The information technology (IT) sector – a closed and largely incomprehensible domain – is now easier-to-understand. The talk to Max Yakover, Managing Partner and CEO at UNIT.City, Ukraine’s first innovation park, helps not only to learn about the prospects of the industry and its success but also to understand better what life the new generation is striving for.
Max, I have a feeling that a programmer, an IT specialist, is a hero of our time. What do you think?
I strongly disagree. Programmers can hardly be called heroes – they are not actively involved in public life, perhaps since they are mostly introverts. I think they are artisans who are no better than designers, people of other creative professions, or managers. Their salaries have used to be significantly lower than those of managers until 2008. And now – I hope for a short time – the situation is somewhat skewed. Our programmers currently get fairly large salaries that are still sub-standard for Eastern Europe. I believe that if we want to have best-in-the-world specialists in any industry, then we have to pay them about as much as in the whole world. And this is true for any profession.
Then please dispel one of my prejudices. I often heard the phrase: "Technology is the future". Do you think this future has already come or is coming? Or is this also a false statement?
There is nothing new in this statement. If we look at the history of human development, we will see that any exponential jump was associated with the development of technology. Once it was metal processing, then shipbuilding, gunpowder, railways, electricity, computers... And now we keep saying that technology shapes our future. I see nothing new in it.
Perhaps it is the technology that has changed: with the advent of the mobile phone, the Internet, social media, and various gadgets...
Technology itself has changed, but human nature has not. We get other habits; we look at many things differently. Economic cycles get shorter, and the world goes global with technology. But human nature remains the same: two hands, two legs, and the same low education culture.
You have touched upon a very interesting issue – education. We have had a short tour of the UNIT.City campuses and UNIT Factory before the interview. How training goes there?
We believe that the current format of education is obsolete. And we ask ourselves: what should be the educational format in the future? UNIT Factory is one of the answers. It is an innovative school based on the French franchise School 42.
We believe that everyone is unique. Every student perceives information at his/her own pace and does his/her best in the time of his/her peak efficiency. That is why the school is open 24/7.
We have no teachers, but a program designed for three years. A lot of soft skills are embedded into the educational process. They are also called success skills, such as time management, teamwork, critical thinking. We believe that theory and practice should go together so that two six-month internships can split the educational process.
Finally, we get a top-class specialist with a year of work experience for whom nothing is impossible. Indeed, at the very beginning, the training is designed so that even if the student does not know something, he/she still has to solve the problem using the available resources.
How to get to your school?
There are age restrictions – students must be 17 to 30 years old. It’s quite challenging to get to our school. The first step is to pass online logic and memory tests. The testing is then followed by a four-week period, a so-called "pool" where students get a kind of "combat training". We teach for free and are looking for people who are motivated and want to develop continuously. The competition is very though – about 30,000 applicants per 900 seats.
UNIT.City has a very sophisticated structure. Could you please tell us more about it?
Businesses traditionally seat in business centers. The concept of business centers, from our point of view, ended its development in the 1980s. Nevertheless, they are and will be built. At the same time, the concept of technology parks began to develop – you have undoubtedly heard about these concepts. Usually located close to city boundary, technology parks are closed scientific clusters usually with an educational institution as a core — the idea of technology parks ended in the 2000s.
In the mid-2000s it became clear that another generation with new values had grown up. What are their values and what is vital for them? For them, the work-and-life balance matters. They want to have a cool, creative life, that is why a lot of attention is always paid to architecture and landscape design. The environment and community are also essential.
This concept gave rise to the construction of innovation quarters (or Innovation Districts as called in the West). They consist of two large parts. The first is a comprehensive infrastructure in which you can learn, live, work, and have fun. The second is an ecosystem in which there are different companies that are useful and interesting to each other. For example, students are interested in getting a job, start-ups – in getting talents, investment funds are interested in start-ups, and business is searching for technology.
A closed system?
Yes. This is an ecosystem. And we believe that the concentration of talents, businesses, technology, and events in one point in the environment where there is mutual trust will boost personal development inside the ecosystem much faster than it could be achieved outside.
It is interesting, but the question is how it can be implemented? They say that your project is expensive. Does it scare you?
No. About $50 million have been invested in the project so far, and other $50 million will be funded this year. We are now at the opening of a new campus. If you looked at the project a year ago, we had the "minimum value proposition" (as it called by startups) – when you have a great idea, but you don’t understand whether the market would accept it or not. And we have recently tested this idea. Our minimum value proposition included UNIT Factory for 500 students, a business campus for 35 companies, a cafe, and a gym. Over 2018, we have expanded from 35 companies to 90+; we have built a new business campus with co-working space and have been hosting iconic residents, such as Snapchat, Syngenta and others. 2019 marks the transition from the pilot project to the upscaling stage.
In one of your interviews, you say: "We focus not only on IT but also on other creative sectors of the economy." What could it be?
It could be design, advertising, movies, or art. For us, it is critically important to have not only IT specialists there because we believe that it is the intersection of various industries that give rise to fundamentally new things.
You often use the word "creative". Do you believe that creativity is the key to success?
Definitely. This is a global trend, and the future is when business, art, and technology interact with each other. It is already happening to some extent. And breakthrough models, such as Netflix, can be built at the intersection.
What advice would you give to your students or beginners? What things contribute to success, and what prevents people from being successful?
What do we do to help our students to prosper? One of the Park’s objectives is to create empowering environment so talents could unleash their potential and stay in Ukraine. Students study for free, but have to sign a contract and commit to working in Ukraine for three years. We create for them a huge pool of opportunities in the Park. If they want to run their projects, they have laboratories, accelerators, or co-working space at hand. If they're going to join a startup, they have dozens – and this year even hundreds – of companies to choose from. Or they can join a stable successful business.
Do I understand you correctly? Are options a success factor?
Absolutely. It is a choice. When you have a choice, it gives you peace of mind and the opportunity to make a sensible decision. I think that when you have a choice of a vast number of job offers, a choice in your personal life, and the opportunity to choose how to culturally or spiritually develop and relax, then you get a key to happiness.
#successvibrations is the hashtag of our magazine. If I asked you about a mantra or a motto that would help one to succeed, what would you say?
It will not be a motto. We must understand that success is achieved not by the most talented, but rather by the most persistent people. It is the order that beats the class – I do believe in that. I think that in our era one must pay great attention to life-long learning and self-education, in particular reading. And networking is another essential skill. Here are three primary success factors: your goal, persistent will, and networking skills.
And finally, may I ask you the question that has become traditional for our magazine? What book would you recommend to read?
I do not like to advise reading, because one needs one’s literature at every age and every stage of personal development. Things which are suitable for one people may turn to be unsuitable for others. For example, Bill Gates is a philanthropist dealing with global problems. Should this interest you? At this stage, I am not sure about that.
Is there any book that has stricken you?
At each stage, there was a book that somehow influenced me and was just in time. Indeed, we only see what we know, and we understand only what we are ready for.
What question did I not ask you, but you would like to answer?
The most interesting question, from my point of view, is why? I have been searching for an answer to this question all my life.
Photo: Oleksandr Serbinov
Filming & editing: Vlad Pustovit
Translate: Global Translation Services 1+1