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08 Aug 2013

A developer in Greece

Written by . Interview answered by . Image taken by Dennis Jarvis, licensed with Creative Commons

Currently the EU faces a huge crisis. Countries like Greece and Spain are having huge trouble with their economies. From the perspective of a German, we have already passed the high tide. Meanwhile the crisis has been mostly replaced by the NSA affair. I can’t say I have enjoyed the press lately. The reports always give me the feeling that something is wrong. With my involvement in Open Source Software I know a lot of folks who have told me different things than what I would learn from our press.

I read an article which confused me. While its intention was to describe the use of a deadly new drug called Sisa, it somehow painted an apocalyptic view of Greece in my imagination. Drug addicts everywhere, prostitution, AIDS, and hunger. The healthcare system has almost collapsed and only the altruistic efforts of a few keep things running. In short, Greece has fallen and turned from a tourist paradise into a country where you need to fear every evening.

I was shocked and reached out to Paris Apostolopoulos who is a Java developer who lives in Athens. He was a Java Champion in 2007 and is the leader of the Java Hellenic User Group.

The press says, 27% of Greeks are unemployed. The situation can’t be any worse, it seems. I wonder: how is the situation if you have an education as a software developer?

Paris: The statistics are in the right direction, I would say things might it might be a bit worse since we are dealing with data based on estimated results and real world percentage might be a bit more, actually a bit higher than 30%. Greeks in general are investing in higher education, we have a large percentage of university graduates and holders of MSc’s or PhD’s. We were raised with the concept that we need to get a degree (ore more than one) in order to have a better future. Unfortunately it did not work out very well,not because the concept is wrong though. I believe it’s due to the overall small market of my country that never passed the ‘offering services’ type while you need a broader market ecosystem to host all these highly educated people. There are thousands of higher education degree holders of many disciplines from Math, to Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Law. And I could keep adding to the list, people who are currently unemployed or are forced to do something different from what they have studied. IT is an exception, a bright exception you can tell. Despite the fact that the market is small, you can still have high hopes that once you get your degree there is a good chance to find a job in your field. Of course there are some exceptions as well,for example if you are a software developer then your chances on getting a job are far better comparing to a network specialist or an IT support guy/girl.

So according to you the IT market is somewhat stable. But what about innovation? Do investors spend money in Greece? Are there any new tech startups founded?

Paris: Things are not great but in the past 3-4 years, due to the overall bad ‘inner’ economic climate, lots of people within the IT community have started to think outside the box and target the global market(s). There are already some programs and groups of investors that are slowly investing or exploring the local community for opportunities, despite the recession. We already have small firms that are in fact making their way to the rest of the world, and they seem to do very well.

Check the following links for some of them (just so show case my claim).

  • OpenFund.gr - an organisation, some sort of angel investors
  • Taxibeat.gr - a Greek startup, offering taxi related services - really cool service
  • bugsense.com - really big name on the market, provides a crash reporting service for mobile application vendors
  • http://www.corallia.org - a cluster of hardware-based innovative startups
  • http://www.antcor.com/ - a small startup on the embedded Linux world , providing niche solutions on implementing Wi-Fi stack add-ons on the Linux kernel.
  • http://www.warp.ly/ - monetizing mobile apps

For sure we are not Silicon Valley or even close to the startup scene of Germany or Ireland due to the lack of investors or risk averse IT community. But there is a new wave of startups, it is better than nothing.

I wondered if you believe it is a good idea to outsource software development work to Greece. Wages might be interesting for foreigners and education is on a good standard too. But can these really work out? Can Greece actually provide the necessary infrastructure?

Paris: Yes, I think it is a good idea. I was actually working for more than five years, for a Belgian firm. They had near-shored most of the development activities in Athens. It was a really good move and a win-win for everyone. According to their review some years go, the quality of Greek engineers, due to the ‘compatible’ EU culture,very good use of English, and ease of interfacing made them a better choice compared to other nearby countries. I don’t think that there is a huge problem with infrastructure. We have ‘internet providers’, we have lots of places nowadays that could be used for housing a new company - actually the corporate rents have gone down due to the crisis. To be fair, I can acknowledge that the the Greek State has still some work to do on simplifying the underlying law and tax system, in order to make it even easier for new players to enter our economy and local market.

But how easy is it for a Greek developer to switch jobs? Would he even consider working for a foreign company when he has a “safe” job in a Greek company?

Paris: It really depends. In general people do not switch jobs easily but that culture is changing since the market is changing too. What I am trying to say is that when you have not that many options in a in a small market like Greece’s, you try to stay in the same place for a while, especially if it is a decent one. The small market and few choices within Greece, is the reason which makes people afraid of job rotation. If the market grows and the developers get to have more choices, at least more than one or two then the
flow of personnel is going to increase, I am pretty sure about that. After all it is all about who makes a better offer.

I stayed almost 5 years working for this Belgian firm since they were providing a decent salary at that time and an excellent working environment, something that is was not very common for many Greek owned software companies. The quality of the working environment and the respect to the personal life of every employee tends to be become more and more important. Most likely a developer will not rotate jobs for an extra 100 Euro payroll raise, if the conditions are not that great. Money is not always the most important thing, especially in cases where you work in a market where all the companies more or less offer the same salary packages, you are after for those that offer good working environment, respect to your working hours-timetable, and of course interesting projects/technologies.

If one has opportunities for Greek developers, how can he find them?

Paris: There are several ways and channels. There are the social media, bloggers, and developer communities like the Java Hellenic User Group. You can have a first level of contact with highly motivated professionals. Java Hellenic User Group actually offers free job posting for everyone. Just send us an email and it will reach our community members.

Besides community driven efforts, you can also use established local job- related sites like Skywalker and Kariera.LinkedIn is also an emerging channel to attract audience within the Greek IT community. I really like a lot and hope it becomes more established within companies and HR recruiters in Greece.

Greece is rated as an emerging market. This is basically the same rating as Ethiopia. Do you feel this rating is accurate?

Paris: I have to be honest I have not been to Ethiopia and I don’t want to judge these people or this country.It is really a matter of perception. The financial perception, the overall state and quality of life perception etc. I have heard and red stories about Ethiopia but at the same time I don’t want to upset any Ethiopian Java developer that might be reading this ‘interview’ if I would just assume that we are better from them or any other country. In the past 3 years, especially after we become the stars of news night for every european citizen, we face an intense wave of misjudge and critics as a country and as individuals. It is really hard to be blamed for every financial sin of the Eurozone, so we learnt the hard way how it is be to judged or accept any kind of blame.

I really dislike these comparisons because they tend to change depending on the political forces behind a rating agency or the financial forces behind the country where this agency is based. For example, Greek bonds are a good way to make quick money if you start speculating about the collapse of my Greece. Rating companies know that better than everyone else. They are giving Greece ratings according to their needs.This is my personal perception and I think it has happened more than ones. But, on the other hand, all things equal,, I don’t claim that all the ratings are completely wrong. Fair ratings that are based on true data are always accepted and acknowledged, and this is another hard fact we are facing every day during these last years in Greece.

So to come back to your initial question: No, Greece is not experiencing a civil war like the one Ethiopia still suffers (as I have red and searched about it). I think you get the point. Right now as we exchange emails, thousand of Germans and British arrive on many Greek islands for their regular summer vacation. So it is really a matter of perception. Yes, as an economy and government we still have lots of work to do in terms of modernising and stabilising our system. But we are an EU country whatever that means and we still have some fair levels of EU qualities as a country.

Despite the problems in Greece, Greek developers are well educated and active - look at the Java Hellenic User Group. How is a developer typically educated in Greece?

Paris: We all follow the same path (more or less) : first a Bachelor of Science and then a Masters, sometimes a Phd. It is the standard to have at least one MSc degree in a related niche discipline of Computer Science. A large number of developers, did study abroad (I belong to this group). I currently hold a BSc and two MSc’s from UK universities.

Communities like the Java Hellenic User Group try to cover an emerging need of post-graduate education within developers. We organise tech days, seminars, and learn about new things. Software training is a missing part of the Greek corporate culture. If you are about to invest in Greece and open a new company, you would earn some bonus points as a potential employer if you would offer training and certification paths for free to your workforce.

Paris Apostolopoulos

Paris Apostolopoulos is a senior software developer focused on the Java ecosystem especially in J2EE. In the last 6 years he mainly focused around BPMN and implementation of Business Processes and BPM. He is fond of Agile Software methodologies that leverage the role of the developer in the team/project. Paris is a supporter of clean code and proper documentation practices and believes in open source frameworks. Paris became a Java Champion in 2007 and is the JUG leader of the Java Hellenic User Group. He organizes various activities in the Greek Java Dev community and loves Apple computers and Judo.