FT: Bulgaria reverses the IT brain drain

Salaries are rising in the Balkan tech hub and more developers seek opportunities near home

Kalin Radev was always clear that he wanted Software Group to be a global business, working with banking customers around the world. It was equally clear that he would keep the banking technology company's research and development centre in Bulgaria.  

"Bulgarians are particularly good at IT," says Mr Radev, thanks, in part, to an emphasis on maths and science teaching during the communist era. Bulgaria was once a centre for production of IT hardware for Soviet bloc countries and is now carving a new role as the tech hub of the Balkans.

Tech skills at an affordable price have attracted foreign investors too, including many of the big multinational technology companies, which have set up development centres in the country. Rune Sovdahl, a London-based Danish entrepreneur and investor, was one of those drawn in. He opened a call centre business in Bulgaria eight years ago, coming in for the low labour costs but staying for the skills.

The influx of foreign investors is raising wages however. The average monthly salary in the Bulgarian IT sector is about €1,400 a month, approximately four-times more than the average salary in the country, and starting to rival tech salaries abroad.

This is changing the dynamic of Bulgaria's IT sector — where young, tech-savvy Bulgarians used to seek work opportunities abroad they are now increasingly staying home.

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