The face of a new ICT generation in North Macedonia.
By Helen Bally, Head of Quality Assurance and Testing, Itecor International
Aleksandra Ljoles, or „Ale“, smiles at me confidently over our video conference from her home office. She’s not really sure what to expect from the interview, and I assure her that I’m not so certain either, but that we wanted to feature one of the consultants from our Skopje (North Macedonia) office in our upcoming communications.
You might never have heard of North Macedonia – but it was recently in the news for the fight over its name. If you follow football, then you would know that North Macedonia beat a shocked Germany in a World Cup qualifying football game back in April (a short-lived victory, it turns out).
North Macedonia is quietly emerging as a hub for IT nearshoring in Europe – with ICT contributing as much as 3.5% to their GDP*. A well-educated workforce from the country’s six public universities is supplying qualified ICT workers. The sector is popular as salaries are in general 50% higher than the national average. It attracts a workforce of young, well-educated graduates – with computer programmers receiving the highest salaries. Encouraged by a government that is willing to do business with external partners and a high English language level, many companies (including manufacturing) have established businesses – primarily centred on the capital Skopje.
In 2016, Itecor created the Itecor Skopje office to provide nearshore services in testing, development, and application support to our Belgian and Swiss customers.
„Thanks to the energy and professionalism of the Swiss-Skopje collaboration, we’ve been able to demonstrate the value to our customers. As a result, we’ve had year on year growth of 55%“ – Yuval Keren, Head of Itecor Skopje Office.
Ale was one of the first to join the new office in Skopje, where she was hired as a QA and Test engineer. She had previously been working for an Israeli company, testing games on different devices. She’d worked there since graduating with an ICT degree in electronic engineering.
In 2019 Itecor was engaged by a major Swiss Watch brand to lead the Quality and Testing effort for their new website. It was an ambitious program to build an e-commerce website and makeover the back-office systems for a new CRM and supply chain. The Itecor team would be split with an onsite Swiss consultant taking the lead for both strategy and client communications and the Skopje team for the functional testing of the „front“ (website). As well as testing on the popular browsers, the team was supplied with the latest phones and tablets to ensure the high-quality experience the client expected for their customers. Ale led the nearshore testing team and organised regular catch-ups with the Swiss team.
Over time, the team gained the client’s trust, and the scope was extended: Could Ale come to Switzerland and help them with their middleware testing? This would also be a great opportunity to get to know the team better. In the cold Swiss winter, Ale arrived in La Chaux-de-Fonds and was launched into the challenges of testing APIs with Postman. On-site, she could communicate directly with the Scrum master, middleware architect and developers. She found that when she was back in Skopje, the communication flowed much better as a result.
„It straightened the communication for me, meeting the people and putting faces. I can understand them better by the way they are speaking“, she tells me.
Under Ale’s leadership, the team takes on more work. They are invited to the Scrum meetings where their input is valued and are now building Automated Tests for the platform. „There has been a big transition in confidence“, she confirms. „The customer started out with a lot of questions on the remote part, but now it’s just part of the daily working.“
Meanwhile, Ale’s responsibilities keep increasing as she fills in for the Scrum master during a planned absence. Something she seems to take in her stride.
Finally, without prompting her in one direction or another, I ask what her biggest impression of Switzerland was. „Everyone you met was very work-oriented! Even conversations in the hallway were about work!“ She laughs, and I do too because I hadn’t expected this response. „Oh, and it was very cold as well – snow everywhere!“
* ICT Sector study North Macedonia Albania Kosovo – PWC North Macedonia April 2020