The managers who stand behind Bulgaria's successful IT industry are visionary, brave and confident
In different historical periods different figures were the ones who set the pulse of events and the society's development. During the Renaissance, these were the artists, during the Enlightenment – the philosophers, in the 19th century – the writers, and in the 20th century – the industrialists. Today the pulse of modernity is set by the IT entrepreneurs and innovators, and the managers of successful IT companies.
This is completely understandable, as we live in postindustrial times and are experiencing yet another information revolution. The line separating the real from the virtual world is getting thinner. Large technological companies have more resources and means for influence than whole nation states, and governments often have to comply with them instead of vice versa. The names of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and Tim Cook are in the news on a daily basis – with innovations, scandals or bold solutions that often redefine the way we live in mere years.
The era of information changed dramatically our economy and society. Today for us it is unthinkable to live without being constantly connected to the world and our family and friends, to check for the information that we need, to buy a ticket or some product in the second that we decide that we want to travel or to have something new. Our work and leisure time are, too, dependent on high technologies.
In the last 20 years Bulgaria is steadily turning into a global location that develops intelligent IT solutions. The evolution that the industry has gone through in a couple of years is truly remarkable.
The foundations of the Bulgarian IT industry were set in the past two decades of the Communist regime, when the country became the centre of computing, computer and software technology in the Eastern bloc. After the democratic changes and the difficulties caused by the transition to market economy a significant part of these achievements was lost. Many professionals emigrated. In the early 2000s, and particularly after Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, the picture started to change yet again.
In Bulgaria appeared ambitious entrepreneurs and IT professionals who discovered a niche in the market of outsourced services. The country's competitive advantages were beyond any doubt: qualified workforce fluent in foreign languages; location in a time zone equally suitable for working with both the East and the West; low wages and business expenses; excellent connectivity and fast Internet. The flat tax rate imposed by the government was an additional boost on the development of the IT industry in Bulgaria. The country also attracted the attention of foreign investors who started opening offices in it.
Once gaining speed and confidence, ambitious IT companies decided to do more. In Bulgaria appeared strategic investors and partners, interested in developing their own products, services and solutions. The wages in the sector went up and Bulgaria said goodbye to its image as a cheap IT outsourcing destination. An ecosystem of big investors, brave entrepreneurs and startups appeared; today it enjoys a high international prestige. Bulgaria is no more in the position of the one who is trying to catch up; its ambition to become an international IT hub seems well deserved and logical.
These successes of the Bulgarian IT industry would be impossible without the visionaries, the leaders and the managers who realised its potential, found ways to develop it and identified prospective international partners and projects.
The successful Bulgarian and international IT companies in the country are led by managers in whom we easily recognise qualities such as vision, the skill to set clear goals, and the talent to choose the best people, tools and methods to achieve them.
Good IT managers are aware that success is impossible without good professionals. This is why they provide their teams with adequate wages (they are already getting close to the ones in the rest of the EU) and a work environment that allows them to grow both professionally and personally.
During the Covid-19 crisis good IT managers in Bulgaria reorganised their work processes by providing a safe and comfortable environment for their talents while continuing to provide consistently high quality to their clients. The sector was among the few in Bulgaria that continued to find new clients and to hire new staff even in 2020. According to Eurostat, the number of people employed in the sector last year increased to 103,300, which is 3.2% of all employed in Bulgaria. The perspectives for the near future remain consistently bright.
Both before and after the watershed 2020, IT managers in Bulgaria have to deal with an important problem – lack of workforce. The ongoing digitalisation of the world means that the hunger for IT experts is set to continue in the foreseeable future. On the one hand, Bulgaria still has human potential, as local universities traditionally provide good quality of education. However, from here challenges start. The Bulgarian population is in a steady decline and the university curricula often lag from the dynamically developing environment that defines the modern IT industry.
Good IT managers in Bulgaria have different strategies to deal with this challenge. One is the partnerships with established universities and the internships, mentor programmes and trainings for their students. They place future professionals in a real-life environment, teach them practical and soft skills, and prepare them for quick adaptation. The best participants are invited to work for the partnering company.
Specialised IT academies are another approach. They are targeted towards young and not that young people who have decided to seek career development in the IT field, but have little or none previous experience. The popularity of IT academies is understandably on the rise, and its graduates often find good jobs with their newly acquired skills.
Some good IT managers sought for human capital outside Sofia, where the local IT industry is concentrated. Large cities with specialised universities are preferred, such as Plovdiv, Varna, Ruse and Burgas, but on the map of local IT industry are already present some smaller places as well. There, companies benefit from the lower salaries compared to those in Sofia, the weaker competition for professionals and the fast communications. The free positions for remote workers are also on the rise.
On the global scene the Bulgarian IT industry stands out in a crucial way – a high percentage of women engaged at all levels and positions, from programmers and engineers to top managers and entrepreneurs. The country has long traditions in inclusion of women in technological sectors. In 2020, women made 28.2% of people employed in the IT and communications field; in this respect Bulgaria ranks first in the EU.
But this is not all. Good IT managers in Bulgaria also work to attract IT talents from abroad. The country's advantages as a relocation destination are beyond doubt: good salaries with high purchasing power, nice climate, active social life and options for recreation, quick connections to the rest of the world.
Good IT managers are aware that high wages are not the only thing that motivates talents. Modern IT professionals are after workplaces that provoke creativity and teamwork, and provide opportunities for development both horizontally and vertically. This is why quality IT companies pay special attention to creating a comfortable, creative work environment where professionals feel as individuals, not like the cogs in a giant mechanism.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the changes in the work environment and the hygiene standards that it imposed stimulated the companies to make additional efforts to discover office spaces that meet the highest safety requirements. The technical amenities of the pre-2020 times are not enough for IT companies and their talents anymore. Luckily, the office spaces market in Sofia is already offering buildings with conditions such as expert air filtering, green areas and access to outdoor spaces.
Thanks to the efforts of good IT managers in Bulgaria the development of this sector in the country is doomed to success. The stories they have to share with us about the challenges they meet, their plans and hopes, their achievements and dreams, are a true inspiration and bring optimism for the future.