Have you ever heard about Pravetz 82 or Dark Avenger? And do you know what’s the common thing between them? Here’s a hint – besides being linked with Bulgaria, these were key components in the foundation and development of the strong IT industry, ample tech knowledge and extensive talent capacity the country possesses today.
Although being a post-communist country with a late transition to the market economy, present-day Bulgaria is among the top IT and outsourcing countries in Europe. It took it some time, good right-time decisions, and of course, some favourable circumstances, but the country succeeded. Let’s dive deeper into some of the major factors that influenced the development of the IT industry of Bulgaria.
The first Bulgarian personal computers
The first Bulgarian personal computer was IMKO-1. It was developed in 1979-80 with no operating system, but only a program for machine code. A curious thing about this model is that it was able to control the robotic arm Robko-01, something incredible even for engineers from the US and Japan at the time.
In the following years, Bulgarian engineers developed several computer models – IMKO-2, which was later renamed Pravetz 82, IZOT 1036C and 1037C. These models were actually reverse-engineered from Apple and IBM machines, a common practice in countries in Eastern Europe and Asia back then. However, they were very successful, particularly the Pravetz model (named after the home town of the Bulgarian leader of the communist party), which set the start of the mass production of personal computers in Bulgaria. The state set up a number of factories for manufacturing different parts of the machine turning the 1980s into the golden ages of the electronic industry in Bulgaria. At the time, the country was manufacturing over 40% of the personal computers of the whole Eastern bloc. This made Bulgaria 3rd in the world in the production of computers per capita.
During this period, an extensive amount of research has been conducted and a wide technical knowledge has been aggregated in the country.
Educating the next generation
Despite the tens of thousands of machines, the Bulgarian factories were producing, personal computers were too expensive and not many people were able to afford one at home. But the ruling communist party has made some prompt decisions envisioning a bright digital future for communist Bulgaria. In the early 1980s, the state undertook a wide range of activities in order to introduce computer science and informatics to the younger generations through education in secondary schools and universities.
The Ministry of Education adopted several goal-oriented measures to encourage the acquisition of knowledge and skills required to work with computer equipment. As part of this complex programme, in the first three years, more than 16,000 domestically produced Pravetz 82 microcomputers were distributed to schools across the country, a compulsory informatics course was introduced for students in 10th and 11th grade, an extensive training programme for teachers was undertaken, two textbooks in informatics along with a lot of additional study materials were written and published.
Furthermore, a nationwide system of additional informatics activities was set up through local school organizations and computer clubs. An annual National Informatics Training Camp was also organized, along with regular competitions in informatics such as National Informatics Olympiad and Spring Informatics Tournament.
Around the same time, the University of Sofia (Faculty of Mathematics) and many other universities established regular curriculum in informatics and computer science.
As a result, in the late 1980s and the beginning of the1990s, Bulgaria had a whole generation of young people with computer technology knowledge and practical programming skills.
The Dark Avenger and the boom of the Bulgarian computer viruses
The intensive education in the field of informatics and computer science, along with the flourishing research activity and constant attempts to hack and reverse-engineer western hardware and software products of companies such as Apple and IBM have resulted in the acquisition and cumulation of extensive technical knowledge and outstanding set of skills by the Bulgarians. Then in 1988, the computer magazine “Computer for You” published a translated German article about computer viruses. It was just enough to spark the curiosity of the young and educated people and push some of them to the dark side of technology.
A few months later, the first Bulgarian virus appeared. Its author, called himself Dark Avenger, has put evidence of the origin of the virus in the code of the virus with the following string "This program was written in the city of Sofia (C) 1988-89 Dark Avenger". The virus was very destructive and infectious and started attacking computers in Europe, the US and Asia.
All of the above, combined with the economic crisis that followed after the fall of the communist regime and left the majority of educated people unemployed and with a lot of free time, resulted in the emergence of many new computer viruses shortly after. Furthermore, a computer virus community in the country started to form. A special bulletin board system for exchanging viruses (The Virus eXchange BBS) has been created. According to some rumours, its creator Todor Todorov is the very same Dark Avenger. This BBS collection of computer viruses expanded very quickly and allowed a massive virus code and knowledge exchange anonymously.
In just a couple of years, Bulgaria got the fame of one of the major computer virus development centres.
The first Bulgarian IT businesses
The 1990s in Bulgaria were dominated by constantly evolving economic crisis, high unemployment and increased criminal activity. This forced a lot of the above-mentioned young and intelligent people who grew up with the Pravetz 82 computers to leave the country and explore new opportunities in Western Europe and the Silicon Valley.
However, some stayed and established some of the first Bulgarian IT companies. One by one, these young entrepreneurs have started forming a favourable environment, demonstrating by example that doing business without criminal entities is possible and even successful. These companies ensured new alternatives for the unemployed engineers, preserving the knowledge accumulated earlier and encouraging more genuine research and development activities.
After a while, many emigrants started coming back, bringing foreign investors with them. The IT industry began to develop at a fast pace with the vision of modernization and innovation. Companies such as IBM, Microsoft, Cisco Systems, HP, Oracle, SAP entered the country, seeing new opportunities and further contributing to the development of the IT ecosystem.
In 2007 Bulgaria joined the European Union, which created even more favourable conditions (more open market, synchronized legislation, eased travel regime, etc.) for foreign investments.
Today, as mentioned, Bulgaria is one of the top innovation hubs and IT destinations in Europe. The country’s advantages have been repeatedly recognized by prominent business awards and reports such as Global Sourcing Association Awards (2016 Outsourcing Destination of the Year), A.T. Kearney Global Services Location Index Report (2014 Most attractive location for Outsourcing in Europe), 2019 Global Competitiveness Report (49th out of 141), 2020 Doing Business Report of the World Bank (61st out of 190 countries). Bulgaria continues to evolve with constantly broadening tech expertise, a growing IT community and an increasing number of businesses choosing to expand their capabilities in the country.
Questers has more than 14 years of experience in setting up and growing dedicated development teams for tech companies from Europe, the UK and the US. Should you be willing to explore different opportunities for entering the Bulgarian IT talent market, do not hesitate to reach out to us.
- Stanchev, I. “The Impact of Computing on Education in Bulgaria. Educational Technology”, (1993). http://www.jstor.org/stable/44428086
- “Heart of Darkness”, WIRED, (1997), https://www.wired.com/1997/11/heartof/
- “Bulgaria's ambitious high-tech goals”, New York Times, (1985), https://www.nytimes.com/1985/07/04/business/bulgaria-s-ambitious-high-tech-goals.html
- “Inside the mind of Dark Avenger”, Gordon, S., (1992) https://ivanlef0u.fr/repo/madchat/vxdevl/vdat/ivdarkav.htm
- “Socialist Cyborgs“, Logic Magazine, (2021), https://logicmag.io/kids/socialist-cyborgs/?fbclid=IwAR3BUb9hAF5mSXdYiqzHzaeraosJ2b7Ht4oB1Iov8swK7fwKqtccjS3g_ac
- “How the Pravetz 82 introduced a generation of Bulgarians to the computer”, Emerging Europe, (2021), https://emerging-europe.com/after-hours/how-the-pravetz-82-introduced-a-generation-of-bulgarians-to-the-computer/