Q&A: Open Source advocate David Strejc on why the Czech IT industry is so overpriced

IT expertise is extremely overpriced in the Czech Republic, but it doesn't need to be, says Strejc

Jason Pirodsky

Written by Jason Pirodsky
Published on 04.09.2020 16:17 (updated on 04.09.2020)

When the initial wave of news regarding the coronavirus crisis and response from the Czech government first came out back in March, Expats.cz experienced a surge in traffic that saw our numbers balloon to record highs at peak times. Our news server couldn’t handle the volume, and immediately crashed as the traffic spiked.

Thankfully, we had the right support on hand: David Strejc of WPDistro, a Prague-based developer who specializes in WordPress and open source solutions. Since migrating to WPDistro’s servers six months ago, our news site hasn’t seen any downtime at all.

David is also a long-term advocate of Open Source software solutions, and provides the CRM system AutoCRM, which builds upon a solution used by more than 50,000 companies worldwide.

We recently spoke with David about the Information Technology sector in the Czech Republic, how it compares to the rest of the world, and what’s in store for the future.

Hi David! What’s your IT background and expertise?

I’m a long-term IT guy, currently 16 years in the IT business. I’ve worked for two telco providers, O2 and T-Mobile, as IT Architect and Senior Solution designer, respectively, established the company Easy Software with my partners, and sold my share in it. They are currently providing SaaS around the globe for more than 3000 companies. I was an IT Architect, CTO there.

What about IT here in the Czech Republic?

On one side we are the fifth biggest software producer in terms of absolute numbers here in the Czech Republic. Companies like Red Hat and others rely on Czech programmers. We are second in some programming skill tests sometimes behind Slovaks. We have great people in IT, highly-skilled, hard-working.

On the other hand, we are four years behind actual trends in US.

How can this be?

There is huge difference between the IT sector, and companies which are IT product consumers. Take an average factory or a classic office, for example. They still mentally live in ’90s. And many producers of software here in the Czech Republic make software designed for this kind of mentality. Updates come twice a year, no one answers your email for more than a week, and no one picks up your urgent call for support.

What do you think of world trends in IT compared to the Czech Republic?

Take companies like Facebook, Google, and now even Microsoft. We live in crazy times where the current trend is to deploy software changes, security patches, new features and so on in matter of days. Sometimes daily. Even more. This is called CI/CD. Continuous integration, continuous deployment.

Is this what makes IT/ICT so expensive – to have skilled people pushing code so quickly to production?

Actually, it is not. It is the opposite. The extreme overpricing of IT here in the Czech Republic, and other countries too, is due to the duplication of work.

Take for example CRM or ERP systems. There are dozens of them. Even here in the Czech Republic we have nearly 50 well-established companies producing the same solutions. And all of them are producing the same thing, reinvented 50 times. Multiply those 50 software solutions by 10–20 programmers each, and you get extreme monthly costs.

David with his family

Isn’t that OK? Isn’t software about freedom of choice?

Exactly. But when you buy one of those solutions – you are done. Your freedom of choice ends when you implement one of these classically-produced software solutions. We have a great example here in the Czech Republic where our Ministry of Finance has a nearly 30-year-old software – yes, you read that correctly – financing bureaus thanks to old contracts with IBM who didn’t bother to give us permission to use their software without them – again, you read it correctly. It is still their software due to their policy – we can’t simply switch to another supplier.

And it is the same with nearly all of those classic Czech software producers. Duplicating work, catching their customers into a vendor-locking net like fish, and than like parasites draining money from them for every patch, every software update, every overpriced feature. Once you are caught you can say goodbye to your IT freedom. Those companies need the money to feed their highly overpriced programmers who are duplicating the same functions as their competitors.

And this leads to high prices for the end consumer.

It’s a classic case of reinventing the wheel. But many, many, many times over. And you need many, many, many inventors.

And the HR market is happy. Programmers and IT guys cost a lot of money, HR takes them as resource/product and delivers them into company where they last for two years, and then they move to another one. Job companies are happy, programmers are happy – they ask for more and more. The only unhappy one is the final customer who comes from outside of the IT sector.

Not only is the final product highly overpriced, but the customer is also locked into the vendor, and this staffing fluctuation in the IT  industry causes even more trouble. Because Franta, lead programmer at ABC Softcorp s.r.o., is suddenly gone. And no one knows what exactly this function is for, or how we will solve that, and now we have to rename half of our code because it is written in Czech – yes, this is still the case, they are naming variables in the Czech language.

Is there an alternative? How is IT made in other countries, like the US?

These days, my long-term predictions are coming true. For 16 years I have been an Open Source advocate. Not because of the price. Not because of the security (it can be proven that OSS is more secure than classic software – take OpenBSD for example), not because I can dig into code, but because of the resources. Because when we compete too much, we destroy, we die.

Companies like Facebook, Google, LinkedIN and many many others based in US – now even Microsoft, who loves Linux and Open Source – they have discovered that IT is such a different area, that we can produce software that even competitors collaborate on.

Give us an example.

Engineers at Red Hat are producing an Open Shift platform for development, for example. And their customers have dedicated teams of their own engineers sitting in offices or home offices patching, debugging, and improving this huge platform. So customers are helping with their time, money, project management and all that stuff to have better software from their supplier.

And this is across the entire modern IT world. My old way of doing things in Unix way is now becomes a reality. IT companies who compete and try to destroy their competitors – like here in the Czech Republic – will die out. Companies that support each other will produce more complex, more stable solutions for less money – which is Open Source software in many cases. MariaDB, which is OSS, says they can replace Oracle, which costs $50,000 for one core per year.

Are there any other advantages of OSS?

You can say, ‘I don’t like you anymore, producer of ABC OSS software. I will take Youngsters Ltd. – they know what they are doing, they are young and full of energy. They pick up my phone after one ring, they answers my emails immediately.’ And the OSS producer can’t say: ‘you can’t do that, it is our licensed software which we are only leasing you. Everything is ours.’ No – Youngsters Ltd. will take over support and development of the new features. But a whole community of developers is contributing to bug fixes, feature requests, and deciding the best plan for this ABC OSS software.

You don’t have to use Microsoft SQL or Oracle – which only adds expenses for no value. MariaDB clusters are now used even in mission-critical areas of the banking industry. Facebook runs the biggest cluster of MySQL databases in the world. Imagine what Facebook’s bills for Oracle would be if they were using it.

David at home

You’ve mentioned Facebook – do you like what they’re doing?

I am not big fan of social networks, but I am big fan of the philosophy. Unix is more of a philosophy than only a software. It is way of doing things. And I love it. Facebook has inspired me in many ways. They produced the first versions of Facebook using PHP programming language (which many so-called skilled programmers hate) and have used MySQL databases from beginning. Craziness? I don’t think so. PHP programmers were many times cheaper, had more availability, and were easier to hire.

Cheaper and more effective. Open Source from beginning. Even now Facebook produces Open Source software and gives it to public, such as React and many others that are not as well known.They also created the Open Compute Project. They give out designs and plans for hardware, servers, racks and so on.

And this is the philosophy of Open Source, Unix, and original hacker culture. Do it for fun. Do it for the lowest available cost, because we live in agile world and we want to see proof of concept in the shortest available time. We don’t want to wait year or two – the whole industry can shift somewhere else. We want a software solution now so we can put our hands on it and tweak it to fit our needs.

This sounds like an entirely different approach to producing software.

It’s actually very old concept. But when Microsoft, Oracle and others took over the industry in 80s and 90s with their waterfall methods and postponing of releases, planing years ahead – they changed people’s perspectives. Now, pure technology is winning over overpriced business. In 2019, CNBC produced a video about Open Source software taking over whole industry.

Are you afraid of Open Source? Do you consider it unsecure? You are using it daily. It’s in your pocket in the form of Android or iOS. When you are browsing web using Chrome or Firefox as a user and on the other side there is Apache or Nginx, which are both Open Source. More than 60% of virtual machines on Azure are Linux, Facebook runs on MySQL clusters, Google has put their container platform Omega into public form in Kubernetes, every last one of the top 500 supercomputers in the world runs Linux. The current zeitgeist is Open Source.

And do you produce Open Source in your current company?

We focus on the harder part of Open Source. We provide support, writing the little pieces of code which are not yet available – because we are mainly working with WordPress, which is a great example of Open Source taking over the world. WordPress is powering 38% of the top 10,000 websites in the world. It actually powers more than 35% of entire web industry in the world. And it’s still growing.

This is great example of many developers collaborating on one platform. Microsoft uses WordPress on their news.microsoft.com, Facebook uses it on about.fb.com, the White House is using it, The New York Times, Tech Crunch, and many other big brands.

The advantages are obvious. You can instantly hire a developer who is familiar with the code, with the principles, with the documentation and culture. Web administrators in companies are familiar with the interface they are working in. If your supplier, which can be even us, doesn’t suit your communication style, you can search Google for new one and find them in two minutes.

Is WordPress the only solution you specialize in?

We focus on bigger e-commerce sites and let’s say high-end WordPress websites for now. But we find our company brain elsewhere. We have a great Open Source CRM software that is enormously powerful in matters of flexibility, speed, software philosophy (it is headless, so it can easily be connected with any other application through REST API). Right now we are building a website to offer this solution to other companies here in the Czech Republic and around Europe.

For more information about WPDistro, and how they can help your online business, visit their official website