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Firms turn to Russia to staff Y2K projects

September 29, 1999
Web posted at: 11:42 a.m. EDT (1542 GMT)

by Stewart Deck graphic

(IDG) -- Some companies are going far off the beaten path to find skilled technology workers -- to Russia, where there are many programmers knowledgeable in legacy languages.

Sapiens International Corp. in Tel Aviv has built a year 2000 remediation niche and staffed it almost fully with immigrant Russian programmers.

"Few companies have been working on converting or remediating [mainframe] assembler languages, and there are plenty of systems in the world that were written in assembler and are still quite functional," said Arie Rochman, manager of the International Solutions and Services Center at Sapiens.

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Two years ago, Rochman found a community of recent Russian immigrants in Israel who had learned assembler programming building governmental systems for railroad, oil and auto industries. Today, 70 percent of his team of nearly 100 consists of Russian immigrants.

Because of U.S. immigration policies, U.S.-based companies would have to jump through hoops to get Russian programmers, either applying for H-1B visas as temporary workers or other programs for permanent-worker status. Industry watchers said they have heard of just a few U.S. companies bringing in Russian programmers but added that such a strategy could provide big benefits.

Edmund Arranga, editor in chief of "The Cobol Report," a bimonthly newsletter in Orinda, Calif., said the former Soviet Union is a potentially rich source of skilled programmers. "Russian programmers have been very well trained and are very knowledgeable. There's a huge asset of skilled folks there, and I'm sure the payback on seeking them out and employing them can be quite high."

Arranga said it's essential for companies that use foreign programmers to make sure they get language training. "Coding isn't the problem -- communication is."

Rochman said Sapiens has set up in-house Hebrew and English classes. "We also had to deal with a cultural problem: They were afraid to share their knowledge with others in their group, so we worked with them to overcome this."

Rochman's group has started learning other programming languages and has begun work on projects like line-of-business applications for euro currency conversion and converting assembler code to C code.

"These are very talented people," Rochman said. "We're lucky to have them."

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