YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — More than 2,000 technology professionals, business executives and government officials from around the world are taking part in the latest World Congress on Information Technology (WCIT) that began its work in Yerevan on Monday.
The three-day forum is held under the aegis of World Information Technology and Services Alliance, a global consortium of national IT associations. It will feature more than a dozen keynote speakers and over 80 prominent panelists.
The participants include senior executives of tech giants like Google, Siemens and Ericsson as well as Armenian-American celebrities such as reality TV star Kim Kardashian, the Reddit social media platform’s co-founder Alexis Ohanian and rock musician Serj Tankian.
Kardashian arrived in Yerevan early on Monday together with her children and sister Kourtney. Organizers have said that she will speak, both as a “special keynote speaker” and panelist, about “how decentralized technologies have democratized the worlds of entertainment, media, and journalism.”
Armenia is using the WCIT conference to promote its burgeoning IT industry that employs some 15,000 engineers and generates more than 6 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan touted the industry’s achievements and tax breaks granted to it by the current and former Armenian governments in his speech at the opening session of the conference. “As a result, the IT sector grew nearly fivefold over the past seven years, boasting a sustained 20-25 percent annual growth,” he said.
“Hosting such a major event is a great honor and pleasure for us, because it is a great opportunity to talk to you and to the international community about our strategy to make Armenia a high-tech country,” declared Pashinyan.
“I hope that this truly memorable event will change a lot in the technology world’s relations with the Republic of Armenia,” he added.
The Armenian tech sector is dominated by local subsidiaries of U.S. corporations as well as a growing number of homegrown firms. Some of them, notably the U.S. software giant VMware, are among the sponsors of the 2019 WCIT.
VMware’s chief operating officer, Rajiv Ramaswami, met with Pashinyan later in the day. He noted that the number of IT engineers working at his company’s Armenian branch has increased more than tenfold, to 200, since it was opened in 2010.
“We are very happy to invest in human talent which is available in Armenia,” Pashinyan’s press office quoted Ramaswami as saying. “We have only one request to you: please increase human talent, invest in technology education.”
A shortage of skilled personnel is widely seen as the main challenge facing the local IT sector. Industry executives have long complained about the inadequate quality of education at IT departments of Armenian universities. Many of their students require additional training after graduation.
In a bid to alleviate the problem, an Armenian organizer of the WCIT, the Union of Advanced Technology Enterprises (UATE), has opened over the past decade over 284 engineering labs in schools across the country. They offer schoolchildren extracurricular robotics and computer programming courses mostly financed by the government. The Armenian Education Ministry announced last week a sharp rise in government funding for the UATE which will be used for doubling the number of those labs by the end of this year.