You can probably tell from other stories I’ve filed recently, but last week I was in Armenia for the first time to report on the high tech in the country.
There’s plenty of famous Armenians – the one in the news most recently is Kim Kardashian West, robbed of millions of pounds worth of jewellery in Paris. But others include Hovannes Adamian – inventor of colour TV, Boris Babanal – father of supercomputing in the Soviet bloc, and many many more. You can find the impressive list here.
On that page you’ll also find a list of prominent chess players. Chess is Armenia’s national game. Another very famous Armenian was George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, born in Gyumri, Armenia’s second city and formerly called Alexandropol. This city suffered a devastating blow in 1988 when it was close to the epicentre of a 6.8 earthquake which killed an estimated 45,000 people. The country has suffered other tragedies, including mass genocide of around 1.5 million people starting in the days of the Ottoman Empire, something which modern day Turkey still denies.
I must say that speeding around Armenia over a period of five days I was very impressed by the strides in IT the country is making. We visited a number of lively companies including PicsArt, Digital Pomegranate, Volo, and Energize Global Services.
In addition, I had meetings with Microsoft Armenia, Mentor Graphics and Synopsys – I’ve covered the last two in separate articles on TechEye in recent days.
And I took in visits to Tumo – the Centre for Creative Technologies, the Enterprise Incubation Foundation, ANEL – the National Polytechnic University of Armenia, and Gtech, based in Gyumri.
Last Saturday I visited a computer exhibition in capital city Yerevan called Digitec Expo 2016 where I had the opportunity to meet a large number of other companies – big and small and just starting out. As a veteran of countless trade shows all over the world, I can tell you that while this isn’t the largest, it’s certainly buzzing with activity and enthusiasm and numbers aren’t everything. See that car on the right? That’s the president’s.
Did I say I’d been to a winery? I did that too. Shame you can’t easily buy those wines and those brandies here in the UK. The Armenian currency is called DRAM and a mere 600 of those will buy you a packet of cigarettes. 600 DRAM, by the way, is around a quid.
What really struck me was the level of education in Armenia, with universities, and computer companies cooperating with other in the IT sector. The youngsters’ enthusiasm was great to see – I don’t think their palates are quite as jaded as here in the UK and America.
I’m told that IT is the fastest growing sector in the country and represents a cool five percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
All of the companies and organisations I spoke to made it clear that Armenia wasn’t aiming to compete on price for outsourcing projects – quality is the name of the IT game there, and I was certainly struck by the professionalism of the people I spoke to.
In some ways, the Armenian tech sector reminded me of the early days of technology in Taiwan – not so much the type of IT, but the willingness of the people to roll up their sleeves and to work with will and enthusiasm. From being abandoned by the Soviet Union to its own devices, my assessment is that Armenia is already going places and has plenty of room to grow more.
Did I mention that the parts of the countryside I’ve seen are beautiful too?