— How relevant is the topic of digitalization today?
— I think it's absolutely critical. In the human history, we have never had so many emerging technologies that change the way we work and what companies do. The most important economic issue to date is how companies and governments use these emerging technologies in their work. So digitalization is a good term, but I think it's a little old, I like the term “emerging technologies” in creating new companies that benefit from these new technologies, this is the key thing today.
— How do you assess Kazakhstan's work on digitalization of the economy?
— Regarding Kazakhstan, I am very happy to be here. The Astana Hub that you’ve built for technology and innovation, I think that’s a great step. I've worked with different countries, about 50, a lot of countries do not have a hub, they do not have a place you can go to do these technologies. I think a hub is a checkmark — you have to have a place for that kind of work. Therefore, if Kazakhstan is moving in that direction — creating a central hub for innovation and technology, I think this is a very, very good step, and this is very well for the future.
— What would you advise young professionals to succeed in the IT field?
— So I am 54 years old and what I would tell young people to do, well, I would say two things. The first is to become an expert at existing and emerging technologies — that’s critical, but the most important thing is business skills. For example, Astana Hub or other hubs, all work on technologies, but this is not enough, we need to turn these technologies into start-ups, and, as we call, "unicorns" — a start-up company worth $1 billion, and then to technological giants like Apple, Facebook, Google. Therefore, I would say to young people, you need to know new technologies, but if you want to differentiate yourself, be strong in creating companies, and succeed in getting good technologies and bringing them to market as start-ups that grow into big companies. This is a great need, because there are so many technology developers in the world, but when you ask them what companies did they start — you do not know the names, you've never heard of them. Bringing a technology from the laboratory to the market is the key. I would say to young people: get good in the technology, but also get good in building businesses — that is how you can become successful.
— How to speed up the process of innovation in the country?
— Here are four things I recommend, which, in my experience, the country should do. It is an innovative hub, a connection with the outside world, technology, and business. A place is needed where people can meet, teach each other, learn from each other — this is the first. The second is communication with the outside world. It is easy to build a place and bring all the “cool" people there, give them free drink and free rent — this will give the result. But if you are not connected with the outside world, for example, in Silicon Valley a lot of people are working on artificial intelligence, and Astana Hub should not just be a hub, it should be connected with places like Silicon Valley, Toronto, Berlin and London.
The second point is the connection with the best people in this sphere. And the third — when you opened the center, there is a hub and connection with the outside world, you are working on existing technologies, emerging technologies. And then, as I said, the fourth step is the creation of companies. And again, this is a critically neglected step: when you go to these tech hubs — there everything is exciting and people show all these gadgets, but if you ask what kind of company it will turn out — they say in response that the company does not exist. It is necessary to have this fourth part, otherwise technologies will not enter the market, there will be no impact on the world, and this is the only thing that I call innovation.
So, the hub, communication with the outside world, existing and emerging technologies, but also, getting these technologies to the market, it is very important. National Governments, Prime Ministers, Ministers of Innovation, these people should engender these steps of innovation.
Recall, on 2 February in Almaty within the framework of the meeting of the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council, the EAEU forum Digital Agenda in the Era of Globalization, initiated by the Head of State N. Nazarbayev, was held.
Prime Ministers of Armenia — K. Karapetyan, Belarus — A. Kobyakov, Kyrgyzstan — S. Isakov, Russia — D. Medvedev, official delegations of Azerbaijan and Tajikistan, as well as representatives of a number of large international IT companies took part in the Forum.