Highload fwdays’19 Conference: Developer Culture in Eastern Europe

Conference Details

What is it?A large-scale developer conference that is dedicated to the development of high loaded technological projects, architecture, databases, DevOps, Security, Data Science etc.
DateSaturday 5 October 2019
LocationMercure Congress Hall, Kyiv, Ukraine
SizeApprox. 1000 attendees
Highload fwdays’19, Kyiv, Ukraine

Observations about Developer Culture in Eastern Europe

In September 2019, I spoke at the Cloud Native Warsaw Conference in Poland and I’ve just come back from speaking at the Highload fwdays’19 conference in Ukraine. Whilst at the conferences, I had great discussions with a lot of developers and other IT professionals, finding out about their culture, trends and challenges, to see how they align with Western Europe.

In my opinion, there should be more attention paid to the tech industry in Eastern Europe in general. Especially, Poland, Romania and Ukraine are hot spots. There are 100,000+ developers there. In Western Europe, we may not have heard of all the companies that they work for or the partners out there, but they all work for our main customers who we know very well. Some popular companies in Ukraine are: SoftServe, epam, DataArt, Levi9 and Svitla.

In Ukraine, an engineer is viewed as a prestigious role and is well paid (similar level to doctors). However, they are still viewed as “geeks”. Some people are just in it for the money, others are very passionate (same as in the West). Ukrainian developers are more like sys admins / dba role. At school and university, they have been raised to learn about many subjects, having a very wide breadth of knowledge. They are taught to be generalists, and not specialists. This transfers to the workplace too. Engineers know about all sorts of different technologies.

The typical work I do in EMEA, involves working with enterprises who have difficulties working with outsourced teams and 3rd parties, where they have little control over how these teams work, as the teams just have to deliver according to their agreements/contract.

In Ukraine (and Eastern Europe), the engineers are often these outsourced teams. Each engineer works on multiple projects, requiring different skills and are constantly doing context switching. Engineers are expected to do everything: operating systems, networking, databases, app dev…

Ukrainian engineers have drive and are ambitious. They want to learn and better themselves. Conferences are extremely well attended, with participants travelling long distances for hours to get to them. They understand that they need to differentiate themselves and learn more to get better jobs, as generalists are easily replaceable. They want to try to get the higher paid jobs in Ukraine, where you need to know more about business and have technical customer conversations (Solution Architect type roles). However, there are limited opportunities to get these skills on the job and it’s not so easy for them to learn.

Ukrainian engineers aspire to one day work for the big tech companies, eg. Google, Microsoft and Amazon, in Europe or the US. However, they struggle with job interviews as the rest of the world expects you to be a specialist and they are unsure what to do with people with such broad skills. Obtaining visas can also be problematic.

Engineers are given performance objectives and expected to improve by learning on their own time, outside of their 40 hour week. Senior developers are expected to mentor others, on top of their workload and learning. If the mentees struggle, then the mentors are expected to do the work of mentees as well, to bring the quality of their work up to an acceptable standard.

A job requirement is often to speak English. Most Ukrainian developers speak 3 languages: Ukrainian, Russian and English. They are massive fans of Grammarly (who have a large office out there), which they heavily use when writing in English to clients in Europe and the US.

One developer said he loves the Spanish culture. When he works with those in Spain, they are very relaxed, calm under pressure and go with the flow – very different to in Ukraine.

The culture in Ukraine is still heavily influenced from remnants of the Soviet Union. There is a lack of trust, where people are not open unless they know you. Even walking down the street and public settings, people avoid eye contact and don’t stop for chitchat. There’s a fear “big brother” is still watching you. In work teams, the team lead role is seen as special. The person in the role is trusted by the rest of the team, and almost does a HR like function, caring for the group’s well being.

My Talk

I gave a talk entitled “Default to Open: Creating a DevOps Culture” (website), where I spoke about:

  • What is DevOps?
  • Why is Culture Important for DevOps Adoption?
    • no agreed definition of the “correct” / “right” culture. Different organisations require different cultures. 
    • linked to open source community values
    • Mindset, behaviours and practices
    • Degrees of open / degrees of Devops
  • Transitioning to a DevOps Culture
    • Starts With Leadership Buy-In
    • Discovery Process
    • Identify Your Key Challenges
    • Fail Fast Culture
  • Tools (Open Source)
  • Q&A
    • The conference used Slido, where people could enter and vote on questions throughout the talk. I like the approach. I was asked:
      • How can you create an environment that is more inclusive for men? (I think this was a joke question, but I answered it anyway speaking about inclusivity in general for anyone, with the idea of making people feel comfortable)
      • What approaches does Red Hat apply to support and improve employee’s motivation to collaborate and be a team player (follow key notes of DevOps culture etc.)?
      • DevOps culture seems to share a lot with teal organisations. Do Red Hat plan to move in this direction?
      • Who should be responsible for implementation/managing DevOps culture at Organisations?
      • What type of benefits do you have in Red Hat where you can spend your earned scores? (referencing the Reward Zone points I spoke about)

After my talk, I had several long discussions about various cultural aspects, including distributed teams and how to hold effective virtual meetings. There is very much a demand for more cultural and business strategy discussions in Ukraine.

I recommend that Western Europe take a closer look at developers in Eastern Europe. There’s so much potential from these ambitious passionate engineers!

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