Coding a Better Future for Vratsa with Vratsa Software Community

When Svetoslav Vassilev made department head in early 2022, he had every reason to be proud. It had been a long journey to this promotion. Seven years ago, the now senior PHP developer was a janitor at a Vratsa school making a minimal wage. Then, he came across Vratsa Software Community’s programming courses.

“This encounter transformed my life completely and continues to transform it,” he says. After the course, Svetoslav worked on digital projects on a freelance basis for a while. Then, in January 2017, he went into programming full-time, joining Vratsa-based Vola Software, ranked as one of the best software companies in Eastern Europe for 2020 by B2B ratings company Clutch. He is now Vola Software’s head of PHP development.

Svetoslav’s isn’t the only life Vratsa Software Community changed. Many of the Community’s nearly 300 graduates are now pursuing well-paying digital or related careers. For alumni like Svetoslav, that meant never having to leave their hometown.

That’s what Emiliyan Kadiyski, Teodor Kostadinov, and Iliyan Dimov had in mind when they started the Community in 2015. The three programmers and Vratsa natives had built successful careers elsewhere but couldn’t shake off the feeling that they had to do something for their hometown, which had gained a reputation as the EU’s poorest region. Their vision involved turning Vratsa into an IT hub.

Svetoslav Vassilev

“We came up with the idea for Vratsa Software because people in Vratsa needed encouragement to look for better employment opportunities. Then there is the scarcity of qualified IT workers in Bulgaria and the world,” Emiliyan said in a 2018 interview for Capital Weekly.

As early as 2013, Emiliyan and Teodor started commuting to Vratsa on weekends to give free programming classes to small groups. In 2015, with Iliyan on board, they took the plunge, and now as the team of Vratsa Software Community, they began building Vratsa’s nascent IT community in earnest. Over the next seven years, thanks to donors such as the America for Bulgaria Foundation, the Community expanded its program offerings to include desktop and mobile solutions development and digital marketing and increased its trainee intake to sixty a year. Moreover, graduates receive assistance with internship and work placement.

Angel Staev is another one of those individuals. Before he enrolled in a Vratsa Software programming course in 2019, he had worked different jobs in the hospitality sector, most recently as a waiter. He defines his computer skills prior to the course as minimal. “I had access to a computer, but only to the payment transaction software we used at the restaurant,” he says. Upon graduation, he was offered an internship at Vola Software, another initiative of the Community’s founders, and is now a junior Java developer there.

The same year Angel’s IT journey began, Marina Marincheva completed the Community’s digital marketing course, which she describes as “extremely useful and interesting, an opportunity that changed my entire professional path.” Not only did the program teach Marina how to better market her own photography and paintings, but it also helped her find a new, better-paid job at digital health solutions company BGO Software, which had recently opened an office in Vratsa.

Vratsa Software founders Emiliyan, Iliyan, and Teodor

Svetoslav, Marina, and Angel aren’t the only ones crediting the Community’s programs for their successful professional outcomes. Four out of every five graduates say the training they received is directly responsible for their successful start in the IT industry, according to a 2021 ABF survey into Vratsa Software Community’s impact. Graduates’ remuneration is telling, too. More than half of alumni working in Vratsa’s IT sector have higher than average incomes for the region. Program graduates’ preparation is competitive in the country’s leading IT hub, too: according to the survey, two-thirds of Vratsa Software graduates employed in Sofia-based digital companies earn higher than median incomes.

In addition to quality IT training, Vratsa Software offers networking opportunities and a supportive environment. Tech enthusiasts from the whole region get together during Vratsa Software–organized events such as Code Week, Rails Girls, Hack Vratsa, and Treasure Hunt, while Summer IT Academy Pro connects technical talent with entrepreneur mentors. In partnership with MindHub and Telerik School Academy, Vratsa Software extends IT education to the region’s youngest. Last but not last, Vratsa-based digital professionals share a roof and start collaborations at Gnezdoto, Vratsa’s first coworking space and another Community-funded initiative.

Marina appreciates being part of a community like that and is particularly grateful for the many friendships she made in the digital marketing program.

ABF survey results

His previous jobs may have been more social, but Vratsa’s small IT community is all Angel needs in terms of socializing. Moreover, working in IT has given him more time with his family.

Tihomir Minev actually started a family thanks to Vratsa Software’s programs: that’s where he met his future wife. Today, the former furniture maker is not only a more confident and better paid professional; he is also a proud dad. Because of his family’s beginnings, he anticipates that “our son will definitely be a programmer!”

Vratsa Software is making a difference in a place where few people even knew what a programmer was ten years ago. Nowadays, Svetoslav never has to explain what he does to people back home “because everyone knows what a programmer is.” With IT companies opening offices there and remote working opportunities drawing an increasing number of digital nomads to the city, Vratsa is on a course to become the place of Emiliyan, Teodor, and Iliyan’s shared dream.

Vratsa Software Community event

Nor is it the only place that’s benefiting from their vision. The Community’s founders are launching similar initiatives in Targovishte and Razgrad this year. By offering free courses and events in programming and digital marketing to both children and adults, the three hope to foment the emergence of IT communities in the two northeastern cities as well.

If their track record in Vratsa is anything to go by, we will soon be reading about the Svetoslavs, Marinas, Angels, and Tihomirs of the Bulgarian Northeast as well.

Find out more about digital training opportunities in Targovishte here:

Unlock software development and digital marketing opportunities in Razgrad here:

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