When many people think of Poland, such images as pierogi, kiełbasa, and their babcia’s famous crepes come to mind. In recent years, though, Poland has become known around the world for more than its culinary contributions. The eastern European country is quickly becoming a global leader in the development and application of information technology (IT).
Poland’s IT sector has grown at an impressive rate in the past few decades. As of 2013, the total market value of the IT sector in Poland grew by four percent, reaching 21.2 billion PLN and accounting for roughly 1.5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. International growth has been even more impressive. Between 1996 and 2008, Polish IT exports grew by 28 percent each year. In 2013, total IT export value reached 9 billion PLN. Overall, Poland’s IT market is among the largest in Central and Eastern Europe and is expected to grow even more.
A highly educated workforce has principally been driving the expansion of the Polish IT market. About 15 thousand Polish IT students graduate each year from prestigious schools, like AGH University of Science and Technology in Kraków, knowing they are entering a steady, well-paying profession (average IT salaries are 57 percent higher than the national average). These young professionals are fluent in new technologies, multilingual and flexible, allowing them to compete and win on the global stage. In fact, they consistently outperform other nations at international competitions, such as Google Code Jam or Top Coder. In June of 2015, Aleksandra Zemke became the first Pole to win a Global Summit Youth Award for developing an interactive simulation game. A team from Poland also recently won the U.S.-hosted Mars Rover competition.
The exemplary Polish talent and investment in IT research has resulted in many contributions to the field. Recently, two Polish innovators, Grzegorz Piątek and Bartłomiej Wielogórski, were recognized for inventing a robot that serves as a rehabilitative walking coach for children with cerebral palsy. In the realm of computer technology, the TOP500 project ranked a Polish supercomputer, called the Prometheus Machine, the 49th most powerful computer in the world. One of the most spectacular areas of growth is the Polish video game industry, which was worth an estimated $279.6 million in 2014. In 2011, the Polish-made video game Witcher 2, by CD Projekt Red, sold 940,000 copies and won numerous awards. Then-Polish prime minister Donald Tusk even presented President Barack Obama a copy of Witcher 2 during a 2011 meeting.
In 2011, the Polish-made video game Witcher 2, by CD Projekt Red, sold 940,000 copies and won numerous awards.
Poland is clearly becoming a leader in technological research and innovation. However, it has been challenging to keep this talent within Polish borders. According to Mirosław Janik, President of the Polish and Russian branches of the Wincor Nixdorf company, Poland lacks the culture of commercialization that exists in other countries like the United States. Although Poland is strong in research and development, it lacks the corporate interest that could monetize these technologies. As a result, many Polish IT professionals end up contracting for foreign companies, or leaving Poland altogether to seek work elsewhere. Experts agree that government and private investment in the IT industry will be crucial to retaining talent in Poland.
These challenges notwithstanding, Poland’s expanding IT sector is reinventing the country’s image across the globe. Long associated with the backwardness of the Eastern Bloc, Poland is now attracting global attention and national prestige as its technical economy moves fully into the 21st century.