IT specialists and computer specialists are in short supply on the job market despite the corona crisis. A start-up wants to remedy this. Upper.co focuses on placing specialists from programmers to project managers for individual projects at companies. The specialists are selected and accepted in a complex process, the companies pay a fixed service fee for the handling.
The founders describe the platform as a “Future of Work” initiative, because no permanent positions are placed, but project-related jobs. Upper.co was founded by Victor Cazacu, who previously set up the MVP Factory in Berlin and worked as Head of Mobile in setting up FinTech Bank N26, and Paul Friedrich, who headed the crowdtesting platform Applause. Ivan Bernat is also on board.
Futurezone asked the founders to talk to them.
futurezone: How did you come up with the idea of such a platform?
Victor Cazacu: I come from the IT industry myself and have developed digital products from a wide variety of roles over the past 20 years. Staffing highly qualified IT specialists was always the greatest challenge. When I turned to a freelancer platform to fill vacancies, in most cases I was disappointed with the quality and poor service. So you could say the idea arose out of a problem I had myself.
How do you want to change that with upper.co?
Cazacu: Our mission is to enable companies and tech specialists to work together successfully in the ‘working world of tomorrow’, where freelance and remote work models prevail. And to do that today we have to create the tools and processes for both sides. In the future, our platform should cover all areas of successful collaboration. Even today, we are already relieving companies and IT freelancers who work with us from time-consuming and bureaucratic processes such as time recording, drawing up contracts and so on.
Do developers prefer to be independent and not get a job?
Cazacu: Nowadays it is no longer common to stay in the same company for 20 years. The trend shows that IT professionals in particular prefer future-of-work models such as freelance and remote – this allows them to be more flexible in their life and career choices and the advantages in terms of career and earnings should not be turned off the table .
upper.co is therefore not a job placement in the classic sense, where permanent positions are placed. Companies that want to have access to top developers and other highly qualified digital talents in the future must already switch to more flexible working models such as freelance and remote work – in order to remain competitive.
Paul Friedrich: The trend towards freelance and remote has already become apparent in recent years, but the COVID-19 crisis has pushed this development forward by years, maybe a decade, within a few months. This is not new: Well-known top tech companies relied on and integrated these working models years ago. Now companies are following that were perhaps a little further away from this understanding a few months ago.
Do you see Europe as a market, or is each country – like Austria – its own market?
Friedrich:Austria is particularly interesting for us because of the imbalance between supply and demand: There are many large, established companies and a rapidly growing start-up scene, but not enough talented people to fill open positions in IT. We keep hearing from our customers in Austria that it can take months to fill specialized IT roles on a permanent basis and that companies are therefore opening up more and more freelance options. The trend towards freelance has long since taken hold, especially in digital hubs like Vienna, and the topic of remote work has been fired up again in the past few months at the latest. In cooperation with local sourcers, we want to expand our freelance community in Austria in order to do justice to projects that require physical presence.
Besides developers, are there any other IT specialists that you place?
Cazacu: Absolutely! Every talent you need to build software can be found via Upper. From developer to designer and product manager. In order to be accepted into our curated tech community, you have to go through a multi-stage admission process that evaluates previous projects and includes practical and role-specific test procedures such as coding assignments. In addition to the ID check, personality and stress tests are also carried out. By the way, we also check the project specifications on the company side before we refer one of our IT specialists.
How much do companies pay for the service?
Friedrich: The duration of the project is decisive for the amount of the rate, as the service fee is not to be understood as a one-off payment for a job placement, but as a fixed amount that is added to the respective daily rates regardless of the freelancer rate. Our business model is fundamentally different from other providers.
In our core team at upper.co, the proportion of women and men is relatively even. We generally notice that nowadays more and more women are drawn into IT professions, that a career in IT is also an interesting option for more and more female IT professionals and therefore we also welcome initiatives that bring female role models to the fore – that is necessary and important.
Are there any disadvantages for IT specialists as a result of the algorithm?
Friedrich: Our matching is only supported by the algorithm. This means that a tech expert always decides who is the perfect fit for a role. Therefore there is no disadvantage in matching – on the contrary. The mix of man and machine during matching guarantees our IT specialists that they only get those roles for which they are best suited.
Is gender a search criterion that a company has to specify when searching?
Cazacu: Companies describe to us which product they build, which problem they want to solve or which role they want to look for. We then find the best person for it, regardless of gender.
Where is the journey of the IT skills shortage headed? Is Europe fighting the USA here?
Cazacu: We believe that tech talent itself is relatively evenly distributed, geographically. The opportunities and opportunities, however, are not. Therefore, with Upper, we also want to bring companies and talents together across borders within Europe. The shortage of skilled workers is not only an issue in Europe and does not stop with the USA. I would go so far that China or India, for example, also have problems because many of the best talents want to emigrate to the USA or Europe.