Tuesday, September 7, 2010

North Korea's Software Industry

Although the digital divide between North and South Korea may be the largest in the world by many measures.  However, as with most generalizations, there are exceptions to the rule.  In the case of North Korea, one of these may be found, somewhat surprisingly, in the are of software and programming.  Bloomberg reports that programmers for North Korea's General Federation of Science and Technology developed a 2007 mobile phone bowling game based on the 1998 film "The Big Lebowski," starring Jeff Bridges, as well as "Men in Black: Alien Assault."
North Korea's growing software industry is championed by Kim Jong Il and contracting with North Korean companies is legal under United Nations sanctions unless they are linked to the arms trade.  Volker Eloesser, a founder of Pyongyang-based Nosotek, notes that the technological education of graduates from North Korean universities has become significantly better.  North Korea’s information technology push began in the 1980s as the government sought to bolster the faltering economy.
Today Nosotek advertises itself as "the first western IT venture in DPRK (North Korea).  Its web site expands upon this as follows:

  • In DPRK, software engineers are selected from the mathematics elite and learn programming from the ground-up, such as assembler to C#, but also Linux kernel and Visual Basic macros. 
  • Among them, Nosotek has attracted the cream of local talent as the only company in Pyongyang offering western working conditions and Internet access. 
  • In addition to the accessible skill level Nosotek was set-up in DPRK because IP secrecy and minimum employee churn rate are structurally guaranteed.< Nosotek sells direct access to its 50+ programmers jointly managed by western and local managers. 
  • Services can be invoiced through a Hong Kong or Chinese company. 
  • Benefit from North Korea's opening, outsource to Nosotek.
From the government's point of view, the activities of such companies as Nosotek is no doubt appreciated since they generate foreign exchange.  However, as noted by Andrei Lankov, a North Korean expert based in Seoul, "These activities help to fund the regime, but at the same time they bring knowledge of the outside world to people who could affect change."  The dilemma facing North Korea, a subject of earlier posts (and also this one), seems to be growing and not diminishing.

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