Mikhail Vladimirovich Mishustin, Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, “used the occasion” to speak directly to software developers and IT workers on April 7th, 2022. He said: “Folks – developers, programmers, IT crowd – let’s make our ecosystem, we have everything we need for it! There are elements of this ecosystem that need some improvements. We have to make out own online shop because AppStore and GooglePlay can practically restrict us from downloading apps soon”.
Mikhail Vladimirovich not only spoke to the IT workers, but he also broke the fourth wall between us, IT specialists, and the government of the Russian Federation. Before that, government work was like a TV show for us: a TV show that doesn’t correlate with reality much. While the government lived in the world of “import substitution”, we were in the real world doing our job on ways of work and means of production fully imported from Western countries. Needless to say, most of those are imported from the USA, the leading “unfriendly country” at the moment. And, honestly, that worked well for everyone. We made very good money: our salaries were several times higher than those of the workers of other specialties. In turn, the government was proud of domestic IT companies and the successes of the Russian IT industry, especially compared to other industries.
But now something went wrong. Mikhail Vladimirovich, as you mentioned, the government has turned its eyes to the IT industry on the third day of the special military operation. Our union covered this topic previously, and we, IT experts, were unsure – why IT? Is this really the most important economic sector in the case of sanctions? But after your call, we probably see the reason. Seems like our government thinks, that IT is an independent industry, and it’s enough to keep as many as possible IT experts within the country. And they will magically develop our own AppStore. By the way, an app store for Android was developed but went dead soon enough.
We won’t criticize the government for its political decisions. Who we are to do that? We are just a union and we are interested in having jobs in the IT industry in Russia. We know nothing about such complex things, as ruling a country. But since Mikhail Vladimirovich asked us, the IT crowd, directly to create “our ecosystem”, we think we have the right to express our vision of the situation and to get out of it. And most importantly, why are all the measures applied by the government so far absolutely useless.
Mikhail Vladimirovich, you started the dialog with us, IT specialists. So, please, hear out our position, the position of the IT Union.
Usual beliefs about unions are New Year presents, “they destroyed Detroit”, and membership fees. But in reality, a union sometimes is even more interested in job creation, than business owners. The main interest of a business owner is making a profit. And often this goal runs counter to the desire of the workers’ collective. Sometimes, a business owner can make more profit by selling their business, than by trying to invest more and save jobs. It can also be more profitable to use old, crumbling infrastructure and put workers’ lives in danger, than to put more money into equipment and modernize it.
But we, workers, including IT companies’ employees, are always interested in saving and creating jobs and enhancements to infrastructure at workplaces. Moreover, due to the nature of our job, IT experts love interesting tasks because programming is mostly a creative task. And these tasks might also be less profitable to business owners. They’d prefer to do something old but well-known methods from the late 90ths rather than investing in new technologies which significantly improve the software development process.
IT Workers Union is primarily a community interested in gripping, complex, and large-scale tasks as well as the overall development of the IT sector. According to the government statements, creating our ecosystem matches the union’s interests, but first, we need to understand what an ecosystem is.
What is an ecosystem?
Creating your own ecosystem is a very large-scale task. And we have a feeling that the Russian government underestimates its size. Indeed it’s not obvious that any technology, even the most domestic one (i.e. 1С), is a result of many people from different companies and countries working together. Just ask yourself the following questions about the very domestic software:
- What were the development principles?
- What equipment compiled the code?
- What scientific and fundamental concepts were used to build user interfaces and other software functions?
- What environment does the software run?
- What standards does the software comply with?
The best-case scenario is that answers to these questions will show that Russia is only a consumer of the world software development ecosystem, thanks to open-source. The worst-case scenario is that the answers reveal that our country consumes software from “unfriendly countries”. And that is especially true in highly specialized industries.
Mikhail Vladimirovich, it might be that both you and we understand the word “ecosystem” differently. You might think that some kind of own app store is the ecosystem. If that is so, then let’s re-animate Yandex.Store and close the whole IT question.
However, given the scope of the measures taken, by ecosystem you mean something different. Let’s define the concepts. “Software ecosystem - is a set of businesses functioning as a unit and interacting with a shared market for software and services, together with relationships among them.”
If you try translating it into Russian, that would seem like drivel and a computer science books translator’s nightmare. And the problem is not the difference in our languages. The real issue is that we don’t have the same experience with production processes. That’s why it’s so hard to translate this term properly to Russian. What is a “unit” in Russian in the context of IT systems? What is a “shared market”? This terminology is easier to understand and to use without translation. And that is the reason why anglicisms are so common in the IT offices in both oral and written speech.
Everyone should understand that to develop software nowadays it’s not enough to use foreign designs. You have to think the same way developers think in “unfriendly countries”. It is simply necessary to understand the software development principles. Try to walk into any IT office and you hear people speaking Runglish!
- Nuzno bolshe story point-ov (We need more story points)
- Eto ne tot message, kotorij ya za-accept-il (That’s not the message I accepted)
- Nam nuzhna svoya ecosystem-a (We need our ecosystem)
- Sdelay test case-y i design (Please create test cases and design)
- Kopipast (Copy-paste)
- Kakoj definition of done u etoj zadachi? (What is the definition of done for this task?)
We hope our conclusions will not provoke a new law to forbid anglicisms usage in the Russian language. The problem is much deeper. Even when we develop software in Russia, we still use foreign tech to do it. And to understand it we have to become a bit “foreign” ourselves. And it happens because we don’t have domestic software development processes, not because we are still allowed to use anglicisms. Therefore any attempts to create our domestic ecosystem will be a derivative of the world software development ecosystem.
Mikhail Vladimirovich, we heard that under your supervision, the Russian tax office has performed a digital transformation. This leads to a feeling that you might know what an ecosystem is inside an organization. We doubt you could achieve these results without building an ecosystem inside the tax office. Probably, you have created an ecosystem that would allow you to digitalize a large number of services very fast in the future. However, remember the time when the ecosystem was still under construction. It didn’t give any profit back then, and cost a lot to be created. And that problem was in an authority without a goal to make money. So with your experience of creating an ecosystem inside the tax office, do you really believe that a business aimed to make money as soon as possible would invest in such a thing? In a project, that will not provide any ROI in several years, but that needs to be deployed to the whole country?
As we mentioned earlier, we have no idea why the government started supporting the IT industry with such enthusiasm. You might just want to keep experts inside the country, and the ecosystem project is just a way to create jobs. In this case, we have bad news for you. You will not be able to do this, because at least half of the IT specialists used to work with Western countries.
But if the Russian government really wants to create a foundation for domestic software development processes, which would allow us to create country-wide ecosystems - then we are ready to support you. We, workers of the IT industry, dream about interesting and large-scale tasks that would allow us to grow professionally! We are ready to support you, but your current initiatives do not work in our interests at all.
Analysis of the measures taken to support the IT industry of the Russian Federation
So, we will assume that the purpose of creating an ecosystem is to create domestic software development processes. Do the measures taken contribute to this task? Let’s try to figure it out together.
We have already covered the topic of new conditions for the IT industry. In short, they are reduced to creating conditions for businesses, that will allow them to make superprofits without worrying about inspections. And IT specialists themselves will be forced to hold on to their jobs due to cheap mortgages and deferrals from the army, as well as a reducing IT market in the Russian Federation.
In addition, any IT specialist who stays in the Russian Federation risks losing their qualification, because world industry leaders are blocking access to their technologies. The whole set of measures is aimed primarily at the owners of IT enterprises. But what can the government of the Russian Federation offer IT specialists, especially those who can leave the country? Mikhail Vladimirovich, do you think, that IT specialists abroad will not have a reprieve from the army and a mortgage of 5%?
The paradox of the whole situation is also in that you turn to us, IT specialists (employees of IT enterprises), but at the same time, you help only the owners of these enterprises. It is them who want to avoid unnecessary checks and to get excess profits by reducing taxes, not employees.
However, we consider the appeal to IT specialists to be the right direction. We are interested in domestic production processes that will allow us to become creators of IT technologies.
But would businesses support this? They aren’t interested in implementing even laws critically important for the security of the Russian Federation. Why do you expect them to solve a task much more complicated and massive? Federal law No187 “On the Security of the Critical Information Infrastructure of the Russian Federation” was adopted in 2017, and in 2021 it was still poorly implemented:
Firstly, many people are trying to evade the implementation of the federal law by saying: “We are not a subject of CII (Critical Information Infrastructure)”, even though all direct and indirect signs indicate this. Another way to avoid implementation is “we don’t have CII objects that need to be categorized”. “We will also struggle with this, and we already roughly know what needs to be done”, said Alexey Kubarev, deputy head of the FSTEC (The Federal Service for Technical and Export Control) department.
Business in every possible way evades protection measures, even in critical infrastructure facilities of the Russian Federation, because these measures don’t bring profit. The task of creating domestic development processes of software is a lot more expensive and risky than those protective measures. So why do you think their support will bring you the expected result? Mikhail Vladimirovich, the task of creating your ecosystem is extremely large-scale and labor-intensive. We are confident that the current measures to support the IT sector will be dissolved in the profits of IT companies and will not bring results. And they will not bring significant benefits to employees of IT companies. But since you have contacted us, let us suggest what measures will create the conditions for creating our own software development production process, which in turn will allow the creation of domestic ecosystems. Firstly, let’s figure out why the IT industry needs support.
Why do IT employees need support?
So, it is necessary to understand the problems that IT specialists and the government of the Russian Federation can face in general, before talking about support measures.
As we have already noted, IT specialists are now facing a reduction in the IT market of the Russian Federation and the termination of access to the modern technology stack. It means that for real support of IT employees, it’s necessary:
- To create jobs
- To create opportunities for professional growth
It is difficult for us to understand exactly what difficulties the government of the Russian Federation has faced in the context of IT technologies because it’s an applied industry. According to Federal Law No 149:
Information technologies are processes that use a set of means and methods of collecting, processing, accumulating, and transmitting data (primary information). To obtain new quality information about the state of an object, process, phenomenon, information product, as well as the dissemination of information and ways of implementing such processes and methods.
It is obvious from the definition that the IT industry itself cannot exist. It needs objects, processes, and phenomena to reprocess information about and present this information in a new form. In short, the IT industry helps workers from other industries to cope with their work better and more efficiently.
It does not make sense to support the IT industry by itself at all. Its demand in the market depends entirely on the development of the market itself. There will be high-tech jobs – there will also be an IT industry. Therefore, if you lock up 1 million IT specialists inside the country with a degrading economy, IT specialists will not be able to create an ecosystem. The purpose of the IT ecosystem is to create an applied tool for the entire economy.
Mikhail Vladimirovich, of course, we understand that you are aware of the importance of the IT industry in the economy. We do not understand why the government of the Russian Federation is so clumsy, from our point of view, in trying to support the IT industry while having this knowledge. Support the Russian economy, do not let it stagnate, create jobs – and the IT industry itself will begin to flourish.
At the moment, the lack of own ecosystem is a natural result of the needs of the Russian market. Businesses and the government do not see the point of investing in the IT ecosystem. Because their needs are covered by the global ecosystem. It means that the development of our own ecosystem requires needs that the global ecosystem cannot cover.
What needs can there be in the Russian market that the global ecosystem doesn’t cover? As we wrote earlier, we cannot talk about absolutely domestic software, but some solutions are completely tailored to the Russian market. For example, the global ecosystem cannot completely close the market’s need for carrying out production activities to the legislation of the Russian Federation. It is simply unprofitable for the global ecosystem. Therefore a global-ecosystem-based 1C technology was developed, to cover such a need.
The market should develop needs that will lead to the creation of our ecosystem. And that will solve the problems of IT employees: new jobs will be created and a foundation for professional growth will establish. However, what kind of needs should these be? We, the trade union, are not experts in economics, but we can assume what kind of projects can form the need for creating their development ecosystem software on a nationwide scale. For example, consider the space project of the private Russian company S7 Space.
How space can boost the IT industry
In 2018, the news about the intention of a private company S7 Space to build an orbital spaceport remained almost unnoticed in Russian society. We will not evaluate the technical side of the project and the possibility of its implementation. We will assume that the realization of such a project is quite real.
Why would this project create a need for its own software ecosystem? To understand that let’s dive into the essence of the project.
Everyone knows Elon Musk’s approach to space exploration. He relies on reusable means of delivering space cargo and people, including a journey to Mars. S7 Space also involves the use of reusable rockets, but to deliver a payload to an orbit of a cosmodrome. Cargo from an orbital cosmodrome will be delivered by so-called tugs. They will follow orbital highways between Earth and the Moon and Earth and Mars.
To understand the fundamental difference between these two approaches, we can give the following analogy. Suppose you want to drive off-road (analogous to space in our example). Elon Musk’s version involves the creation of an SUV with powerful large wheels, a large engine, and high cross-country ability. But the S7 Space’s version involves the creation of infrastructure and highways instead of off-road, which will then be used by cheap lightweight cars.
We will not make a qualitative assessment of these approaches and determine which one is better. However, it is important for us that Elon Musk’s approach can be implemented in any, even not a large corporation. The S7 Space’s approach is much more challenging to implement. It requires the joint and well-coordinated work of a huge number of organizations from very diverse industries, including IT. The global ecosystem will not be able to close this need. Therefore it will inevitably lead to the creation of a domestic ecosystem. What needs does this project create in the IT industry? We will mention only some of them.
Reliable, maintenance-free microelectronics that can work 24/7 in an aggressive environment
If we analyze the S7 Space project in more detail, we can see how much it needs IT technologies. It needs IT systems that can not only service, repair, and accompany space cargo in orbit, but also ensure the automatic functioning of highways to the Moon and Mars. The functioning of these IT systems is impossible without microelectronics.
Microelectronics is a sore point for the Russian market. However, no one paid any attention to it because there was no need. The project of an orbital station creates this need, and it’s very acute. And it’s not only about setting up production for our own processors. We also need to organize supplies of microelectronics capable of working in space.
To understand the task correctly, let’s assume that we have a tugboat circulating between Mars and Earth in 40 days. Such a task creates the need to create production processes that will most likely be able to guarantee that the microelectronics in this tug won’t break under the influence of solar wind for at least 40 days. This question alone will provide many research institutes with work because only they can provide testing methods that answer the question: how to make sure that the microelectronics produced in terrestrial conditions won’t break down in space? The result of this work will create the need to create domestic production processes that will consider the operation in space.
Operating system, compiler, and software assembly tools for an orbital cosmodrome and its elements
Remote operation of automatic systems in an aggressive environment will require new approaches to implementing operating systems. On the one hand, it is necessary to implement a real-time system for guaranteed synchronous operation of the elements of an orbital cosmodrome. On the other hand, its maximum performance in the event of failure of its subsystems is also required. In other words, neither Linux, Windows, nor RTOS is suitable for such purposes.
In addition, it is necessary to develop compilers capable of generating code using defensive programming approaches. It may be easier for an orbital cosmodrome to develop its own programming language, as the Dragon programming language was once developed for Buran.
But beyond that, build systems that guarantee build reproducibility are needed. In other words, code compiled twice will be converted to the same executables to avoid unintended software behavior during remote unattended operations.
A new generation of robots and weak AI working in space
The repair works will require infrastructure for AI training, and there will also be high demand for robotics. We need not just a weak AI that performs its tasks, but an AI capable of making decisions in the event of a failure of its subsystems and capable of independently carrying out repairs. The orbital spaceport itself will likely be an AI capable of learning on the fly. Most likely, at the very beginning of the journey, it will be necessary to build a system of robotic avatars so that the repair work itself is carried out remotely, from Earth. But in the future, such repairs will also be needed in the orbit of Mars, and managing them online is much more difficult due to the signal propagation delay of up to 22 minutes one way. Therefore, at first, repairs will be carried out at the orbital cosmodrome with the training of a weak AI, and then this trained weak AI will be able to perform work in the orbits of Mars and the Moon.
It opens up a whole range of tasks in the field of IT, fundamental mathematics, cybernetics, physics, microelectronics, and even philosophy (how to understand what a swarm AI, which might be needed, is thinking about?). It may also be necessary to develop special types of processors that will build neural networks on the go for this type of AI – it will be easier than trying to train an AI on Earth or storing huge computing power in orbit for training.
Development of new space communication protocols
Obviously, for the orbiting space station new protocols that take into account, for example, long delays in the transmission of information must be developed. Protecting information in such protocols is not just a measure, but a necessity. It is required to exclude multiple executions of commands (for example, due to interference) and the possibility of data distortion.
This is not a complete list of the needs that the S7 Space project creates in the IT industry. But even this incomplete list shows how such projects can generate a need for domestic software development processes that will allow the creation of domestic ecosystems. Now we have considered how the needs of the market (or, well, the state, if you like) can form their ecosystem for creating space software. However, even though we took a very real existing project as a basis, let’s go down from space to Earth and consider more mundane measures to support the IT industry.
Urgent measures to create a domestic ecosystem
So, we decided that to create its ecosystem, it must have its own needs. However, if the needs have not yet been formed, then you can do the opposite and consider if there’s anything on the market already, that can become the foundation of your ecosystem.
Any need for software is covered, first of all, by computation power. Moreover, how this computation power is made determines the entire look of the software development ecosystem. Russian processor Elbrus is a good example. Elbrus has its own architecture, however, since the Russian Federation is a consumer of the global ecosystem, there is a compatibility mode with the x86 architecture at the level of the processor itself. This puts the processor in a deliberately disadvantageous position. Elbrus has to execute instructions not intended for its architecture. But Elbrus is forced to do this because the domestic ecosystem simply does not exist.
Does it mean that it is necessary to create a domestic ecosystem based on the Elbrus architecture? We believe that at least it can take its place in the market, but we need IT specialists for that. We have to write software based on the Elbrus architecture, as well as support the development of the compiler. Most recently, we spoke about the upcoming downsizings at Intel in Russia of a unit of 1,200 people. These employees have the necessary experience and may well help to develop the software ecosystem based on the Elbrus architecture.
But, as you know, MCST had difficulties with the delivery of its processors from Taiwan. Therefore, an important task is to create our own processor, albeit on old imported equipment, but inside the territory of the Russian Federation. It is necessary to organize the production of processors, even the most primitive ones, to form a scientific and technical base, which will allow us to solve the issue of creating our own processors to fulfill the needs of the market and the state.
One of the measures to support the IT industry could be the creation of free retraining programs based on the experience of the MCST to provide specialists with skills in the field of processor architectures.
It would be nice to open a platform for startups, where dismissed programmers could receive the minimum wage, and have an office and the necessary equipment. The tasks for these startups should be determined based on the current needs of the market. These tasks must be performed within the domestic ecosystem. All startup participants must be shareholders of their enterprises - this will make IT specialists want to stay in Russia and will give them the motivation to work for results.
It is necessary to support open source solutions and provide maximum access to government open data to create favorable conditions for the growth of start-ups. This is a good foundation for the development of small businesses, which will significantly save resources on the creation of unified, nationwide solutions in the field of information technology and maximize the load on the dismissed IT specialists.
Current import substitution measures are aimed to support proprietary software and offshore companies. We have already talked about this earlier - these measures will not give the expected result, but will allow corporations to increase their profits.
Mastering the production technology of our own processors and creating a platform for startups is all the more important if the country is challenged with ensuring technological sovereignty in the development of IT infrastructure.
Technological IT sovereignty
On the 14th of April 2022, The President of Russia created an interdepartmental commission of the Security Council to ensure technological sovereignty in the development of IT infrastructure. Deputy Chairman of the Security Council Dmitry Medvedev will be the head of it.
Creating your own ecosystem and technological IT sovereignty are, of course, interrelated tasks. Sovereignty is impossible without your own ecosystem. There is only one problem - now there is not a single country in the world that can be said to have IT sovereignty.
For example, the United States is the closest to having this property, but they cannot ensure the production of their processors only with their own technologies.
This does not mean that IT sovereignty is impossible. This means that to achieve it, we need to create needs in our ecosystem and lay the foundation for internal software production processes. And eventually, although not so soon, achieve IT independence from global corporations.
Mikhail Vladimirovich, we heard your call. We expect you to hear us and be ready to shape the needs of the domestic ecosystem, which will ensure the country’s IT sovereignty. We hope this is not our last dialogue.