Belgian expatriate stops by to create new mobile apps
With thousands of tech specialists leaving Ukraine each year in search of higher salaries and better lives, why did Belgian Tes Mat, a 46-year-old mobile applications developer, move to Ukraine?
He smiles when he’s asked – and he’s asked often.
But Mat likes Kyiv, and he has been enjoying his stay while developing several of his own iOS apps and working as a freelancer.
“I came here mainly to learn Russian,” he says of his first visit in 2012. A friend from Lviv had pushed him by asking: “Why do you need to go to Russia? Come to Ukraine. Everybody can speak Russian here.’”
After visiting Kyiv for a month, he eventually returned in 2013 and settled in.
Mat participated in tech competitions called Startup Weekends in Kyiv and Odesa. Now familiar with Kyiv’s tech community, he enjoys working in KyivWorking, a shared working space popular among Kyiv’s tech freelancers.
Though not part of his formal training, after the Internet was developed, he learned to make websites as a freelancer. With the development of the iPhone, he worked on iOS-apps development as well.
The first app Mat created was Vocab Ninja, which he began before moving to Kyiv. The app was launched on AppStore in May 2014. It helps to enlarge one’s vocabulary in any language by showing flashcards with words. There have been around 1,000 downloads so far, mainly in Belgium. Mat plans to add new functions and promote the app via international media.
Mat developed Notifyapp with Ilia Tslaf, a Russian-Israeli who now lives in Kyiv. This app notifies people on a contact list about the holder’s whereabouts just before his or her phone battery dies. The app was launched last month on AppStore. There are no analogues on the market at this point, according to Mat. There’s no charge for it now, but the plan is to advance the app with more features and charge a monthly subscription later.
Mat still generates most of his income through freelance work rather than his apps. He accepts orders from Belgian clients because he can charge them significantly higher rates than clients in Ukraine.
Ukrainian IT developers can be more competitive on the market, Mat says, due to the fact that they are less expensive. The high costs charged by Belgian IT developers are pricing them out of the market, he believes.
A prerequisite for any global IT developer, Mat says, is English-language skills. This, and doing high-quality work are the two most significant things for an independent developer, he believes. With these essential skills one can compete globally, and location becomes less important.
Mat is unsure how long he will be in Ukraine. “It would be nice to start working together with Ukrainian freelancers here on apps for clients in Belgium, but it’s not necessary to start a big company,” Mat says. “When I learn Russian well enough, I will probably leave to learn Chinese, Portuguese or German.”
Tes Mat, Belgian mobile application developer, talks about the produces that he developed in Ukraine on March 23. (Anastasia Vlasova)