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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Medvedev Looks to Harness Young IT Talent

APPresident Dmitry Medvedev listening to anti-virus software developer Yevgeny Kaspersky, center, during a visit to Kaspersky Lab's offices on Thursday.��
An IT company's sterile white offices are not the typical venue for a Kremlin meeting. But they seemed quite fitting for the launch of President Dmitry Medvedev's newest commission Thursday.

Medvedev led an entourage to the offices of Kaspersky Lab, the computer security company, for the maiden meeting of his Commission on the Modernization and Technological Development of the Economy.

Company founder Yevgeny Kaspersky gave the president a tour of the desks where programmers develop the world-renowned anti-virus software bearing his name.

Then the guests, including Rusnano head Anatoly Chubais and Sberbank CEO German Gref, trooped into a glass-windowed conference room.

"Intellect and innovation are our main advantage," Medvedev told the men in dark suits seated along a long table. "But we speak more about this than anything else. That's why we are aiming to make this field one of the most prestigious to work in," Medvedev said, according to a transcript of the meeting posted on the Kremlin's web site.

Medvedev said a main goal of the new commission would be to secure financial support for "scientific research and educational programs."There is no question that Russia has talent when it comes to IT, even though the country's contribution in the world's IT field remains relatively humble.

Russian students regularly outscore their foreign peers in IT, as illustrated in April when young Russians swept the prestigious ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest in Stockholm for the third year in a row.

The key to continued success, however, lies in developing an education system that can offer cutting-edge resources and build students' ability to problem solve, students and industry players said.

The education system established by the Soviet Union was considered among the finest in the world, but corruption and laxness crept in after the Soviet collapse, prompting a top-to-bottom overhaul that the Kremlin expects to complete by next year.

While the general level of Russian education has declined in recent years, IT studies remain a bright spot.

"The rumors about the death of education in Russia are very exaggerated," said Kirill Korniliev, the Russia and CIS director for IBM, which sponsored the Stockholm contest. "The level is very good. The problem is how to use it."

Natural science classes at Russian universities are as good or better than schools abroad, but there is a lack of computer science classes and professors in Russia, said Ivan Romanov, the 2006 programming winner at the Stockholm championship.

As a result, students often engage in extracurricular activities to improve their skills, such as programming contests called Olympiads that are sponsored by schools or companies.

"We were studying computer sciences ourselves while participating in Olympiads," Romanov explained by e-mail from Zurich, where he is working now.

Vladimir Rodionov / RIA-Novosti
Medvedev chairing a meeting of his new technology commission in a Kaspersky Lab conference room Thursday.
Vladislav Isenbayev, a 2009 winner, said the Olympiads made a big difference. "One of the reasons we succeeded was good teamwork, which the Chinese team lacked, because we had participated in several competitions together," he said by telephone from St. Petersburg.

Isenbayev, a third-year student at a St. Petersburg university, recently received a job offer from South Korean electronics giant Samsung, but he said he had not decided whether to accept it yet.

Students who manage to succeed in the difficult Stockholm contest can be called real innovators, Korniliev said, explaining that innovation nowadays requires two things: "the ability to invent and to use the inventions in business."

"In the globalized economy, work flows to the countries that offer the best talent and the best efficiencies to their customers and partners," Korniliev said.

"In recent years, India has been a very attractive source of IT programming talent. However, Russian technology specialists have a competitive advantage in their aptitude for problem solving and their ability to handle complicated tasks," he said.

In Stockholm, each team faced real-world problems like how to optimize rush-hour traffic in a city within four hours. The Russians offered solutions the fastest, winning three out of the four gold medals at the world finals of the competition, which has been held since 1977 and is watched closely by the industry for bright new prospects. The other gold medal went to a Chinese team.

The nine winners represented three teams from three Russian universities who made it to the last round of 100 teams in Stockholm from an initial 7,109 teams from 88 countries.

"Russian education creates systematic thinking. Everything is all right with our education. So far," Korniliev said.

Romanov agreed, adding that there are also many talented students who are interested in programming.

David Hill / acm-icpc
Maxim Buzdalov, center, celebrating his team's win in Stockholm in April.
Several big IT companies have opened research offices in Saratov after a series of programming contest victories by students from Saratov State University, said Romanov, who represented the university in 2006.

A team from the Saratov university also was a gold winner in 2009.

Romanov, who works at an IBM laboratory in Zurich, said he likes his work environment because he has "creative latitude" and "an abundance of interesting projects" that allow him to create completely new solutions.

International industry leaders are very interested in the development of Russia's IT market and as a result bring their most progressive developments and new educational methods to Russia, often with a special focus on students, said Mikhail Zaskalet, general manager of Dell Russia.

"Nowadays, optimization in all senses is becoming nearly a religion, and specialists, especially in the IT realm, which is supposed to make business more effective, are needed more than ever," Zaskalet said.

IBM opened a laboratory to engage Russian specialists in innovative technology projects in 2006, and the specialists helped build the world's fastest computer, Roadrunner, located at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Kaspersky called for improvements to the education system in order to produce more IT specialists after Medvedev presented him with a state award for his achievements last Friday. "It is possible that this will require 10 to 15 years of hard work, but there is no other way for Russian companies to be competitive in Western and Eastern markets," he said at a Kremlin awards ceremony.

Medvedev, meeting with the student winners at his residence last month, lamented that Russia has talent but fails to find commercial applications for it. A few days after the meeting, he announced the creation of the Commission on Modernization and Technological Development of the Economy. It is the sixth presidential commission and the third established by Medvedev since he took office in May 2008.

"The situation with innovation at enterprises … is not only failing to change but is worsening because of the crisis," Medvedev said in explaining the need of the new commission last month.

The commission decided at its meeting Thursday to set up five working groups to focus on five priority areas: nuclear technology; space and communications technology; energy efficiency; medical technology; and information technology, including supercomputers. The composition of the working groups is to be determined within 10 days, and the team leaders are to be approved in early July.

The good news for the commission is that the black days of the country's "brain drain" seem to be over. Thousands of talented IT specialists went abroad to find work during the turbulent economic times that followed the Soviet collapse.

"Programmers used to move abroad to work for big companies like Google, but now, Google opens its branch offices here," 2009 winner Maxim Buzdalov said in a television interview.

"It is more profitable to provide work for Russians in their own country," he said.

Zaskalet, of Dell Russia, noted that IT specialists can make good money these days. "At the moment, the brain drain problem barely exists," he said.