The information technology (IT) sector is booming at an unprecedented rate in Uzbekistan.
Information technology specialists train in Tashkent September 12. Uzbekistan is addressing a shortage of IT specialists. [Maksim Yeniseyev]
In the first six months of 2013, the market for computer programming has more than doubled – now attaining 230% of the size it reached last year, the State Committee for Statistics reported.
Developing the market for computing services could turn Uzbekistan into a high-tech country, specialists say.
"In the long term, Uzbekistan could well become the regional hub for the software industry," German Stimban, chief engineer of the BePro programmers' centre, said. "It is strategically important to master science-heavy programming. We have the pre-requisites, ... we only have to build on them."
Tremendous promise, but work needed
To build on that, Stimban said, the country needs an overarching approach to improving things in the sector.
"Making a good product requires scrupulous work from an entire group of specialists ... market scientists, analysts, designers, ergonomics specialists, programmers and information security specialists," he said.
Another improvement concerns taking advantage of the trend in creating small, convenient programmes and widgets and selling them through software stores such as AndroidMarket, he added.
Demand for IT expertise is expanding not only in Uzbekistan but worldwide, said Alisher Elmuradov, director of the SmartLab internet lab. "Programming could raise large amounts of foreign currency for government coffers and provide jobs for youth," he said of Uzbekistan's prospects for the future.
However, Uzbekistan's IT training lags behind the rest of the world, observers say.
"Uzbek programmers have tremendous potential," Elmuradov said. "The most urgent problem is the present higher education system pertaining to programming. It is 15 years behind what the market requires. … Universities are graduating 'semi-specialists,' who still need considerable training after they leave school."
"The nucleus of specialists in Uzbekistan now is self-taught," Elmuradov said, as he called for creation of a university with an IT curriculum that would produce world-class graduates and would improve consistency in training.
Another problem is the lack of an Uzbek-language textbook for writing modern system software and only a few Russian-language ones, Arkady Merkulov, a freelance programmer from Tashkent, said.
Challenges recognised, and plans exist to address them
Steps have been taken to address some of those concerns, said Sherzod Shermatov, deputy chairman of the State Committee for Communication, Informatisation and Telecommunication Technologies.
Plans include creating new textbooks and upgrading education in university programming departments, Shermatov said, and the authorities are devising strategies to spark more interest in programming.
"At the present time, officials are suggesting ways to stimulate Uzbekistan's software producers," Shermatov said. "These include tax and customs duty breaks for software producers. This proposal is currently under discussion."
Additionally, the Smartlab and Brand.Uz companies created the Ginza Programming School in Tashkent to fill the educational gap between college graduates and professional programmers.
"We are sponsoring Ginza independently," Elmuradov said. "We are devoting our own time to it and providing the premises. We decided to act ourselves to educate specialists and see how they do with real work. It doesn't cost them anything ... we simply want these specialists to be on the market. We have worked out a curriculum and held competitions. There are five to seven applicants for every place."
"We are now teaching software writers for the iOS and Android systems," he said. "We have 10 students altogether. We started with 20, but 10 couldn't keep up. If everything works out, we shall seek support for our project and develop it in the provinces, because young people are showing great interest. The IT field has its own appeal."
Ginza’s next aim is to train professional project managers, without whom further development of the software market would be difficult.
"Project management is the main profession in the IT business," Elmuradov said. "Specialists of this sort are not being trained anywhere in Uzbekistan. But without them connecting the programmer to the client, business can't develop."
Meanwhile, in early September, Uzbekistan adopted a programme to accelerate the introduction of computer technologies in education. In every district and city, one public school will become an IT school. Soon, workers will install electronic inter-active boards and other modern equipment in these schools.
They also will host training sessions for teachers from other schools, the Public Education Ministry said.