Why I’m hiring Ukrainian tech workers (and you should too)
Editor’s Note: Last month, we told you about some Indiana tech connections to the war in Ukraine and listed some credible avenues to help Ukrainians. Since that time, the Authenticx team has built on its initial ideas of connecting with tech companies and workers there. We asked Authenticx CEO Amy Brown to update us on how her idea of Hoosier tech companies supporting Ukrainian tech companies is going. Last week, they raised $6,450 for food and medicine for SoftGeneral employees, Authenticx’s new “sister company”. Hear from Anna, CEO of SoftGeneral about what life is like for her now as a tech CEO surrounded by war, and hear the message of love and support sent to SoftGeneral from the Authenticx team.
Helpless. That is how I felt when I started realizing the severity of the threat to the people living in Ukraine in the face of invasion by Russia. I knew that Ukraine had a thriving tech startup community, as well as a vibrant culture, and I began to imagine what I would do if my own tech startup, Authenticx, was faced with the same level of danger, fear and loss of security.
I began researching information about tech companies in Ukraine and landed upon the website of TechUkraine, which has a very similar purpose as Indiana’s own TechPoint. Through my outreach to the organization’s Executive Director, Nataly Veremeeva, I learned about reputable and validated relief organizations to which we could donate and ways we could get involved in supporting the Ukrainian tech community as it abruptly turned its attention from business-as-usual to fighting a war. As I read and listened, I began to understand the situation at a more grass-roots level.
- Some workers are fleeing with their families to surrounding countries;
- Other workers are staying to defend their country or because they cannot leave their aging parents;
- Business has come to a hard stop. Now is a time of mere survival;
- Ways we can help include providing financial support to the workforce who are seeking shelter and emergency basic supplies; and
- We can support employees who have fled to surrounding countries through job opportunities so their livelihoods can be sustained.
All of these real-world realities of Ukrainian tech workers got me thinking about how Authenticx could get involved directly. In addition to being a social justice-minded company with a heart for service and giving, we also have our own talent gaps, particularly on our product innovation team. I wondered if there was Ukrainian software engineering talent who needed employment and might be a good fit for our team. To explore the possibilities further, I asked Nataly to recommend a Ukrainian-based tech company that we could connect with directly. Within 24 hours, Nataly introduced me to a Ukrainian tech company that welcomed our outreach.
For the past several weeks, my leadership team has been working directly with our new-found “sister company,” SoftGeneral. Led by a courageous and wholehearted CEO, Anna Nazarenko, SoftGeneral provides outsourced engineering talent to tech companies. We have interviewed several of their engineers who are available to work from secure locations in Eastern Europe, outside Ukraine.
We have already decided to hire one full-time React.js developer and are actively considering others. When I initially asked our CTO, Michael Armstrong, to consider interviewing the candidates, he admitted to being a bit skeptical. He told me, “I feel that I have a responsibility to our team and investors to bring on good people that will contribute. This can’t be trumped by the empathy I may feel for individuals who are caught in bad situations. However, a win-win may be found and that is always my goal.”
After meeting two engineers through SoftGeneral, he was pleasantly surprised. Specifically, Michael noted:
- Communication – their English was excellent and their knowledge of tech specific language was spot on.
- Technical Knowledge – we didn’t pull any punches here and they clearly knew their stuff. Answers were spot on, with more depth than anticipated.
- Fit – this is difficult to determine in a short interview but they seem to have the same energy and intellectual curiosity which marks a really successful engineer on the Authenticx team.
- These are good people who will contribute to Authenticx and hopefully, we will help them with resources, camaraderie and professional challenges to focus on.
The ability to leverage talent internationally has been a welcomed blessing, especially during a time where the demand for tech talent in the United States has outpaced the availability of qualified candidates. The fact that our partnership with SoftGeneral provides opportunities for Ukrainian citizens in need of employment makes it that much more impactful.
That impact stretches well beyond the individuals hired for the developer roles. Anna and her leadership team have prioritized sustaining the livelihoods of all team members over business profitability during this crisis. To that end, the revenue that is earned by developers who can work, will be shared and allocated across all SoftGeneral employees, including those who are still in Ukraine and cannot work due to the war.
Anna has shared with me that the company’s revenue is currently 34 percent of what it was before the war. She has said, “two working developers could support the salary of one who cannot work.”
At Authenticx, our entire company has rallied around the employees of SoftGeneral. In addition to hiring their product engineers, we have sent video messages of encouragement and solidarity, and started fundraising for emergency food and medical supplies for the children and families of the SoftGeneral workers. Pictures and stories shared by the SoftGeneral team have offered us an important perspective that fuels our mission and has helped us feel connected to something that is much bigger than ourselves.
Before the war in Ukraine began, I really had never considered hiring talent from outside the U.S. Even though we had unmet talent needs here in the US, I had made many assumptions about the difficulties of hiring internationally including time zone differences, language and cultural misunderstandings and employment law inconsistencies. I was skeptical that the “hassle factor” would outweigh the value. For me, it took a big dose of empathy and “putting myself in their shoes” to even pause long enough to consider the potential benefits. The war in Ukraine allowed my heart to be open to the possibilities, and I’m glad it did. So far, what we’ve discovered is that all of my assumptions have been challenged in the best possible way.
The top happy surprises have included the following:
- The resiliency and perseverance of the Ukrainian workforce: they have been responsive to our questions and concerns, flexible and easy to communicate with;
- The quality of candidates and the ability to communicate effectively about roles, job functions and project needs; and
- The added culture-building benefits of giving our Authenticx team an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of Ukrainian tech workers.
If you feel called to learn more about hiring Ukrainian workers at your organization, here are a few resources to help you get started:
- Connect with Ukrainian businesses through TechUkraine;
- Assistance with the visa process for Ukrainian workers in the U.S. is available via Open Avenues, a Boston-based startup;
- Support Authenticx’s fundraising efforts here;
Tell TechPoint about your efforts and ideas about other ways to support the tech community in Ukraine via their Submit a Story form.