Like much of what has happened since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last week, the tech sector’s response has been unprecedented.
Big Tech, global power brokers in their own right, were among the first to move. Sanctions against Russian banks have led the likes of Apple and Google, now among the largest payments processors, to limit their services in the country.
After pleas from the Ukrainian government, the social media giants have had to abandon their carefully guarded (and much debated) neutral stance and banned accounts owned and operated by the Russian government. These decisions were fiercely debated within the social media companies, according to Politico, and “could fundamentally change [their] relationships with governments”.
IT vendors have also been moved to respond. After Ukraine’s minister for digital transformation Mykhhailo Fedorov called on both SAP and Oracle to cease operations in Russia, Oracle announced that it has suspended all operations in the country, while SAP said it has ‘paused’ all sales. Yesterday, IT services giant Accenture announced that it is discontinuing its business in Russia altogether; today Microsoft said it will suspend all new sales.
Meanwhile, IT professionals have signed up to join Ukraine’s volunteer “IT army”, and hacking groups including Anonymous have taken sides in the conflict.
The crisis has also prompted a community of UK tech leaders to take action. Martin Carpenter, CIO of agriculture technology company Synomics, was ‘incensed’ by what he saw as a lack of action by the UK government. He shared a petition calling for visa requirements to be waived for Ukrainian refugees on the Horizon CIO Forum WhatsApp group for UK tech leaders, and found that many of his peers were equally keen to take action.
Now, the group is working on an initiative to find work and accommodation for refugee tech workers. “This is going to affect people for quite some time,” Carpenter says. “So there’s an element of what immediate help we can give, but also how can we as a tech community provide displaced people a safe place to live, earn an income, and bring at least some kind of normality.”
The group has so far placed one refugee in a job in Ireland, Carpenter says, and working with recruitment platforms to help scale the initiative. It aims to create a database of available talent, and help provide access to legal advice and financial services, as Ukraine has limited cash withdrawals. (Anyone who would like to contribute can contact Carpenter on LinkedIn.)
The group’s motivation is no different from anyone who has been moved by the crisis, says Carpenter. “I don’t mark us out as anything special,” he says. “Fundamentally, we’re a concerned group of citizens who are thinking about what we can do with our particular backgrounds and capabilities to help.”
But the response from the tech leadership community does reflect a change in attitudes since the pandemic, he says. “After Covid, people have realised the world is a small place. People’s moral compass has changed dramatically over the last two to three years.”
Carpenter expects companies’ response to the Ukraine crisis to have a material effect on their business. Customers and prospective employees are increasingly concerned with social impact, he says. “So if your company is doing business with a totalitarian dictator… I think you will struggle to have customers who are willing to buy goods and services, and to attract talent who is willing to contribute to your cause.”
For Freddie Quek, CTO at Times Higher Education, tech leaders’ response to the Russia-Ukraine crisis is a sign of the IT community’s increasing willingness to express its social conscience. “IT professionals do feel that we have a responsibility to use tech for good,” he says. “We now have an opportunity to support our fellow IT professionals in Ukraine who may want to come to the UK, to sort out the bureaucracy so that they can get… direct help.”
It is also, perhaps, a sign of a maturing profession, Quek suggests.