From the moment one lands in Lviv it’s clear that this city is different from the other IT hubs in Ukraine, and not only in appearance.
Arriving at the brand new local airport, I immediately saw promotional signs for the IT Cluster and overheard groups of enthusiastic IT professionals making their way to the Lviv IT Arena 2016. Of the 2500 in attendance, the majority of participants and speakers hailed from the US, Germany, and Netherlands as well as neighboring countries including Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Hungary.
Although the format and topics are similar to the Outsource People conference in Kiev, the mood is decidedly different – it’s a bit of an older, more mature crowd as compared to the young, energetic community at Outsource People. Yes, there were people bungee jumping over the football pitch, but overall I saw more suits than sneakers in attendance.
Lviv IT companies are gaining a global reputation as a top IT hub
The sophistication of the IT community in L’viv is undeniable, however, and the impressive display of local outsourcing and product companies demonstrated why this city is gaining a global reputation as a top IT hub.
In addition to the usual IT conference topics, there were two themes that seemed to permeate the entire event: capital investment and the future of IT.
With venture capital in Ukraine having reached enough critical mass to support a ‘true’ startup ecosystem, the message from investors had a theme of ‘hey everyone, it’s time, the money is here, let’s do this!’. By all accounts they are correct; the deal flow described by speakers like Lenna Koszarny and Alexander Galitsky shows that Ukraine has arrived as a legitimate startup hotbed without the scarcity of affordable talent that creates so much drag in places like the Silicon Valley.
Some final thoughts
Overall the conference was informative and interesting. I had mixed feelings about the venue, the L’viv Arena which is clearly a fantastic venue for football matches, it’s primary purpose.
The adjacent conference area, however, felt a bit awkward, with long hallways and stairs connecting large rooms weren’t always suited for presentations. The main area, while packed with booths and interesting displays, was extremely long and thin which led to crowded bottlenecks and tight queues for food.Overall the conference was informative and interesting.
The city of L’viv, on the other hand, is wonderful. It fits perfectly into SourceSeek’s formula for a great IT location – it’s big enough to support a real IT ecosystem but small enough to avoid big city problems. It is easy to get to and there are solid IT Universities feeding the software development sector with new graduates for IT companies in Lviv.
L’viv resembles nearby Krakow in many ways. The city was spared the total destruction suffered by so many European places in World War II, so the center of town consists of small, winding cobblestone streets rather than the grand, Soviet-style roads seen in many other former Soviet Union locations such as Kharkiv. The cost of living is also much (much!) lower than Kiev which we see reflected in their developer rates.
The fact that L’viv is a lovely place is important – outsourcing software to L’viv means your development partners are likely to have a nicer lifestyle and living situation, to be less stressed out, and generally happier. Happy developers write better code!
As an industry old-timer, one of my favorite surprises at the conference was the collection of vintage computers and paraphernalia on display – and very interesting conversations that started as a result.
The display of vintage computers was a favorite amongst the old-timers like me.
With all the momentum and energy in the Ukraine IT industry these days, there is still a sort of apprehension in the Ukraine IT community. There is confidence and optimism, but not nearly as much as I would hope for, given the incredible growth of the IT industry and the level of skill and innovation in Ukraine.
Ukraine has a complex history and some challenges to overcome, so this apprehension is understandable – but as far as I’m concerned Ukraine is an IT powerhouse and a world-class IT destination and I’m looking forward to returning to Ukraine and sharing in their success!
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