Inside the Latvian tech company with a Macedonian flavor 

TestDevLab is a Latvian software quality assurance company helping startups and Fortune 500 companies worldwide to enhance their products by providing a wide range of testing services, custom tools and even leading internal teams.

The company specializes in software testing and quality assurance and develops advanced custom solutions for security, battery and data usage testing of mobile apps, video/audio quality assessment for VoIP/communications apps and products for automated backend API as well as web load/performance testing.

A part of its 500+ team is based in N. Macedonia and represents an integral part of the company. In an interview with IT Logs during TechChill 2024 in Riga, TestDevLab discussed the reasoning behind their expansion to Macedonia, their thoughts on the local IT and tech ecosystems, and what can the Balkan countries learn from the Baltics.

IT Logs: What got you interested in N. Macedonia as hiring destination?

TestDevLab: It was a process that started with a Macedonian engineer who had been working for us for many years. She herself was in Spain. But she always spoke very highly of the ICT industry in N. Macedonia and suggested that we should see whether there were any investment opportunities and whether we could hire some engineers from there. And we slowly started to look into it, especially at the beginning of the pandemic when the demand for software products skyrocketed. 

Because of that, our hiring needs surpassed the number of engineers available in the local job market, so we started seeing where else we could hire outside of Latvia where most of our engineering workforce was located at the time. We posted some job ads in Macedonia and also found out about some of the local job posting services we could use. We got a few people here, the first employees that we had, and most of the matches worked for us.

Then we saw that it was going very well, we saw that it was definitely worth the investment. And there were a lot of different educational opportunities where we could get these interested people who are very motivated, or very open-minded. That’s how we sort of started to think about establishing a legal entity and that was a whole process in itself. It took some time and then we arrived at where we are now with a team of almost 80 engineers located in N. Macedonia.

TestDevLabs office in Skopje

What is the Macedonian team in charge for?

Most of our teams, which have already grown substantially beyond just a couple of tens of people, are engaged in various projects and services. The most common services include manual testing and test automation of software. Additionally, we provide our clients with more complex and sophisticated services, such as accessibility testing to ensure digital products are accessible to people with disabilities, UX testing, and security testing.

The team in N. Macedonia is involved in different departments, so it’s not limited to one small, focused team. The group is quite large, and members are involved in various departments. They do not work on separate projects, instead, they are part of international teams and cooperate with engineers and clients from all across the world.

What is the potential that you recognized, as well as the advantages that Macedonian IT professionals provide?

Firstly, we’ve found that Macedonian engineers, even those at the beginning of their careers seeking entry-level positions, are highly skilled. The quality of education they receive is commendable.

Secondly, their openness, communication skills, and extroverted approach are notable. This contrasts with some Latvian applicants who tend to be more introverted. This extroverted nature benefits us greatly, especially in client communication – a crucial aspect of our work. We aim to excel in client interaction, and having skilled engineers who are open to communication and taking on leadership roles in projects is invaluable.

An example of this is their involvement in sales calls. When discussing potential solutions with clients, having engineers who confidently demonstrate their understanding and knowledge greatly enhances the conversation. This is in contrast to some Nordic counterparts who may be more reserved. Macedonian engineers are proactive in engaging in conversations, showcasing their energy and willingness to contribute.

Additionally, Macedonian engineers exhibit a strong motivation to learn and grow. Despite being offered numerous internal courses and certification opportunities, they eagerly embrace these learning opportunities. Their enthusiasm for continuous improvement and willingness to share knowledge with others is remarkable.

Overall, the combination of technical skill, communication prowess, and a growth mindset makes Macedonian engineers valuable assets to our team. Their active involvement and dedication to learning contribute significantly to our collective success.

What can the Balkan countries learn from the Baltics when it comes to developing successful startups ecosystems? 

What we appreciate about the tech ecosystem in N. Macedonia is its lack of oversaturation. In Latvia, it’s challenging to recruit new employees due to the high saturation of startups and established companies. However, in N. Macedonia, we’re delighted to find a plethora of talented engineers available for recruitment. This abundance of talent makes the hiring process much smoother for us.

Regarding learning and mindset, it’s essential for individuals to be courageous and not limit themselves because they come from a smaller country. In fact, being from a smaller country can offer advantages, such as easier networking opportunities and greater cooperation within the community. We experienced this through a plethora of referrals when we were just starting out and had close to no local contacts – the first employees we managed to hire started referring their friends and ex-colleagues to join the team, which greatly helped us to build the team there. It’s crucial for companies and founders not to be deterred by their geographical location but instead aim for global markets like the US and Canada.

Additionally, there’s a misconception that labor from countries like N. Macedonia is cheap. However, this isn’t the case. Engineers from N. Macedonia are highly skilled and deserve fair compensation. At our company, we maintain consistent salary levels for all positions based on the individual’s skill level, regardless of where the employee is from. It’s important for both companies and individuals to recognize and value the expertise of engineers from diverse backgrounds and invest in their growth and development. This mindset shift is something that can benefit everyone involved.

What can the country do better for it to have a more developed IT and tech community?

Another thought that occurred to us is regarding meetups and conferences – it seems that there could be more active participation in these events. Bringing the community together through such gatherings could foster collaboration and innovation. 

Similar initiatives have been successful in Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, where they have led to the emergence of new startups and the development of fresh ideas. Based on our experiences participating in career days, which are always well-attended and bustling with activity, there appears to be a strong interest in engagement and involvement.

The power of networking is evident, particularly in a small country where connections can be easily forged. By fostering a friendly and outgoing atmosphere akin to the vibrant nightlife scene in Macedonia, maybe this energy can also be replicated in the startup ecosystem. While we may not have the same bustling nightlife and pub culture, we’ve realized that coming together as a community is essential for fostering growth and innovation in business.

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