President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: It seems a tradition is starting to take shape – first of all you clinch a brilliant victory, and then the Moscow bigwigs meet with you and talk about it. To be honest, I very much hope that this tradition continues. As I recall, the contest’s winners were received in the Kremlin five years ago, then, two years ago, I think it was, as a cabinet member and deputy prime minister I met with the winners, and now I am meeting with you today. This constancy is enviable, and it makes me very happy. This really is an important positive event for our country, and it is wonderful to see you continue it.
I hardly know where to begin. I could say again, of course, what an excellent performance you gave, because there were teams from 88 countries, as far as I know, taking part this year, and the level of competition was very high. You can tell me in more detail now about who your toughest rivals were. I think last time it was your Chinese colleagues. Tell me about how the situation shaped up this year.
Most important of all, of course, we need to discuss what to do next. Last time, we talked about what needs to be done to develop Russia’s IT industry, get things working the right way, and encourage start-ups. In short, we need to look at what we can do to ensure that what you are involved in now as students, including at the contest, finds its practical realisation in our production achievements, that is, in our possibilities for taking the offensive and playing an aggressive game in the competitive world.
There was another idea we discussed a while ago – that of organizing a programming championship. I think that the time is ripe for this now, all the more so as you keep winning. I think we should discuss how to organise this work, look at the possible organisational forms, all the more so as we have present today our colleagues who are responsible for organising all such championships in our country, including the Minister of Education and Science [Andrei Fursenko].
As for your grants, you will receive them of course. There is no need for discussion on that point.
I congratulate you once more. You really did do well, and we are proud of you.
I’d like now to hear what you, the senior colleagues and students, have to say.
SENIOR LECTURER AT ST PETERSBURG STATE UNIVERSITY OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY, MECHANICS AND OPTICS, TEAM COACH ANDREI STANKEVICH: First of all, we’d like to show you this short film.
Dmitry Medvedev: Alright.
Andrei Stankevich: So as to get into the atmosphere together.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, that’s a good idea. I don’t think we did this last time.
Andrei Stankevich: Well, let’s do it this time.
(All watch the short film).
Dmitry Medvedev: Who is this?
Andrei Stankevich: Here you see the students entering the competition venue.
Dmitry Medvedev: It took place in such a big hall?
Andrei Stankevich: Yes, this is the library of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm…
Condensed into a minute you just saw five hours of competition and the award ceremony, which was held this year in the hall where the Nobel Prizes are awarded.
Dmitry Medvedev: That’s good, symbolic of course.
Vladimir Parfenov: We brought the flag along with us.
Dmitry Medvedev: What interests me is that you have already won many times. Your university’s team has already won in the past. Are the other teams afraid of you? This was your second victory in a row after all, as far as I know.
Andrei Stankevich: I don’t know if they are ‘afraid’ of us, but I think they are at least a bit wary.
It’s probably also interesting to learn a bit about the actual problems the teams have to solve during the competition. We prepared a brief presentation and chose the three most relevant and interesting problems.
Dmitry Medvedev: I hope it’s a presentation for ‘dummies’.
Andrei Stankevich: Let’s begin with a problem involving air traffic controllers, so as to give you an idea of what this competition is actually about. Every plane approaching the airport has to wait for authorisation to land. These days, when there are many planes arriving at airports, the air traffic controllers have a difficult job deciding on the order in which all the planes should land. The task was to help the air traffic controllers by writing a programme that can plan the safest landing order for the planes.
Dmitry Medvedev: Excellent. So it takes the traffic into account.
Andrei Stankevich: Yes, and the planes’ capabilities too, because otherwise planes could end up endlessly circling the airport, waiting for landing clearance.
Dmitry Medvedev: And all the while other planes are coming into land too…
Andrei Stankevich: Yes, so we have to reduce the time between each landing to a minimum so as to enable as many planes as possible to land. That was the problem we had to solve.
Dmitry Medvedev: A very practical problem.
Andrei Stankevich: Of course, this programme cannot be immediately put into use in airports, but it does have a practical purpose. This was the simplest of the problems set at the championship. Some teams took only 10–15 minutes to come up with a solution.
The next problem was about a pipeline.
Dmitry Medvedev: That’s an easy one for Russia. It’s our most important sector.
Andrei Stankevich: I think it’s not the only important sector. We are developing information technology now too.
Dmitry Medvedev: You are right there.
Andrei Stankevich: So the pipeline task is also very relevant. We have a pipeline consisting of four round pipes of set diameters. We need to drill a tunnel through a rock. The tunnel’s diameter has to be as small as possible, but at the same time big enough for all of the pipes to be fitted into place inside it. In other words, we have the size of the pipes as input data, and we need to come up with a programme that will give the tunnel’s size.
Dmitry Medvedev: Not an easy problem.
Andrei Stankevich: Yes, this was a tougher problem. For many teams this was the make or break point. Those who were successful in resolving it at the start of the competition gave themselves the boost they needed to end up among the leaders towards the finish.
Finally, another problem I think is relevant, this time about parliament.
Dmitry Medvedev: Also very important, of course.
Andrei Stankevich: There’s a parliament, and its deputies have a whole number of draft laws to examine. The deputies examine the draft laws and formulate their conclusions. Each deputy has several draft laws (four, to be exact) to examine, and formulates conclusions. But the deputies cannot examine all of the draft laws, and so they each examine four draft laws in the areas they are most familiar with.
Dmitry Medvedev: These deputies are doing something wrong; our deputies examine all draft laws.
Andrei Stankevich: Ours do, but Swedish deputies examine four each. And so the task is to organise the selection of draft laws in such a way as to ensure that each deputy gets at least three of the four draft laws he wants to examine.
Dmitry Medvedev: That’s a problem testing one’s lobbying abilities. If you can’t reach a compromise, a special decision is required…
Andrei Stankevich: There’s no need to work out a political solution, it’s enough to inform the specialists and work things out from there.
Dmitry Medvedev: This is actually very interesting. To be honest, it’s hard for me to assess just how difficult this problem is to solve.
Andrei Stankevich: This is a tough problem. It was one of the problems that decided who ended up in the top ten.
Dmitry Medvedev: What makes it difficult?
Andrei Stankevich: There are several things to take into account, several stages involved in coming up with a solution. You need to create a mathematical model of the problem.
Dmitry Medvedev: And this model is in itself quite complex?
Andrei Stankevich: Yes, the resulting mathematical model is quite complex. You need to use an algorithm, that is, you need to programme it. So, the three problems we have presented here each represent an increase in the level of difficulty.
Dmitry Medvedev: What are the criteria used to evaluate how the problems have been solved? As I understand it, this is also somewhat subjective.
Andrei Stankevich: No, in this case it is all completely objective.
Dmitry Medvedev: Objective?
Andrei Stankevich: The teams solve the problems by writing programmes. These programmes are then sent through a special procedure to the contest’s jury, and they all use identical testing equipment, prepared in advance, to test the programmes. So there is no subjective factor that can have any influence.
Dmitry Medvedev: I understand, but to get the full picture, explain in a bit more detail, because it’s not just you that have written a programme after all, but a whole lot of teams that have written, say, similar programmes. How do the programmes differ one from the other, and how does the jury decide that one programme works and another does not?
Andrei Stankevich: If the programme successfully gets through all of the test cases, the problem is considered solved. We, the winning team, had nine successfully solved problems, for example. Given that several teams can solve the same number of problems, there is also the criterion of penalty time, that is, each problem has to be solved rapidly.
Penalty time is calculated according to a certain formula. For example, we had 400-odd penalty minutes, less than the Chinese team, which took second place.
Dmitry Medvedev: While the Oxford University team had few penalty minutes, but also fewer problems solved.
Andrei Stankevich: Yes, they solved fewer problems. It’s important to solve as many problems as possible. It’s when the teams have solved an equal number of problems that the penalty time helps to decide.
There were 100 teams taking part in the finals.
Dmitry Medvedev: 100 teams? I heard there were 88 teams.
Andrei Stankevich: There were 88 countries taking part in the first stage of the contest, but not all of these countries made it through to the finals. There were around 30 countries taking part in the finals.
Dmitry Medvedev: Who were your most serious rivals? Last time, I think it was the Chinese and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Andrei Stankevich: This time too it was the Chinese. The Chinese team took second place. The Chinese were taking part not only in China’s teams, but also in teams from the United States. The Stanford team, for example, was made up of Chinese.
PROFESSOR AT ST PETERSBURG STATE UNIVERSITY OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY, MECHANICS AND OPTICS, MEMBER OF THE ACM-ICPC INTERNATIONAL ORGANISING COMMITTEE VLADIMIR PARFENOV: Last year, when we won the 2008 world championship, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology took second place.
Andrei Stankevich: I think the team members could say who they saw as their most serious competitors.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, that would be best. Go ahead, let’s hear what you have to say.
Third-Year Student At St Petersburg State University Sergei Kopeliovich: The Chinese really were our most serious rivals. Everyone considered the team that ended up taking second place the favourite to win the championship, but team spirit is very important in programming. The Chinese team was made up simply of three strong programmers, while we had a real team. This explains why the St Petersburg State University of Information Technology, in particular, was able to overtake them. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology was also a serious rival.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, they were just mentioned before. Was their team also made up of Chinese?
Sergei Kopeliovich: No.
Dmitry Medvedev: It had a mix of members?
Sergei Kopeliovich: Classic Americans.
Poland also has a very strong school, but this year they had bad luck. They sent three first-year students, who managed nevertheless to win bronze. We have to respect the Poles at least for their achievements in past competitions.
Dmitry Medvedev: Which university was their team from?
Sergei Kopeliovich: The team that took ninth place was from Warsaw University.
Dmitry Medvedev: But ultimately, who makes things toughest for you? Which team is ‘breathing down your neck’ the most?
Sergei Kopeliovich: When we’re solving the problems, if the team has prepared properly for the competition, our whole focus is on the problems, and there are no competitors. We think about the competitors only when we study the last championship, look back at all the previous championships.
Dmitry Medvedev: So, when you’re in the middle of solving the problems, you are pretty calm in general. You’re not thinking about the competitors, but simply focused on the result.
Sergei Kopeliovich: That’s how it was this year. Last year, we had the same team taking part, but we only managed to take 11th place and got a bronze medal, and that was mainly because of nerves. We already had the level needed to win gold, but we didn’t manage and only got the bronze in the end.
Dmitry Medvedev: Last year you gave in to nerves, but this year got yourselves in the right state of mind.
Sergei Kopeliovich: Yes, last year we let nerves get the better of us, thought too much about other teams. This year, everything went quite calmly.
Dmitry Medvedev: How long did the competition last?
Sergei Kopeliovich: There were five hours of competition.
Dmitry Medvedev: That’s quite a long time. It makes for quite a tiring marathon. Is it possible to leave at all?
Sergei Kopeliovich: You can leave to go the toilet as many times as you want.
Dmitry Medvedev: Do people make use of this opportunity?
Sergei Kopeliovich: Yes, of course, you even get queues there. You leave the hall and end up first having to wait in line.
Dmitry Medvedev: I mean, do people ever use this moment to have some consultations, or is that strictly forbidden? Are you allowed to make any phone calls?
Sergei Kopeliovich: No, everyone is silent of course. Everyone’s mobile phones are switched off, and even better, handed in before the competition starts. They repeat at every convenient moment that it is forbidden to use mobile phones or any electronic devices. Everyone knows this as it is. Only experienced teams make it to the finals, and they already know all the rules.
Dmitry Medvedev: I see. What are you going to do next? Do you have any plans?
Sergei Kopeliovich: I would like to go on doing this, at least as a coach. There are training camps in Petrozavodsk [the capital of the Republic of Karelia], you've probably heard about them?
Dmitry Medvedev: The guys were talking about them last time.
Sergei Kopeliovich: I think a lot of the Russian teams did as well as they did because of these camps. I'll be a coach there this summer. With regard to work, no, no plans yet. Now that these games are over, it's a great time to get back to my studies at the university.
Dmitry Medvedev: Of course. But do we need a competition in this field or not? Because we talked about this a couple of years ago and the discussion was inconclusive.
Sergei Kopeliovich: A competition movement?
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes.
Sergei Kopeliovich: I could not have acquired the knowledge that I got by preparing for these competitions anywhere else. I mean that those who are just in their fifth year of university aren't anywhere near my level.
Dmitry Medvedev: Because you've taken part in these competitions?
Sergei Kopeliovich: Particularly in one fairly specific area, algorithm theory.
Dmitry Medvedev: Of course you have done this at a professional level. Do we need to organise this type of competition within the country or not, what do you think?
Sergei Kopeliovich: If they were organised they'd bring results.
Dmitry Medvedev: I'm told there is no overall championship. I don't know, maybe there is.
Sergei Kopeliovich: An overall student championship?
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, for students.
Sergei Kopeliovich: There are quarter-finals and semi-finals; there are open championships, which take in the whole of Russia.
Dmitry Medvedev: So there are enough of these contests?
Sergei Kopeliovich: Yes.
Dmitry Medvedev: I'm asking because I was told that we don't have something comprehensive enough to prepare for such a global championship, the sort of thing that would bring people from throughout the country together.
Sergei Kopeliovich: Our regional semi-finals are certainly considered to be that sort of global championship.
Dmitry Medvedev: In other words, there are basically enough competitions?
Sergei Kopeliovich: Enough for me. If people are saying this then for all intents and purposes there may be something lacking. But I simply ended up taking part in all of them.
Dmitry Medvedev: I understand. Who else wants to say something?
Fourth-Year Saratov State University (SSU) STUDENT NATALYA BONDARENKO: Yes, I want to say that we all know perfectly well that our victory in the finals was the result of years of work on the part of large number of people. I don't mean just the work we the participants did, but also that of our coaches and our teachers who put everything they had into preparing us for the competition.
All sorts of things played an important role: the collaborative work of universities, organised dry runs, training camps, and other competitions that take place in Russia, in the regions and at combined events.
Dmitry Medvedev: Did you take part in all of these competitions?
Natalya Bondarenko: Yes, the teams here were involved in most of the competitions.
Dmitry Medvedev: So you also went from Saratov to Petrozavodsk?
Natalya Bondarenko: Yes, we were there, and now part of that competition, the Open Team Programming Collegiate Cup, is taking place on the Internet.
I would also like to say something about how we were trained in Saratov for the competition. Saratov State University is one of the few universities where there is a competition centre for training programmers. This is an organisation run by our coaches and instructors that provides training for university and high-school students, gives them the necessary skills and provides them with set lectures.
It also has a very important role to play as a competition training centre in preparing us for team work, because just learning to work as a team is difficult and important to train for. At the competition training centre we undergo joint training for the various teams from SSU.
This year, Saratov University celebrates its 100th anniversary, and our gold medals should be thought of as our gift to the university.
Dmitry Medvedev: 100 percent, the perfect gift.
Natalya Bondarenko: We are very pleased with the way things turned out.
Dmitry Medvedev: And we congratulate you on the 100-year anniversary of your fine university.
Natalya Bondarenko: Thank you very much.
DEAN OF THE FACULTY OF COMPUTER SCIENCE AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES OF SARATOV STATE UNIVERSITY, TEAM COACH ANTONINA FEDOROVA: Come and visit us.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.
Natalya Bondarenko: We're inviting you to the 100th anniversary celebrations.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you. When do they take place?
Antonina Fedorova: December 19.
Natalya Bondarenko: And because our meeting is taking place on the eve of the Victory Day, which we will celebrate on May 9, I would also like to take this opportunity on behalf of our university to congratulate you on Victory Day.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you very much.
Natalya Bondarenko: And on the other May celebrations that we've just had.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you very much. Of course, I also heartily congratulate you on these May celebrations and on the upcoming Victory celebrations. This is indeed a special holiday, one that is sacred to our country.
Minister of Education and Science Andrei Fursenko: I'd like to add one thing.
Dmitry Medvedev: By all means.
Andrei Fursenko: Out of 300 finalists there were only three girls. One of them is ours, and she was the only girl on a winning team so far as I know. Is that right, Natasha?
Antonina Fedorova: And she is the team captain.
Natalya Bondarenko: That's right, yes, the only girl on a winning team.
Dmitry Medvedev: How do you explain that?
Andrei Fursenko: We don’t treat our girls bad, right?
Natalya Bondarenko: I think instead of asking me you should ask the girls who for whatever reason did not take part in the competition.
Dmitry Medvedev: That's a good diplomatic answer. And what you are planning to do next?
Natalya Bondarenko: First, next year we are planning to take part in the championship again. We've only got to the finals once, and you're allowed to go twice. So next year we'll take the same team in. After that there are a lot of options. I personally plan to stay at university and study mathematics.
Dmitry Medvedev: As a grad student, right?
Natalya Bondarenko: Yes.
Dmitry Medvedev: That’s a good choice, what can I say.
OK. The results of the international contest are on all of our minds. Naturally, this is a wonderful event. It is great for our country, and it is probably something that you will remember as a milestone for the rest of your lives. The years you spend in college are always memorable, and this will be especially true for you, given your amazing achievements.
Unfortunately, the situation in our nation overall is not as favourable as your achievements in the programming contest. To be completely honest, in my view, our attempts to turn Russia into a modern information society and to begin developing an innovation-based economy have not been very successful. I even established the Council for Development of Information Society in Russia for this purpose, because our standing in various areas is rather low.
Our meeting today makes us feel good, because one could conclude based on your performance that things are going very well in our country. Unfortunately, this is not the case, so our goal is to find a way to develop a full-fledged IT industry, communications, and an information society.
This is what I would like to discuss with you today. Does anyone have anything to say about this issue? Any ideas about what the government and the state could do? What would you do, if it were up to you?
Sergei Kopeliovich: This is a very broad challenge.
Dmitry Medvedev: Not at all, it is normal. You have been very successful, and I hope this will result in successful lives for all of you. But we need to make this type of success more common. We need more than to gain medals at international championships; we also need to be generally competitive within all kinds of markets – the software market and the IT industry overall. Indeed, the goal we have set for ourselves is difficult, but we hardly have much of a choice. We can either put all our efforts into constructing pipelines, as we mentioned earlier, or we can find some other way for our national development. I feel this is a very important challenge for us right now, because currently, the main basis for the development of our economy and our country is raw materials. We are a nation rich in resources, but we need to remember the lessons we’ve learned in just the last several years. All the large companies and nations that are heavily dependent on exporting raw materials have experienced a falldown in their economic performance. This is true for our nation as well, as our economy is not diversified, and much of our national wealth is created through energy exports. Unfortunately, we have not succeeded in building a different economy.
At the same time, I have looked at some statistics on IT companies and the online industry value. Although the crisis has not spared anyone, the depreciation of IT assets is less significant than depreciation in the raw materials sector.
What does this mean? It means that the crisis does not strike all industries in the same way. If, for example, our economy was more focused on a domestic market and if the innovative components of our economy had been developing more soundly, then the crisis would have affected our country to a lesser degree. It is not that we must immediately do something about that. Clearly, we will overcome the crisis anyway and its impact is not fatal at all. However, it is more about being ready for any kind of competition in the future. Over the past year we have seen practical proof to what I am saying. The most diversified economies are the ones that are best able to handle the challenges of a crisis.
That is why I would like to consult with you, as smart people awarded with prizes and medals. What can we do? Do you have any ideas?
RECTOR OF ST PETERSBURG STATE UNIVERSITY OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY, MECHANICS AND OPTICS, PROFESSOR VLADIMIR VASILYEV: May I?
Dmitry Medvedev: Please, go ahead.
Vladimir Vasilyev: I am not speaking as a participant.
Dmitry Medvedev: But as an organiser.
Vladimir Vasilyev: Yes, as an organiser.
In our view, this decade is fundamentally different from the previous decade in terms of programming. Twenty years ago, and even ten years ago, Russian programmers were much involved in writing fairly simple codes, but at the beginning of the 21st century, this niche was taken by India, Vietnam, and other countries. Now, our programming market segment is mainly that of solving more difficult problems. We feel that this is our market, and our successful performance at competitions is proof of this. So the priority is to make an IT mechanism involving school, college, science, and business or industry work properly.
I would like to say the mechanism functions fairly well at the levels of schools and universities. We have internet in schools, extracurricular courses in programming, and we have various classes, competitions, and conferences, so things are pretty good at this stage. Of course, now, we have one main problem: we do not have enough trained people in Russia, there is a shortage of graduates. As everyone knows, only graduates within the top five percent in any given class can work at the highest level in IT, i.e. three to four thousand graduates a year. Thus, to address the challenges you mentioned, to win competitions and to offer successful classes, we absolutely must work together with other CIS countries. But once again, I only refer to the two basic levels of the mechanism.
Things are pretty good as far as science is concerned, too. However, we have a real problem on the business side.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, this is our weakest area.
Vladimir Vasilyev: Indeed, although there have been successes.
I think that, first of all, universities should have innovation zones created around them, and we absolutely must work on the development of innovative technologies. This means creating small IT companies that will act as business incubators. This is a very difficult process, and it is more or less clear how we must proceed. I think that this will be aided by the fact that recently, Minister of Education and Science Andrei Fursenko gave the prime minister a report on national research universities that, I believe, will move such projects forward.
As far as large-scale industry is concerned, we must still seek out solutions. You are probably aware that in 2008, Russia had a turnover of 2.7 billion dollars for exported software products and services alone, the figure comparable to that of the arms market.
Dmitry Medvedev: This is quite a high figure.
Vladimir Vasilyev: That market has a turnover of 5 to 6 billion dollars, so we have half of that, or maybe a third. But it is important to remember that this is not a sector that relies heavily on raw materials.
Dmitry Medvedev: No, certainly not, and this figure is quite good compared to what we had a few years ago. We are now talking about billions of dollars, a significant figure.
This demonstrates that this sector really does have a strong potential.
We meet frequently to discuss the development of innovative economy in our country. Everything is going well as far as development and individual solutions are concerned. We are also maintaining the high potential that was created earlier by our research institutes. We have not lost our strong academic system, but we are behind when it comes to commercialisation – in fact, we are behind most countries in terms of our market competitiveness. How do we overcome this gap? That is our biggest challenge.
Yesterday, we met with one of our political parties to discuss how to address this problem. In order to succeed, we probably need to implement some tax incentives. But tax incentives are a complicated thing; they are often blocked by the Ministry of Finance or face other obstacles. Still, overall, we have taken some steps in this direction, and we will continue to do more in the future.
In my view, our biggest challenge right now is figuring out how to motivate businesses to get involved in this kind of work. So far, they have not reacted very well to this idea. Companies do not want to engage in venture projects; they do not want to take risks. Why aren’t I discussing the crisis? Naturally, everyone has a difficult time during a crisis, which presents its own set of problems. But I am talking about non-crisis times, when things are going normally. Even during those times, it is very difficult to convince businesses to tackle these kinds of issues.
Perhaps our businesses are spoiled because our country does indeed offer other opportunities. It is much easier to work in commerce, for example, or in the development of raw materials, to work in the industrial sector. All of these areas are important and necessary. But the truth is that so far, the government has been unable to motivate businesses to work in this particular area.
I would be really interested in hearing what you think about all this – you and our young colleagues – because this is a matter that various people feel differently about. How do we convince a relatively small business to invest money into this industry? Tax incentives alone are not working. Naturally, they should be among the tools that we use, but they are not enough, which is too bad, because we are a country with enormous creative potential. This creative potential is one of our competitive advantages, and this is something that we are always discussing. Your victory in the world competition serves as direct proof of this.
Vladimir Vasilyev: We are also constantly thinking about this issue. This obviously concerns us, since we are preparing people for work in science and business. And you are probably aware that nowadays, the overwhelming majority of IT specialists do not find work abroad; instead, they stay and work here in Russia.
Dmitry Medvedev: I actually looked at some statistics before our meeting. Of the young people we met with, about 85 to 90 percent work and study in Russia; some of them do go abroad to study, but of course, that is normal, too. So we do not have problems with keeping young people here, in this country. Our challenge is to bring these amazing individual achievements together to build a full industry. That is what’s most important right now.
Vladimir Vasilyev: We should seek out models and test them out. As I have said, I have high hopes for a national research university, cooperation with our CIS colleagues, etc.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, I am glad that you brought this point up again. In what way do you feel that we must cooperate with our colleagues from the CIS countries? (After all, we are generally in contact with them already.) What should we be offering them now, and what would we like to get in return?
Vladimir Vasilyev: We meet our colleagues at programming competitions, so we know the people who are being trained over there. There are many, many individuals who would like to continue their training in Russia. There really are a lot of them, often hailing from Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Kyrgyzstan. Perhaps we should form post-graduate courses that would bring these young people together. With this level of cooperation, we would surely achieve a new level of quality.
Dmitry Medvedev: I am happy that you brought this up. Just a few months ago, when we met with leaders of EurAsEC [the Eurasian Economic Community] member states, we agreed to create a centre for advanced technologies that will unite the key countries that can cooperate with us in this area. These include Kazakhstan, Belarus, and our other Central Asian partners. We plan to dedicate money and human resources to this project. We can also look into extending this program to your field.
As far as scholarships are concerned, there are increasingly more of them every year for students from the CIS states and from EurAsEC member states. Still, it is probably not enough, and we should try to do more to motivate students to come study here.
But we will build this centre. In fact, the final decision will be made in June, when EurAsEC leaders will meet, and we will make our final decisions. We even have several ideas about its location. It will most likely be in the Russian Federation, since we have the best resources. Still, it must be active in all areas, and should welcome students, specialists, and scientists from other countries.
Vladimir Vasilyev: Will it have multiple campuses, or will it be located entirely in one place?
Dmitry Medvedev: We still need to decide that. I think that most likely, we will need to build a main campus somewhere in Russia, and perhaps build other campuses in the other countries involved. Mr Fursenko, you have worked on this issue. Have you thought about where this centre may be located?
Andrei Fursenko: The centre is mainly oriented toward funding research. We even had the idea to use it as a base for creating a venture capital fund.
Dmitry Medvedev: What’s wrong with that?
Andrei Fursenko: We need money. But we were indeed talking about setting this up as a system with multiple campuses, in more than one location. The Belarusian side has suggested creating a centre in their country. Kazakhstan has suggested the same.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, our colleagues from those countries did make those suggestions.
Andrei Fursenko: You are right in that it would be best for the centre to be located in Russia, since it is central…
Dmitry Medvedev: I just think that it would be logical, and we could have other campuses in those other countries.
Presidential Aide Jakhan Pollyeva: We already have a similar setup in Dubna. Last year, we held our first post-graduate courses on nanotechnologies, and accommodated people in Dubna. This year, we will hold these courses for the second time. We can do the same for programming, and we could select St Petersburg as the location, since it already has two universities with winning programming teams.
Dmitry Medvedev: We could. St Petersburg is a good city, I fully agree. But in fact, there are other good cities, such as Saratov.
Vladimir Vasilyev: I think that it is imperative to develop different models for business incubators. Perhaps we should, as you said, work toward forming a large industry, but we should form it through small and medium businesses.
Dmitry Medvedev: Small and medium businesses are the only way to go, because otherwise, it just doesn’t work. Perhaps I am wrong, but my view, I do not think it is possible to resolve the problem of forming an innovative economy or developing the IT industry by creating large companies.
For example, we have set up a state nanotechnology corporation [RUSNANO]. This is an instrument that is working in some places, but not in others. It is just one big structure that has a lot of money, but we have not yet figured out how to best spend it, such that we will not be accused later of mismanaging those funds. And here, we are talking first and foremost about small- and medium-sized companies. It is clear that if they are not earning money, nothing will happen.
And in this regard, business incubators are very important. But the problem is that they, too, are still rather mediocre. In Moscow, for example, I have seen that they work. They also work in some other cities. But these are places that may offer better funding, where the necessary infrastructure can be set up using budget resources of a constituent entity or other means. If those small and medium businesses have to chip in together, then everything becomes much more complicated.
Vladimir Vasilyev: In my view, if a university does not work to create business incubators, it should leave the market – in my view, such an institution should not call itself a university.
Dmitry Medvedev: Universities are just one aspect of business incubators. We actually need business organisations. Have we already passed the law on small businesses within universities? What stage is it at?
Answer: It is in the State Duma.
Andrei Fursenko: No, it is not in the State Duma. It is being examined by the Cabinet. We were unable to adjust our differences with the Ministry of Finance, so we have presented it to the Cabinet with those contradictions and differences, but the prime minister has decided that it will nevertheless be brought before the State Duma with our position intact, and that we must establish these businesses.
Dmitry Medvedev: Very well. Please pass it quickly, because we have been planning to do this for quite some time. We have announced it as an anti-unemployment measure, but this document is still languishing somewhere. Let’s move more quickly.
In essence, these are two sides of the same coin. Universities are on one side, as scientific learning institutions and educational talent foundries. Businesses are on the other side, including small businesses within the universities, which are a way to make some money. Speaking of which, I would like to ask the students: how are you supporting yourselves? I am just curious. How much do your parents contribute, and what opportunities do you have to earn some money yourselves?
Andrei Fursenko: Not everyone is living in their home cities.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, some students are living in dormitories. Could you tell us about it?
Sergei Kopeliovich: Well, I am able to win some cash prizes. When we win the university competition, we get good prizes. I also work as an organiser for the Russian championship, which allows me to earn a bit. When we win soccer matches, it also brings in some money, and if we get only third place, that is still a good result. Then I can earn some money by teaching children in summer. And there will be the all-Russia training …
Dmitry Medvedev: Those are also good ways to earn something.
Sergei Kopeliovich: I have never had a steady job, but I have been able to make money.
Dmitry Medvedev: In your case, you do not need a steady job (since you are still a student); you just need a steady income.
Sergei Kopeliovich: Opportunities to earn money always seem to appear when I really need them.
Dmitry Medvedev: Can anyone else talk about how they support themselves? Do any others work as teachers? Do you have other jobs?
Vladimir Parfenov: Many students nowadays are working.
Dmitry Medvedev: That is what I am interested in hearing about.
Vladimir Parfenov: I would like to bring up something a little more optimistic. In truth, there has been an enormous leap in Russia’s IT industry and software development during the last five to ten years.
Taking St Petersburg as an example, we have 400 companies of 10 to 1,000 people, employing a total of 20 thousand programmers. The problem is that they are growing by ten percent [per year], so they need 2,000 new specialists, since the old ones cannot be re-trained. Here in Russia, we have a system for selecting these new, highly qualified and talented young professionals. Each year, we have about 200 of them. The next level of talent includes about ten times as many young professionals. That is all we have. Thus, these are the people we can employ to build our innovation policy in information technology. We can also attract a few people from other CIS countries.
We have many examples of young people creating small companies and working in them. Not everything is that gloomy. But St Petersburg is not like Moscow, which has banks, Gazprom, and Lukoil, enormous companies that require IT services. We have none of this, so we are left to create new companies in St Petersburg.
Dmitry Medvedev: As someone with experience in this area, I can tell you earnestly that there are many large companies registered in St Petersburg, even if you may think that they are from Moscow. These companies include Gazprom Neft, VTB, and many others. My understanding is that Transneft is also registered in St Petersburg. These are all giant companies.
But you know I consciously worked on this issue. Naturally, the changes are very evident, but we would like for there to be more, because we have the capability to do more. The overall volume of exports [in IT technology software, products, and services] is 2.7 billion dollars. It is wonderful that there is such high demand for exports. (National demand is another story, and I am not sure that those figures are nearly as good.) But nevertheless, regardless of how you spin it, it needs to be significantly higher, because we really are capable of being leaders in this field.
So I feel that we must continue pushing. In my view, our weakest link right now, as I emphasised before, is the business side. Businesses need to be integrated into this system, because things are going well for the other system elements, such as the universities and the small university-affiliated associations. We need commercialisation. Here I am not only talking about software products, but the IT industry overall.
Still, I would still like to know how students are making money.
Antonina Fedorova: They receive scholarships.
Dmitry Medvedev: Scholarships? All right.
Vladimir Parfenov: They are still too young. Usually, programmers begin working in their fourth year of studies (or in their fifth year, although that is pretty late).
Dmitry Medvedev: So where do students find jobs in their fourth year?
Vladimir Parfenov: In any company.
Antonina Fedorova: It should be noted that competition participants do not have the time to earn money and prepare for the championships at the same time. It’s just not possible.
Dmitry Medvedev: Clearly, it is more important to focus on the championships.
Antonina Fedorova: Otherwise, they cannot come out as winners.
Vladimir Parfenov: Students can participate in the finals no more than twice; after that, they are veterans.
Dmitry Medvedev: I see. So then they get a well-deserved break, they retire.
Vladimir Parfenov: They go to work.
Dmitry Medvedev: All right, so then those specialists gain new value.
Fourth-Year Student At Saratov State University Dmitry Matov: I started working part-time at the university as a laboratory assistant.
Dmitry Medvedev: That’s not bad either.
Antonina Fedorova: At the competition training centre.
FOURTH-YEAR STUDENT AT ST PETERSBURG INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY, MECHANICS AND OPTICS UNIVERSITY MAXIM BUZDALOV: I’m a senior laboratory assistant in the information systems department. I earn some money there, and I also earn some money working on the internet competitions that are held there. I also have another interesting source of income. The programme Keep the Brightest in our Universities is quite active at our university. The point of the programme is that if the IT companies lure all the brightest students away from the universities, there won’t be anyone left to teach and prepare the next generation. It’s a lot more effective to keep the best graduates at the universities, so they can pass on skills and knowledge to the next generation, including to those who will then go to work in these companies. The problem is that, at the moment, universities are still not considered a very attractive choice of workplace.
Dmitry Medvedev: This is true.
Maxim Buzdalov: So it seems a reasonable idea that companies involved in IT technology take it upon themselves to provide financially for these specialists, so as to keep them working in the universities, teaching the next generation and carrying out research. These companies provide the financial support for such students.
Dmitry Medvedev: This is a good idea. So, the point is that rather than trying to get their hands on these especially talented students, the companies give them financial support to keep them in the universities, so as to preserve the micro-climate there. Yes, this is a good idea. The main thing is to have companies willing to do this, because they are the key players, of course, the ones being asked to come up with the money.
Maxim Buzdalov: Not all companies have understood all the benefits this approach would bring yet.
Dmitry Medvedev: But you are making efforts to explain this to them, yes? That’s the right approach.
Maxim Buzdalov: Yes, this work is all going ahead.
Dmitry Medvedev: This is very good. As for the fact that not all Russian companies realise the advantages this kind of programme offers, to be frank, they had become a bit spoiled. When everything was growing fast and there were big profits to be made, they did not even have to make much effort. The economy kept growing and growing, and companies’ value, the value of public companies of course, those listed on the stock exchange, grew too. But this did not add anything in real terms. Now the economy is in contraction, and this is a sign that we should be taking some steps in other directions. This is a sort of sobering up moment that was inevitably going to come sooner or later. It is not easy, but is nevertheless essential if we really want to develop our economy and our country.
What else can you tell me?
Sergei Kopeliovich: I can tell you a bit more about how I earn money.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, please do.
You’re telling not just me, but the whole country.
Sergei Kopeliovich: I started telling you about the prizes, but in actual fact, I earn money by working at the university. Since I don’t always manage to get top marks, I don’t qualify for a scholarship, but I work as a teacher at our competition centre. I give lectures there, organise analysis sessions, help with training sessions. This way, I make a decent amount of money.
Dmitry Medvedev: It’s the university itself that pays you?
Sergei Kopeliovich: Yes, Andrei Lopatin can tell you more about it.
Senior Lecturer At St Petersburg State University’S Faculty of Mathematics and Mechanics (TEAM TRAINER) ANDREI LOPATIN: We are funded by sponsor companies, along similar lines to what was described before. There are quite a few different companies, VKontakte [In Contact, Russian equivalent of Facebook], for example, you’ve no doubt heard of this company. Incidentally, one of its founders, Nikolai Durov, was twice world champion. He and I were on the same team.
Dmitry Medvedev: I see.
Andrei Lopatin: These companies have an interest in helping us train good specialists for them.
Dmitry Medvedev: This is interesting. So this company, VKontakte, is now helping these young people?
Andrei Lopatin: Yes, and it is working very well, because they have very talented people working there. What are their needs? First, they have millions of users, 33 million, and they need to be able to respond immediately to external events and make corrections as rapidly as possible. Second, they have achieved a two-fold optimisation of their programme, and now have 5,000 servers instead of 10,000. That represents a huge profit.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, of course.
Andrei Lopatin: It’s entirely possible for one person to accomplish this. In other words, one good idea can generate huge benefits. I think that people who have experience working on these competitions have the necessary qualities. They can come up with and develop ideas, and they know how to respond fast to a changing environment. This is all very important for companies of this kind.
Dmitry Medvedev: I’m pleased to hear that these companies, leading companies in the IT sector and in internet services are helping. This is a good sign. The main thing is to encourage more of them to get involved, big companies, prominent companies such as VKontakte. They represent solid assets, even in terms of value, quite comparable to Western equivalents, as far as I know.
Andrei Stankevich: I’m not sure this is the proper thing to say, but you are a President very conversant with all the latest developments.
Dmitry Medvedev: Oh? That is nice to hear.
Andrei Stankevich: We think you could certainly take part in our world championship, for example. You are probably too busy, but we want to give you this t-shirt from the world championship, anyway.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you. This is a real pleasure. That’s great.
Vladimir Parfenov: Now you’re a world champion.
Andrei Stankevich: All the competitors wear this t-shirt at the championship.
Dmitry Medvedev: I’ll put it on when I sit down at the computer. Thank you very much.
It really has been a pleasure to meet with you. As I said, it’s especially pleasing that this is not the first time, and I hope not the last time, because you have already developed a school of experience now. You know how to prepare, how to compete, how to help your younger colleagues, who are just starting their studies. I am confident that everything will keep developing very well.
Our task now is to carry out some transformation in our economy. I hope that when you finish your studies, and competing in world championships, of course, you will also take part in working on this objective of such great importance for the country. Without this we have no future.
Thank you very much.