Rising stars - Norway's expanding programming industry

At the top of the world, geographically, economically, technologically – in whatever way you care to define it – Norway is certainly not lagging behind in the ICT and programming industries, at least not in terms of quality and innovation. What it does lack, however, are sufficient individuals to fill the estimated ten thousand vacancies in the ICT sector.

 Norway’s potential as a global ICT power is very promising, with a number of impressive flagship companies, as well as smaller niche-market players constantly improving the international standing of the industry. These rising stars, however, are not idle when it comes to recruiting at home and abroad, and the stock of the industry as a whole, supported by the collective efforts of several new centres, research institutions and associations, is on the rise.
 
Trolltech – A Leading International Player with an International Workforce
Trolltech, one of Norway’s most recognizable technology companies, has benefited from the burgeoning reputation of its Qt® software development platform. Boasting continuous growth since its foundation in 1994, Trolltech now provides solutions for customers as diverse as Skype, Google, Adobe, Walt Disney Feature Animation and NASA. Trolltech is, in every sense of the word, an ‘international’ concern. Not only does it boast over 5,000 customers in 60 countries, but it also draws on the expertise of 250 individuals from 20 countries, and, apart from its head office in Oslo, has branch offices in Brisbane, California, Beijing, Munich and Berlin.
 
Sven Kinden Iversen, Vice President of Trolltech’s HR and Administration Division, believes that such an impressive international following has contributed to Trolltech’s success in attracting overseas experts. “We are in the luxurious situation that a lot of software developers throughout the world have used our product, Qt – either the commercial version or the open source version – as students or private persons. Some of these developers send us applications and would like to be a part of the team working with the future development of Qt,” he says.
 
Whilst language is a potential barrier to recruitment in many Norwegian companies, Trolltech’s policy is to use English as the common company language, which has resulted in a more immediate and wide-ranging appeal. “Forty percent of our employees in Norway are non-Norwegian, and that creates a more exciting and stimulating work environment for foreign applicants,” Iversen adds.
 
Trolltech took its employees on a cabin trip to Hemsedal in 2005. Trolltech, like many of Norway’s leading technology companies, aims to create a pleasant working atmosphere for all its international and Norwegian employees.
© TTrolltech
Furthermore, Trolltech’s commitment to producing a world-class working environment is underpinned by a creative approach that allows workers the opportunity to explore their own initiatives and passion projects, even during the working week. Trolltech’s “Creative Friday” is set aside to allow individuals to work freely on anything that could conceivably be used on the company’s website, Trolltech.com, as a free software download, or for shipping to a customer as part of a Qt or solution component. It is evidently Trolltech’s hope that this innovative approach can contribute to the well-being and productivity of its diverse workforce. Iversen mentioned that applications for open positions in development are on the rise, and there can be little doubt that Trolltech’s focussed international commitment has produced a dynamic and attractive working environment that appeals beyond Norway’s borders.
 
The Products: Market-leading Software Development Platforms
Of course, without a flagship product of genuine international value, no amount of human resource innovation could attract high-calibre overseas workers. Fortunately, Trolltech is in the enviable position of masterminding not only one great product – the hugely popular Qt solution – but also others including Qtopia, which is unrivalled as the application platform for efficient creation of Linux-based devices.
 
Adam Lawson, Product Director of Mobile Embedded Solutions, believes that the ‘fun’ factor is a key to Qtopia’s success, both in terms of the customers and the programmers. “Qtopia is the leading application platform used with the Linux operating system in consumer electronics and mobile devices. It is popular because it helps our customers to bring attractive advanced devices to market quickly and efficiently,” he says. “What makes Qtopia special is the quality of the software engineering in the product. It is built on software that has evolved over 13 years to make life productive and fun for programmers.”
 
Qt®, Trolltech’s flagship international product: high-performance, cross-platform application development, running here on Windows Vista®. The product has been used by a huge number of world-class companies, including Skype, Adobe and Volvo.
© TTrolltech

Qt, meanwhile, offers a number of advantages that have led to its becoming the solution of choice for many world-leading companies. Naren Karattup, Product Director of Trolltech’s Developer Tools Division, explains that Qt allows multiple platforms to be targeted from a single source, which offers the added advantages of shortening development time, reducing maintenance expenses and avoiding OS-subgroups in development organization. Furthermore, Qt provides a certain level of security from platform changes, as it is actively maintained and developed to support all new mainstream OS variants and to respond rapidly to evolving market requirements.
Steve Sullivan, Director of R&D at Lucasfilm Ltd., one of the world’s best-known digital entertainment companies, is certainly impressed by Qt. “We used Qt for a few small projects and were impressed with its ease-of-use and support for cross-platform development. We were convinced our company could leverage this on a larger scale in our mainstream artist tools,” he said as Trolltech announced the deal, adding that “Our previous U.I. framework was already stretched to a point that could no longer meet our growing needs, and signing on with Trolltech was the smart move for us. Using Qt will not only save us time and money, but also let us focus more on innovation.”
 
Lucasfilm Ltd. is certainly not the only company to share Sullivan’s admiration for Qt, and whilst Trolltech continues to provide solutions for companies of such international standing, its potential as a rising star of the Norwegian ICT industry is huge.
 
Linpro – Norway’s Leading & Most Experienced Provider of Linux and Open-source Software
Unfortunately, not all companies as yet boast Trolltech’s vast and growing resources, but that does not prevent them from reaching out to specific niche markets worldwide. Linpro produces off-the-shelf products and develops solutions where no open source alternatives are available.
 
Linpro can lay claim to being the operator of half of all Norway’s online newspapers. Linpro’s impressive product catalogue includes Varnish, an HTTP accelerator for VG Nett, Norway’s biggest online newspaper, which works by storing the most frequently requested pages in cache memory, reducing server requirements by up to 90 percent. As most websites have dynamic content that is CPU and time-intensive, the Varnish solution reduces hardware requirements significantly. In keeping with this theme, Linpro’s Multiframe technology has allowed hospitals in the Hedmark and Oppland areas of Norway to continue using older computers for patient database information and centralized X-ray digitization, which will allow any X-ray, produced in any place, to be available for viewing from anywhere within the hospital environment.
 
The amount of money saved because of this technology is likely to be significant. Morten Riis, IT Manager at the Innlandet Hospital Trust in Norway, explained “We chose to invest in Multiframe because we have so many existing old computers in use. These devices will now get a significantly longer life span and will be just as fast as new computers. This is good economy and good environmental policy.”
 
Linpro produces open-source software addressing essential needs like these and is focussed on providing turnkey solutions. However, the company is as yet small, and HR Director Tone Nilsen admits that the Norwegian language requirement limits the number of foreign workers. “Norwegian is our working language. It is difficult for foreigners to come and learn the language quickly. But we do have some people here from Britain, Germany, Italy and Pakistan for example. When they come we send them to a language school and we pay for everything there,” she says. Linpro’s current success and expertise in producing solutions that provide longevity for older hardware, suggests that it will become increasingly prominent not only in Norway but overseas as well.
 
Leadtek’s XTP8830 h.264 based Triple-Play Videophone. Abelia’s Rune Foshaug explained that Norway is at the very cutting edge of wireless and mobile application technology.
© Trolltech
Free Software – Norway’s Growing Reputation in the Open Source Domain
The recent establishment of a new National Competence Centre for Free Software in Drammen, Norway, has emphasized Norway’s position as a leading supporter of free software. Smaller companies such as Linpro, and larger international competitors like Trolltech, are bound together by their unrivalled commitment to open-source software. Knut Yrvin, Community Manager of Developer Tools at Trolltech, has suggested that the new centre provides an opportunity to make known their mission and capabilities to public administrations. The National Competence Centre has a prominent role in promoting solutions to those that need them. “There is an urgent need in public administrations to know that Trolltech’s developer platform is cross-platform. This makes it easier for software vendors to make applications with one codebase that can run on Linux, Windows and Mac. Public administrations, schools and health administrations can choose the most appropriate software solution regardless of operating system, and conform more easily to open standards,” Yrvin says.
 
The Centre’s Director, Heidi Arnesen Austlid, shared her hopes on the centre’s website. “The competence centre will turn political visions about increased use of free programming into reality,” she says, adding that “We wish both to create a culture of sharing and a space for the reuse of solutions, and to contribute to an economically beneficial running of the public sector.”
 
Trolltech’s Yrvin concurs that, through a simple lack of knowledge of the alternatives available, many companies are spending huge sums of money unnecessarily. “Public administrations purchase computer systems for billions of euros annually. When learning more about free software, the public sector can prevent an ongoing trend of vendor lock-in and practices where free software is not considered in public tenders, even if free software vendors offer professional products, support and fully competitive solutions.”
 
The National Competence Centre’s idealistic values are by no means unique or unrealistic in their application. In Finland for example, a similar Centre for Open Source Software (COSS.fi) enjoys a great deal of success and was important in the establishment of the Norwegian Centre. Director Petri Räsänen praised Norwegian companies like Trolltech and eZ for their growth in the open source domain. He also believes that, through collaboration with other Scandinavian partners, there is a real potential for Norway to establish itself as an expanding force in this particular field. “As there are several business areas of mutual interest in Norwegian and Finnish O.S.S. companies, I am sure we can find opportunities for networking and joint business benefits,” he told the website.
 
Norway’s position as an attractive location for foreign programmers has been enhanced by the establishment of the centre and the continued commitment displayed by so many Norwegian companies to open-source software. The ideals represented by the centre are admirable, and for programmers that believe in working on innovative, free software solutions where they are most needed, Norway is a superb alternative. 
 
Bringing it All Together – Abelia, the Business Association of Norwegian Knowledge and Technology-Based Enterprises
Norway’s ICT companies have another advantage when it comes to their international standing: Abelia, a trade and employers’ association working with the NHO (the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry). Abelia is an independent, non-profit and non-political organization funded by membership fees paid by each of the 575 companies that it represents within the fields of ICT, Telecommunications, R&D, Education and Consultancy. It also supports the open-source software domain through a forum, run in conjunction with NorStella, which is an important academic resource for the National Competence Centre for Free Software.
 
Abelia works to influence government policy and to improve the business environment for its members, and provides legal advice and support for initiatives that can speed the arrival and settling of foreign employees. Abelia is an invaluable resource for companies that need advice on labour legislation, HSE, employment contracts, wage determination and human resource strategies.
Abelia’s Rune Foshaug believes that there are several reasons why Norway is an attractive environment for international programmers. Not only does Norway possess some of the world’s leading environments within programming and ICT, such as Simula, but Foshaug also mentions Snøhvit, in northern Norway, as an example of one of the many ICT challenges in large international oil and gas concerns. Norway’s modern and state-centralized health service also demands fresh ICT solutions. Consequently, opportunities for skilled foreign experts are abundant. “Norway has a small and very open and knowledge-intensive economy,” he explains. “We are leaders in the usage of new applications connected to wireless and mobile applications, and have advanced users who quickly make use of new technology. This works like a testbed for many new applications that can be tried out by international companies,” he adds.
Norway’s position as one of the richest and most technologically demanding nations in the world gives it an immediate head start when it comes to programming. Many of the rising industry stars, such as Trolltech and Linpro, are committed to what is fast becoming a national speciality – free, open-source software – which Abelia and the new National Competence Centre are actively promoting. Given this exciting background, the fact that there are an estimated ten thousand vacancies within the Norwegian ICT sector appears rather more an opportunity than a problem. Innovative solutions for a demanding, expanding market, underpinned by diverse and supportive working environments: Norway is certainly a rising technological star.


Abelia, an independent, non-profit and non-political organisation, works to promote and support the growing Norwegian technology industries and aims to improve the business environment for its 575 members, including Trolltech and Linpro.

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