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One in four IT developers may have left Russia, open data shows

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The declaration of mobilisation in Russia caused a new wave of emigration from the country in September 2022, again led by IT specialists. There are no exact figures available as to how devastating this “brain drain” is, but industry associations, the government, and experts each provide their estimates. Maxut Shadayev, Russia’s Minister of Digital Development, says 100 thousand IT specialists have left the country, i.e., 10% of all Russian IT pros. The Minister also notes that 80% of those keep working for the Russian market from abroad.

Researchers and analysts from different countries also put their effort to estimate how many developers have left Russia using open data. Johannes Wachs, a researcher with Complexity Science Hub Vienna (CSH), measures the potential figures using metadata of GitHub users. GitHub is the world’s most popular online platform for hosting and collaborating on open-source IT projects, as well as a social network for developers.

An analysis by Wachs shows that that by the end of June 2022, 8.6% of developers from Russia had changed their profile country, while another 11.3% had deleted country data completely. To put that into perspective, a total of 2.4% of developers from Eastern Europe (excluding Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine) changed their profile country while 1.9% deleted country data.

The second part of the research, not yet published but provided to Novaya-Europe by Wachs, has its data collected in early November and only allows for partial assessment of how mobilisation affected the emigration of IT pros from Russia. This data indicates that an additional 4.6% of IT specialists changed their profile country between June and October (in total, 13.2% compared to February 2021) while 1.9% of open-source developers deleted their country data (also 13.2% compared to February 2021, this is but pure coincidence). Apparently, some of the specialists who had deleted their profile data are no longer in Russia.

It’s important to note that this data is nonrepresentational as hardly every Russian developer is active on GitHub or has a profile there at all. Moreover, a change of profile country does not necessarily mean that the person has moved abroad. At the same time, the used method allows for implicit evaluation of the exodus figures.

The brain drain from Belarus is even more remarkable than that from Russia. A total of 13.6% users changed their GitHub profile country by June, and this figure increased to 19.2% by November, which means that IT pros keep fleeing the country. At the same time, simply deleting country information is not as popular among Belarusian users as among Russian ones: 8.8% vs 13.2%. Apparently, users believe that being associated with Belarus is less “toxic” than with Russia.

Where do Russian developers go to? Most IT specialists moved to the US, the leaders among the Western European countries are Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK. A huge number of developers headed for the countries close to Russia that offer visa-free entry.

Georgia and Armenia had so many Russian and Belarusian IT specialists arriving that the number of GitHub users from these two countries increased phenomenally: 94% and 41%, respectively. Kazakhstan, a big country with a large GitHub community of its own, had a 12% user increase. The main emigration destination for Belarusian developers is Poland which welcomed almost half of those (46%), followed by Georgia (11%), Lithuania (8%) and the US (6%).

The mass exodus of highly skilled developers will have a negative impact on the current and future development of the IT industry in Russia and Belarus. However, it is impossible to draw conclusions about the entire IT industry based on this study: depending on the domain, the situation with the emigration of specialists can be very different, says Ivan Begtin, the director and co-founder of ANO Information Culture. The professional level of the emigrated specialists is of key importance here.

“When experienced and highly qualified specialists leave, it causes significant damage to companies and the development of IT infrastructure, slows down technological progress, and so on. If thousands of junior developers leave, this is sad, but they may be quickly replaced, so there is no major risk [for the country]. So, it’s more important who exactly leaves Russia based on their professional level. Thus, it would be interesting to collect data on users who made significant contributions to projects with at least 500 “stars” (the popular way of measuring demand of any given project on GitHub — Novaya-Europe). It would be interesting to see how many of those left.”

Wachs believes that the specialists who left Russia played a key role in Russia’s open-source community, so the loss of those may be especially painful for the Russian IT industry. The average figures of number of posts, projects, and interactions with other users are significantly higher among developers who have left the country. In late October, Diana Dmitrieva, a career consultant with the Skypro online university, spoke about the critical deficiency of middle and senior level developers, with a relative excess of junior specialists.

“I know some highly qualified developers who left immediately [after the war started]. On the contrary, many qualified IT guys who, for instance, had elderly parents, real estate, business, or other factors making them stay, remain in the country and are not planning to leave,” Begtin says.

Those who left may still be working for the Russian market. However, the government creates more and more obstructions each month for those who wish to work from abroad.

The United Russia party recently prepared a bill that bars its nationals who are tax residents of other countries to work in certain domains. Apart from this, some companies introduce their own restrictions on remote work. According to The Bell, the Yandex management is to introduce a hybrid work format for its employees, meaning that workers will need to visit the company’s office every now and then. Forbes reported in August that some IT companies entirely disallow their employees to work remotely or from abroad.

Such restrictions may force specialists who do not want to return to Russia, afraid of a new wave of mobilisation, to be switching for foreign companies even more actively. This may aggravate the shortage of highly skilled personnel in the Russian labour market.

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