Dreamers help revitalize city of Gyumri with technology

It was over 33 years ago that a devastating earthquake shattered Armenia’s second largest city, Gyumri. Since then, the city has been recovering, albeit very slowly. One of its great advantages has been the creation of the Gyumri IT Center (GITC) in 2005, initiated and financed by the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR). The goal of GITC was to develop and support a qualified labor force for the IT industry in Armenia which would encourage businesses already functioning in Yerevan to gradually open branches in Gyumri.

“This program would empower young talented people from Gyumri with technological abilities” so that this skilled labor force would attract businesses to follow. And most of all, these young skilled people would have a decent job and stop looking to other countries for employment benefits. They would stay in their homeland and work for its brighter future.

Now 16 years later, Gyumri has become the second hub of IT in Armenia with more than 30 high-tech companies headquartered there. GITC is not only helping Gyumri today, but it is also providing high-quality training to talented youth all across the homeland. In 2021, it opened a branch in Yerevan. GITC graduates are almost 100 percent employed with some getting jobs even before they graduate.

“As members of the FAR Board of Directors, one of the most critical roles we serve is to nurture and guide promising programs to advance and build a better life for the next generation of Armenians. From a pioneering idea 16 years ago, GITC has already impacted the lives of thousands of young Armenians who have acquired high level technological skills and good paying jobs in Armenia as a result of advanced training at GITC,” says Dennis Tarzian, FAR board member and one of the founders of GITC. 

GITC executive director Amalya Yeghoyan

Interestingly, the majority of GITC’s decision-making managers are women, including executive director Amalya Yeghoyan, who revealed in a telephone interview that GITC “is becoming a partner of the biggest technological companies like DISQO, SmartClick, etc…in scaling high quality training in the most advanced sectors of IT across all of Armenia and thus, securing employment.”

“We are very proud of Amalya and her growth as a leader who continually seeks new ways to partner with other tech companies and leading universities to ensure that GITC’s curriculum is evolving alongside the rapid changes in the technology sector,” continued Tarzian. 

The next vision for GITC leaders is to make Armenia “a regional hub” for high quality IT training. A program has already begun to train a group of high schoolers in engineering disciplines with amazing results.

Yeghoyan’s goal has always been to teach young people “how to fish, not receive fish for eating.” A graduate of Gyumri’s Pedagogical University majoring in English, her goal in the tech sphere was not to be proficient in the technical aspects of the industry, but instead “to be a good manager.”

Becoming GITC Executive Director in Gyumri in 2010, she was mentoring 50 percent male students, and 50 percent female. She proudly said that in the world Armenia has the highest percentage of females in tech, more than 35 percent.

In 2018, Yeghoyan joined the Ministry of Transport, Telecommunications and Information Technology in Armenia as deputy minister. “I made a decision as a female,” she said with understandable pride. “Women can be better leaders, but the most important factor is to be professional. Women should perform as professionals,” she stressed.

Since the pandemic began two years ago, GITC courses have been online. Since 2005, GITC has supported more than 5,000 young people to enter the burgeoning IT industry of Armenia. Many found positions, including senior ones, with the most famous tech companies. There are more than 200 students in its various technical education programs annually.

“GITC is unique,” she declared, “because it offers low fee technical education that is in high demand by employers. Though technical education is not cheap, it can develop and empower young people,” she added. “Thanks to the Fund for Armenian Relief, which subsidizes our trainings, it became affordable for young people, especially those coming from poor families. It is one of the few industries in Armenia where there are more jobs available.” She emphasized that it “is the only important program to prevent young talented people from leaving Armenia, and this is true for all developing countries. Technology is the answer.”

Apart from providing tech education and employment opportunities to talented young Armenians GITC is partnering with international and local organizations to support specific groups of populations in Armenia. After the Artsakh War, it has been providing tech skills to the veterans and family members of martyred soldiers through the funding from Armenian Bold Women Association, UMCOR Armenia and Armenian Engineers and Scientists of America. Up to 100 beneficiaries have already graduated this year and are ready to enter the IT labor market.

Another valuable partner is the California-based Armenian Educational Foundation. AEF supported the establishment of the Deep Engineering Laboratory and the program for high school students in Gyumri Polytechnic high school.

Ani Vardanyan

Twenty-two year old Ani Vardanyan was born in Russia and came to Armenia with her family in 2007. A graduate of the Polytechnic University in Yerevan, she understood at age 17 that technology, as a growing sector, is her field. As a student at GITC, she applied for a job and was admitted to Solicy Company in Yerevan as a software developer.

She related that IT development in Armenia is the key to making her country wealthy. Enthusiastically, she praised the GITC program which she said gave her “the technical skills, as well as training for the job interview in order to be a good employee.”

Armenia, she said, “is top in high technical innovation and research creativity.” There are up to 800 IT companies in Armenia that have hired 20,000 IT workers, and GITC graduates enter the field with 90-percent employment.

For Vardanyan, GITC “was so inspiring” with its advantages of “huge teamwork.” She readily shares her knowledge with other students and even trains others with them. “I owe all this to GITC.”

Shoghik Grigoryan

Shoghik Grigoryan was born in 1989 in Gyumri. After graduating from Yerevan State University, she completed the full GITC program. Later, she got married and moved to Stepanakert with one child.

“I received general theoretical knowledge at the university, but GITC allowed me to choose a specific Web programming profession.” This led to a job offering upon graduation in her favorite field. “I attach great importance to the period of study there. It gave me professional knowledge, but also the experience that I later applied to my teaching methods at Artsakh State University.” She also taught at Shushi Technological College.

During the start of the 44-day tragic war, she was in Artsakh, and moved to shelters, then to Armenia with the women and children. Her husband stayed to defend the homeland. “The war changed almost everything in our lives. Thousands of Armenians, including my students, relatives and friends gave the ultimate sacrifice. Luckily, her husband survived.

“The pain, anger and fear are still lingering. But Artsakh needs us more now. Of course, I will continue to live here, when my people need all of us more now.” Artsakh is in “great need of the GITC program, because as we became convinced during the war, it is critical to have qualified specialists in the field of IT.”

GITC, she continued, “was the only established institution during my studies that provided practical knowledge for requirements of the labor market. The important role of the Gyumri center is great because it is constantly evolving, innovating and basing its teachings on the demand of the IT market. It was number one when I studied, and it is number one today.”

A center like GITC “not only provides theoretical and practical knowledge and skills, it also prepares its students like no other schooling in the hi-tech business, where the demands are much higher than just technical knowledge.”

With GITC having many graduates in its 16-year existence, she called on all graduates “to always walk ahead of time, taking into account the rapid developments in our field, to always be ready to take everything new, and to develop and invest in them for the sake of strengthening our homeland.”

“There are always new challenges but as we look out into the future we hope to scale GITC with new approaches such as distance learning and self-paced online instruction to reach even more students. Armenia is blessed with a vast resource of talented STEM students; our job is to prepare them to compete for those jobs anywhere in the world and help young people become more optimistic about their future in Armenia,” concludes Tarzian.

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