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Tech-savvy Bangladeshis embrace freelancing

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Many young programmers and information technology professionals are finding freelancing a risk well worth taking.

By Syed Tashfin Chowdhury

Dhaka: In an effort to expand their resumes, opportunities and bank accounts, many young Bangladeshis are working in the competitive world of freelance software development.
Software developer Mohsin Kabir, 30, runs a six-person team from the Mirpur suburb in Dhaka, outsourcing work for foreign software companies.

Kabir first tried freelancing in 2008 with a contract that paid him $280 (Tk 21,853).

"It took me 25 days to finish it as I also had to spend more than eight hours at my day job," Kabir told Khabar South Asia. "Handed the same project today, I can finish it in less than a week."

After 25 more projects, Kabir decided to quit his day job to compete directly for foreign projects. "As I took up bigger projects and more money began rolling in, I had to recruit my own team," he said.

The financial rewards are alluring.

"A software developer or IT specialist can have a monthly salary of around Tk 60,000 to 80,000 ($770-$1,025) even after working in the field for four to five years," Kabir said.

"But a recent IT graduate can make at least $10 (Tk 781) per hour by freelancing," he said. "Anyone with more than five to six projects successfully completed can easily earn $20 to $25 (Tk. 1,563-1,953) an hour from the comfort of their own homes."

Freelancing boom

Success stories like his have encouraged thousands of young people to try freelancing. In fact, Bangladesh is currently experiencing a freelancing boom.

The trend has been noted by the Bangladesh Association of Software & Information Services (BASIS) and the government. Both are trying to assist further growth of the lucrative sector.
As part of that effort, BASIS presented its third Outsourcing Awards ceremony on April 20th in Dhaka. One hundred awards were handed out to outsourcing companies, freelancers and the best female outsourcers.

"Initially, this was called the freelancing award where 10 to 12 individuals received awards," BASIS President and chief executive officer of BDjobs.com Fahir Mashroor, told Khabar. "But over the last two years, those award-winning freelancers initiated their own outsourcing companies, some of which won awards today."

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Secretary Mohammad Nazrul Islam Khan told Khabar the government is trying to boost the sector that currently earns over $100m per year for the country; it is now growing at an annual rate of 56%, outpacing most other export sectors.

ICT companies and professionals enjoy tax-free income, because they are part of a government-designated "thrust sector", and a long-anticipated ICT Park is scheduled for ground breaking sometime this year, Khan said.

The proposed 230-acre ICT Park in Kaliakoir, northwest of Dhaka, would provide high-speed internet connectivity, uninterrupted power supply and other facilities for developers and IT professionals. Mashroor said the park should be completed in the next four-to-five years.

Solutions in the pipeline

Some gnawing problems plague the sector though, which the government is hoping to resolve.
Award-winning freelancer Sajib Sarkar, 30, told Khabar that slow internet is a big problem outside Dhaka, which has forced him to live in the capital rather than in his home village of Jhenidah district with his family. "This is the case at all the districts and rural parts of the country," he said.

Sarkar also said most freelancers bid for projects with skills learned on their own and that "more training in these areas would help".

Khan, the ICT secretary, told Khabar by early May, the Ministry will initiate two training sessions in all 64 districts and that ICT incubators will be set up at all universities outside Dhaka. Chittagong University of Engineering and Technology (CUET) will receive the first.

(Courtesy: Khabar South Asia)
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