Ukraine vs. Silicon Valley: Why Ukrainians are One of the Best in the World of Data Science and AI
How does the Ukrainian AI and data science community stack up to the rest of the world?How did the period of forced quarantine affect the industry? Why does Ukraine have a great chance to become the number one country in the world for AI?
Aleksandra Boguslavskaya, CEO and founder of Data Science UA, gives her point of view below
Aleksandra, there are still a lot of stereotypes about artificial intelligence and data science. What are they about?
First of all, artificial intelligence is not just the exhibition robot Sofia or the smartest HAL 9000 in Arthur Clarke’s book.
Today, it is mainly a mechanism for solving current business problems, promoting products and services, and improving customer service. For example, to offer you discounts or promotions, not at just random, but based on personal habits and preferences. It is a set of algorithms and models that analyze information from the past about a person or company and make a highly accurate forecast.
What do you want to taste in the evening? Who do you like the most in the Tinder application? Or where will you plan to spend your vacation this year?
We all adore Netflix, which uses AI to know which topic or series will be the most interesting. With Netflix, everything is based on AI. Decisions are made only after careful calculations and forecasts of entire teams. Maybe that’s why this company is so wildly popular and valued at more than $200 billion.
Artificial intelligence is a science at the intersection of mathematics, algorithms, and the customer’s domain. For example, with a bank, it is possible to predict with high accuracy whether a person will repay the loan, how much the institution will earn, and so on. In general, it’s all “about the numbers.”
What does Data Science UA do for the development of this field in Ukraine?
We started by organizing the first conference on AI and data science in Kyiv in 2016, involving the world’s top speakers.
We received positive feedback from participants from all over Ukraine – developers, analysts, data scientists – and began to work further to develop the professional community and data science and AI community in Ukraine.
At the audience’s request, we organized regular professional meetings and launched the first offline course in Kyiv on data science and AI.
Afterward, they requested the community to search for interesting data science projects and we created the first recruitment agency in Ukraine that specializes in data science vacancies. We began to help our talented data science engineers to find cool companies and projects for employment and business to find qualified professionals.
Now we are closing vacancies in data science and all other IT positions – frontend, backend, analyst, and top managers. But our focus and main specialization is data science. We know almost all professionals who work in this field in Ukraine. In close cooperation with the community, we launched consulting and mentoring programs on artificial intelligence and analytics.
We opened an R&D center for a company from the United States six months ago. Together with American colleagues, our team creates a solution based on Computer Vision / Machine Learning (CV / ML), which helps reduce the risk of injury and prevent accidents in steel plants around the world.
We have assembled a team of talented engineers in a month amid quarantine, and now the team is growing; we do not plan to stop. We are also negotiating with several other potential clients from the United States who are interested in our model of building an AI R&D center.
Our main competitive advantages are insane hiring speed, high qualification of selected specialists, and full transparency of our partners’ costs.
How developed is data science in Ukrainian business?
Interest in data science grew gradually. Initially, business representatives began to come to us at the conference together with engineers: banks, retail companies, e-commerce. That’s when the boom in big data started; everyone accumulated large arrays of data but did not know what to do with them.
In response, in 2018, we launched a consulting line. Now we cooperate with various companies in the banking sector, pharmaceuticals, retail, and others. We analyze and simplify their work, help build practical models and visual reports, and make user behavior predictions.
What has changed in the industry and in the Ukrainian market over the past few years?
Companies that create solutions for the whole world have appeared or become known in Ukraine. We are proud of the example of Ring; they made the world talk about themselves after Amazon bought them.
The computer development center was in Kyiv. We are proud of the Ukrainian Grammarly with a valuation of one billion dollars and the most powerful Natural Language Processing expertise in Ukraine and beyond.
In addition to NLP, Computer Vision / Machine Learning (CV / ML) technologies, powered by Snapchat, 3Dlook, SoftServe, and Eleks, have also boosted Ukraine. This is a tectonic shift, after which Ukraine began to look very closely. The world has already realized that AI engineers in Ukraine can create the most complex AI solutions and have a qualification level that is not inferior to engineers in Silicon Valley.
Another illustrative example is Reface. Since its release in June 2020, they have reached 50 million downloads. The company is now at the top of the American App Store.
Yes, ordinary Ukrainian developers in the Kyiv office can create an ingenious product that is used all over the world. Elon Musk tweeted their product, after which everyone talked about them. Those who have not yet installed the Reface application have missed a lot of exciting things. Try it – you need to add a photo of your face and enjoy yourself in the image of your favorite movie or video hero: this is done with the help of generative neural networks.
There are too many advances for Ukrainian specialists, aren’t they?
These are not advances at all. We see that there are super talented engineers in Ukraine. I am sure that Ukrainian specialists can occupy leading positions in the world’s top data science and AI companies.
The purpose of Data Science UA is to promote our Ukrainian developers and AI engineers so that they receive proper recognition at the international level. And they worked from Ukraine because quarantine made it possible.
In contrary to outsourcing, which is historically developed in Ukraine at a very high level, we lack product companies. With the help of the creation and active development of R&D centers in our country, we provide a good opportunity for Ukrainian engineers to work on an equal footing with colleagues from the United States, Europe, etc.
Quarantine plays a significant role in this regard, as companies are not now tied to offices as they used to be. The world has become open to remote work and cosmopolitan teams. And Ukrainian developers, of course, are useful here.
The high level of English, the habit of working with a small-time shift, allowing you to cover half a day of the US time zone, is convenient.
Our developers are also proactive and this solves one of the most common problems in the west. When everyone is sitting and waiting for instructions from the main office, our colleagues can make their own decisions and drive the project.
From where do people get into data science in general: courses or, perhaps, immediately from university?
Both ways. Many come after technical universities – Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv Polytechnic, and others. These are usually graduates of mathematics or programming faculties. It is sporadic for someone to switch from humanities programs because they need a reasonably strong mathematics background.
It isn’t easy to gain it immediately, either. Sometimes engineers work as Python or iOS developers, analysts and want to try something new in the profession – start in data science. A separate category is top managers who manage AI products. With managerial experience, they delve into the field and become data science project managers in various companies. We often help companies to find such managers to start the project; then, we look for a team of engineers for them.
Is there a shortage of staff in the industry? How do you overcome it?
The lack of staff in data science and AI is more noticeable than in other areas of IT. Because the entry here is higher – it is critical to have mathematical training. You also need to know programming languages, Python or R, have analytical skills, and understand the project’s domain. But we are working on it.
Yes, mentoring programs in data science were opened for technical and non-technical specialists. It’s like a personal coach. Before the quarantine, we did data science and analytics training with Oleksandr Romanko twice a year (in autumn and in spring); he is an outstanding data science figure. The Ukrainian, who worked at IBM Canada after moving to Canada. He teaches at the University of Toronto and is on leave at a company in Canada to train those who want to move to data science in Ukraine.
We also did offline courses and were invited to share the experience of leading developers from our community every month. Now all this activity is transferred online and takes place regularly, so our team’s educational function continues to develop actively. It is the heart and core of our community.
We are also always open to new ideas and continuously help our partners in all matters related to data science and AI.
What exactly does Data Science UA do for the development of the Ukrainian community?
We are continually working to develop the community and product culture in general. We help companies find specialists, and we find great companies for great engineers. Now almost everything that comes to Ukraine from data science and AI mostly passes through us. We advise what average salary expectations candidates can have from data science and where it is better to open an R&D center and start building a data science team and team expertise. We advise universities on what subjects to add to the curriculum in data science programs.
Our staff also teaches; for example, our Head of Consulting, Veronica Tamayo Flores, teaches at the Kyiv School of Economics and Vodafone Big Data School. Together with the Ministry of Culture, our team has created a short educational series on artificial intelligence.
As a community, we do our best to interact with data science and business effectively. This is the IT sphere and pharmaceuticals, retail, banks, restaurants, logistics, tourism, consulting within the companies of the “big 4” and others. That is why data science is needed everywhere. Therefore, we need to develop this area for both developers and business.
Who is your audience?
There is a proactive part of the audience from our community that always comes to all our events. We know these people personally and we are still in touch with them. It can be argued that all areas of Data Science UA (conferences, meetings, courses, recruiting, R&D center) took place due to this close cooperation. I am very grateful to our community and their support.
Of course, every year, the audience expands. Thanks to the online geography’s significant expansion this year, many participants were from the United States, Europe, and Canada. We were able to cover the whole world and we were showing how talented our Ukrainian data scientists and AI engineers are performing.
What will Data Science UA advise those who want to dive deeper into the field of data science?
If you want to improve in this area, we sincerely invite you to our community. We will find an exciting and meaningful project or place for each specialist’s further development, obtaining a new modern education. We will help you find and get in touch with like-minded people.
We are also thrilled to work with businesses, IT, and non-IT companies that need analytical, AI, and/or data science services. It doesn’t matter what level the company is at. We will help them go through all the steps – from training and data collection to building infrastructure and creating operational reports – and then move on to data science. Thanks to the community, we have ultra-fast access to top talent.
Our global goal is to make Ukraine the number one AI country in the world. So that such companies as Reface, Grammarly, and others can be created as often as possible.