Igor Mamonenko: “Work Where You Live and Prosper”

BelHard Group CEO Igor Mamonenko about the IT Country project, which he put forward 10 years ago, and about BelHard IT Academy.

About “IT Country”

We at BelHard began to make software in 1998. The first mass project appeared in 2000, it was associated with banking software and Internet banking. Since then, the number of people involved in software development has become hundreds. We have seen that investing in this business is much more profitable, because the hardware market was overcrowded and limited, its margins have decreased dramatically.

When the software appeared and we saw the world prices for these services, we considered the specifics of the Belarusian market and realized that we can run a business with high margins here for a long time. However, there were simply not enough people at that time; all national higher education institutions graduated only about 2,500 specialists in the field of IT. In 2003, an information park appeared with benefits for programming, in 2005, a High-Tech Park (we participated in the development and implementation of this idea). As a result, we had the idea to train specialists on our own.

The average salary in 2000 was $100, while programmers were paid about $1,200 (about $7/hour). Now companies are striving to reach $35/hour, but this largely depends on the duration of the project and the composition of participants.

Our idea sounds like this: a person, living in Belarus and working on the Internet, can receive a salary close to that in the world in the same area.

We don’t need jobs that are lacking in our country. We need professions that are lacking in the world. The world is becoming limitless, so you need to focus on the professions that the world needs, and master them right here.

At that time, we proposed the idea — in 10 years, 300,000 people and $7 billion turnover. This was the first version of the program. The second version was 1,000,000 and $50 billion. Now we are promoting the third version — 50% of all employed and about $200 billion.

The logic is very simple — according to forecast world statistics until 2035, in general, this industry is growing by about 20% per year. It should be understood that China has influence on our officials. The Chinese put the following conditions by 2035: out of 800 million workers, 400 million should work in the IT sector. Of course, they have a high proportion of computer hardware, while we have no money and no time to build factories, so we are concentrating on the development of software.

Now there is a shortage of 10 million programmers in the world, so no matter how many specialists we graduate, with proper training, all of them will be employed.

The domestic software market in our turnover is probably 1%. We, unfortunately, have no buyers for the software solution. But the state has provided benefits and said that we should develop, and those decisions on the management of the city, taxes, etc. we can implement as a public-private partnership. That is, the company introduces software at its own expense, the state gets the effect, and part of the money saved goes into paying this company. That’s how it works now.

A very important and fundamental point is that programming is one of the varieties of remote work. But remote work can be quite simple, for example, video surveillance. I expressed this idea 10 years ago, it sounded as follows: one of my friends retired at 45 years old and can now watch the perimeter of an American factory through a monitor via the Internet, because when it’s night in America, it’s daytime here.

This is just an example. There are about a million different professions related to IT. But in America, 85% of all companies use remote work, this is completely fresh statistics. This is due to the fact that Americans have a large territory, and the average American lives and works at home 120 kilometers from the place of work. This phenomenon is massive there.

Any work on a computer — as an accountant, marketer, content and site maintenance — in Belarus you work geographically 5-10 kilometers from home. When the Internet appears, you can work for America, for those countries where you will be paid thousands of dollars for the same job. And you don’t have to be a programmer, it’s just an evolution. You start with a simple job, get, say, hundreds of dollars. If you are able to learn and evolve further in your development, then you start getting thousands of dollars.

My favorite example is that beginners in the field of artificial intelligence in Switzerland earn half a million dollars a year. There are 10,000 graduates in this field in Belarus, we haven’t yet learned to sell ourselves at the normal price, but there is a table of ranks and a table of wages. Simple remote work is cheap — video surveillance of shops, factories, entrances, kindergartens, schools, filling websites, replacing goods, replacing prices. There is also more complicated work, doing which a person can earn thousands of dollars for himself and to pay taxes without leaving his home, helping to provide health care in his area, roads, etc. We have chosen a slogan for this that goes like “Work where you live and prosper”.

There is a feasible work for everyone. If you teach a person to work on a computer, if he has access to the Internet and if you remove organizational issues from him, for example, he gives 10% of his earnings to a person who will find a job for him and help with training, then there are absolutely no limits. My 80-year-old mother could easily work on the iPad.

With knowledge of the English language, everything is simple. Even now, programmers who work for the domestic market receive 2 times less than those who work for foreign ones. With an average salary of 2000 and 1000, without knowing English, you will receive $1000 per month less. And in a year this is $12,000 — for this money, many people will force themselves to learn English.

We presume that our traditional industries will free up about 2,000,000 people. We have several of them — agriculture, engineering, maybe chemistry, some other enterprises. We have an expert in the field of accounting policy, Sushkevich, he boasted that every seventh Belarusian is now engaged in money accounting — accountants, those who control them, etc. Now we have 4,400,000 employed people, respectively, every seventh is 300,000 people, this is absolutely unacceptable.

All these people already know how to work on a computer, so let’s teach them that they don’t suck juices from the Belarusian society, but on the contrary, saturate it with money earned abroad.

About Preventing Emigration

There are about 40,000,000 people in Ukraine now. According to statistics, in 1.5 years after receiving the Schengen passports 9,000,000 of them left the country, according to unofficial data — 14,000,000 (more than 50% of the total working-age population). In Lithuania, out of 3,500,000 population, 1,000,000 went abroad.

The same will happen in our country if we don’t launch the “IT Country” project. Programmers will give the state additional money that the state can spend on teachers, doctors, roads, etc. If a programmer has a salary of $3,000 by 2035 (this is a modest calculation, because it is now $2,000), then it will grow to $1,000 for ordinary professions.

A programmer needs an apartment, furniture, kindergartens, shops, so a hairdresser will be able to earn not $100, but $1000, this is inevitable.

I support a state without borders. The European Union now represents this, the union of Belarus and Russia is in some way close to this. And for a programmer there are no borders at all. What is happening in Ukraine? It is unprofitable for junior-level programmers to go to Netherlands — the salary is too low. A senior’s not interested in going there because the locals wouldn’t let them. The middle level is optimal; in order to reach it, you need 2-3 years, depending on your abilities. And Ukraine is like a catapult — a person works 2-3 years, learns something, then leaves, his family follows him, and they will never return.

Let’s assume that people can work regardless of their location. If the people of Belarus work for a Japanese, English, Canadian corporation, there’s nothing wrong with that. And if the Filipinos work for Belarus, there’s nothing wrong with that either. The question here is how we can create conditions in terms of services, taxes, portals, so that it would be profitable to work in our country or through our country, and we also deal with that.

Of course, we can say that we are microbes in relation to others, and it will be objective. Germany has allocated $20 billion only for artificial intelligence, there are no such budgets in our state, but our government has provided benefits (including for the HTP), this is also one of the investment options.

First of all, I’m talking about Decree No.12, because Decree No.8 is the development of the 12th Decree, where they improved some parameters. In particular, a fundamental point was added — preferences for education and so-called Business Process Outsourcing, or telework. Any telework is now privileged by the 8th Decree, thus, any work on the Internet is privileged. We already have a competitive advantage.

In order for us to proudly call ourselves an IT country, we must be better than Singapore, better than Japan, government agencies, companies, and the population should be oversaturated with IT technologies that would improve our quality of life. But this is all postponed.

I don’t set any goals. When they ask me in the government, in the presidential administration, “Do you really believe in these $200 billion?”, what’s the difference? If not 200, let’s make at least $100 billion, let’s start moving in this direction. Why do we need headquarters for management? You have a fire. You don’t know the direction the wind is blowing, the weather forecast, whether it will rain, etc. Depending on the situation, we should do the maximum possible.

We are now performing functions of a fire brigade, so that Belarus doesn’t turn into Lithuania or Ukraine, so that it doesn’t become empty.

Lithuanians have opened an employment office in Pastavy. If earlier there were 50 people a month, now there are 100 people a day. It turned out that if you guarantee at least 500 rubles a month for a Belarusian who lives in a district town, you will keep them at home. And we are able to do this by the simplest remote work, even without training, just by instructions. Belarusians are not emigrants.

About BelHard IT Academy

We are trying to change the education system. In Germany, in my opinion, school education is weaker than ours in terms of mathematics. After highschool, a bachelor of information sciences is engaged in 3 years and 1,500 classroom hours, and in our country — almost 5 times more. When we were convinced that education shouldn’t last 5, even 4 years, then we took India as an example, where 90% of Indian programmers don’t have higher education. 80% of Stanford education is a set of short courses. We tried to explain this to one, and to the second, and to the third minister of education, and to all others, but they are hostages of the system that we have.

In the modern dynamic society, in which the sphere of activity is changing very quickly, the classical five-year or four-year education is hopelessly outdated.

Ilon Musk, and IBM and others say so. Now any knowledge should be given in a set of short courses. And preferably, remote ones.

By the way, Dima Morozov has a startup where you put on a VR helmet and appear in a classroom. You can turn your head, ask questions, you can see other people if they let you. That is, you don’t need to waste time. If there’s not enough knowledge — you can learn it on the Internet. This four-to-five-year pursuit is simply a waste of time, a huge human resource and squandering of human capital.

I was convinced that it is difficult to change classical education quickly. It is changing, but very slowly. The word “IT Academy” was invented by me, while I was talking to Tsepkalo at the HTP, as a way to quickly prepare people for what the market needs. We tried to persuade universities to create specialties for a very long time. We rested against the fact that, according to the law, changing the content of the subject is possible by no more than 25% per year. But the course is obviously outdated by the end of the year, and the teacher’s salary is cheap.

Teachers, especially those who develop courses, must earn no less than programmers, otherwise they will just become programmers.

The idea is that the salary of a good teacher should be about $2,500. We managed to create such a model at the IT-Academy, where a teacher earns decent money, where he designs and develops his courses. Now we have reached 5,000 graduates in a year. When they have the last lesson, headhunters from various companies are literally hanging on the teacher to find out who to pick up. Now there are 26 different specialties. By the end of the years we are planning to open 100. We interact with authors from around the world.

Now we mainly have full-time study. We are actively developing a portal like Coursera, where people can learn remotely. But you can improve skills remotely. For a person who has never studied, it is better to start with classes.

About IT Squadron

I don’t support this idea. I think that we should have a professional army. It would be more profitable if a programmer paid a certain amount to the state, and with this money the state could take a person who is more adapted to military service, equip him better, and the programmer would do his own thing. Or, if the state needs software, it would order it for this money. I’m not saying that this is an option to pay off, but I am against the call of programmers for military service. It is not beneficial to anyone.

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