. You are just making a shorter sprint. We specify …

Dave: Do you think that the Belarusian culture of this patience, and this slow moving, and focusing that you like to do things right quality, does it make it difficult for Belarus software developers to work in an Agile way?

Vasily: No, I don’t think so. We are making a lot of projects in Agile way.

Dave: Really? Because I’ve had some trouble with this.

Vasily: We have no trouble with this. One who likes it can check it with our customers in Germany and then United States. We are doing this. And normally, we are advising the customers when to choose this or that way.

Dave: When I started doing Agile development in Minsk about three years ago, I had this terrible problem because I would tell the developers, “Look, I want to do a quick estimation of every story, every feature, and do it like points. If it’s a small feature, a medium feature or something big, and it’s very rough. And I would go out there and I would sit with them and I’d say, “Look, we’ll talk about each feature for maybe one or two minutes and then we take a guess. Don’t worry about accuracy now. Just do your best. Next week, we’re going to look at these features again and guess again. It’s like the Agile process.” Boy, they really struggled with this because these developers, they’re Belarusian developers.

They want everything to be perfect and exact. And what I learned was, and this is another thing that I always tell my clients, when you’re working in Belarus, these guys, they are going to treat every single project, no matter what it is, it’s a game, it’s an app, it doesn’t matter, they treat it like it’s a spaceship launch. Everything is so serious. They hate to make mistakes. And when they are estimating, they really want to do it right. So when we try to make them to go Agile, we’re trying to teach them to free themselves, to be 80% correct. It’s okay.

And I found that the Belarusian developers, they really, really struggled with this. But after about maybe six months of training, they’re the best Agile developers that I’ve ever seen. Once we teach them that it’s okay if it’s not perfect, that in Agile, nothing is really perfect, and once they learn that, they can be successful, even if they’re moving more quickly than they want to. Suddenly they are beginning to love it. But I had a lot of trouble working with these developers to make them Agile at the beginning. But you didn’t experience this?

Vasily: Okay. I think you should update your notes and your recommendations to the clients, yeah? Because it must have to do with one particular company or a couple of particular companies you are experienced with.

Dave: You think so?

Vasily: Yeah, I think so because we at Exposit and at the company I was the partner and the C.E.O. of before Exposit… Yeah, I was the C.E.O. of the company, the bigger one, of 100 employees and so forth. So we were utilizing the Agile process very well. You know, from my experience, the trouble here at both ends of the wire. Either the people or the vendor are not familiar with the Agile process, they are afraid of the estimates they’re doing, they can’t really follow the temp, how to say, the speech of the development. They are not familiar with this process, and they are afraid of the big difference with the process they got used to.

Dave. You mean the clients, right? The clients can’t keep up?

Vasily: Yeah, and the clients, yeah. This is the other end of the wire. The real problem appears when the clients like to act in Agile style, but at the same time, they want to get a fixed price, for example.

Dave: Yes. Have you had this problem? I see this so . The client comes and they say, “We love Agile. We want to be Agile. Of course, we want to be modern as startup. Agile is wonderful.” So then you begin the project, and the first thing they do, they say, “We need a perfect estimation and a deadline. We want to know 100% accurately.” Do you have this problem where people say that they’re Agile but they are not?

Vasily: That’s not a problem. For us, that’s just a daily work that they appear as customers which do not understand this real difference, because these are two different worlds, and each of them has pros and cons. To be detailed, we can do these fixed prices with ease and utilize the Agile process. It’s really working. But you must understand that when you are making the Agile style, changing the requirements, you are just controlling how you are approaching to the limit of the budget. You can control it. You can keep in seams the volume of the requirements, you proceed and with ease. You can do that. And our task as a professional is to explain to the customers this difference in the beginning. We have simple examples, we have templates of the documents, that means of the attachments to the contract, which explain both processes, and what’s necessary to understand to the customer that it’s very simple formula. When they are asking us about the Agile against fixed price, it’s very simple formula.

Fixed price means fixed requirements, normally. If you are going to change the requirements every time, you should be ready to the situations as the price changes. And either you utilize the Agile process, okay, we start in American cowboy style, and let’s do it until we are out of money. Or you utilize a smart approach where you always remember about the budget we choose in the end. And when you kept the intention to modify the requirements, you should always ask your questions, Is this really so necessary? Is it really a good time to do it right now? Does my new idea, which I just had a few minutes ago, does it really worth the money spent for each and the delay in the delivery, losing the time to market and so forth? So when you are concentrated on this idea, it works very well.

Dave: Okay. It sounds like you’ve had a pretty good experience with Agile. I know that a lot of companies struggle with it, not because of the employees, but because of the clients. Agile client who is not truly Agile can really be difficult. But I think you speak to it well. Let me ask you a few quick questions about Grodno and your company. How large of a city is Grodno?

Vasily: Okay. It’s nearly 400,000 citizens.

Dave: Is it incredibly clean like Minsk? Because I’ve never seen such a clean city.

Vasily: Yeah, it’s incredibly clean, and in comparison to Minsk, it’s more ancient. Minsk is very modern. It was ruined during the Second World War, and what you see now there is the Soviet architecture. That’s even great. Grodno is much more similar to European cities. It has an old city of downtown where you see the old stone buildings and so forth. But it’s definitely very clean, as they call Belarus.

Dave: Okay. And how large is your company? And what’s the main focus of the company now? Is there one technology or one sector that you’re really focusing on?

Vasily: Okay. In my company, there are 35 employees nowadays. 30 of them are technical specialists, that means the software development, code specialists, and project managers. We have certain technology focus because you can’t do everything. To cut a long story short, it’s Java development for enterprise projects. It’s PHP for the projects which should, for example, be load-sensitive. That means proceed to millions of requests and so forth. That’s for server sites. Also we have a big experience in native mobile developments for iOS and Android. And since the last two years, we are investing a lot in frontend technology like HTML5, what’s called HTML5. That means the modern technologies for frontend clients and also the hybrid technology to compile HTML5 application to mobile platforms.

Dave: Oh, really? How is that going? I hear a lot of trouble, like Sencha, things like that.

Vasily: Yeah. So we have developed the good technology, how you develop the HTML5 codes so that you can deploy it as a website. And with the scripts, you can build each as the application which is running on iOS and Android, and it can utilize the platform-specific features. So we are proud of this technology we have developed each for one of our German customers. And I think this year we will make really impressive projects basing on this. So that’s what concerns the technology focus, but of course, it’s always good when you are choosing the vendor. It’s always good, if besides technology, the vendor is familiar with your business demand, for example. So we have several business demands where we have a good experience that has to do with media production, if you know what is that.

Dave: Sure.

Vasily: It’s everything which concerns producing the images, the PDF documents, translating them to marketing channels and so forth. So we have nearly 12 years experience in that and we have the partners in Europe which have a really longer history of 50 years in that industry. So that’s something which might be useful to somebody.

Dave: Very good. Okay. I want to thank you for taking the time to chat with me. And it all sounds very interesting to come in Belarus, which I will be in the summer time. Maybe I’ll come say hello.

Vasily: Okay. You can say hello, you can make me a phone call. And I hope that is not our last meeting. Let’s stay in touch.

Dave: Okay. Thank you very much.

Vasily: Thank you. And have a nice day.


Vasili Yavochuk, Exposit Digital Systems

Exposit offers a full cycle of software development services: from initial analysis and conceptual evaluation to system maintenance.

Dave Hecker

Co-Founder at SourceSeek at SourceSeek
Dave is a seasoned technology executive focused software delivery, quality, process, and helping clients succeed at international software outsourcing.