From Music Teacher to Software Developer: Changing Lanes in Serbia

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From Music Teacher to Developer of Innovative IT Software
Thanks to the ICT Cluster Academy, Zorana Lazarević from Niš was able to reboot her career.
USAID Sustainable Local Developmen Project
Unemployed answer the call for skilled labor in IT sector
“It was hard. Most of my peers had some IT background or previous experience, but I was determined and endured.”

February 2016—After Zorana Lazarević graduated from the Faculty of Arts at the University of Niš in south Serbia, she realized she could not make a living as a music teacher. Faced with financial difficulties, she took a risk and opted for a career in the promising and fast-growing IT sector.

Lazarević made the switch after learning about the ICT Cluster Academy, a USAID-funded six-month training program launched in 2014 in partnership with the Niš Cluster of Advanced Technologies and the Vojvodina ICT Cluster.

The two ICT cluster academies, in Niš and Novi Sad, equipped unemployed young people with the knowledge and skills in demand by employers in the innovative and well-paid IT industry.  In addition to learning programming and software development, graduates applied their knowledge to real-life projects during their internships with cluster member companies.

Even though Lazarević was not sure she would even be accepted into the academy in Niš, she succeeded, becoming a member of the first generation of ICT Cluster Academy students and one of its best graduates.

“It was hard,” Lazarević admits. “Most of my peers had some IT background or previous experience, but I was determined and endured.”

She was also among the first students to receive a job offer from a local IT company based in Niš.

“My employer was not interested in my university diploma. The only thing that mattered was how much I knew and whether I can successfully apply that knowledge,” said Lazarević.

Her hard work and success in the ICT Cluster Academy program opened up diverse work possibilities in the IT world. In December 2014, Lazarević and one of her colleagues participated in a pitching competition for startups organized in Niš by investors from the United Arab Emirates. Their innovative idea won a $30,000 award and opportunity to develop their gaming platform, with the assistance of experienced mentors, at an IT business accelerator in Dubai.  

After Lazarević returns from Dubai, she plans to open her own IT company in Niš.

“I found a new, well-paid profession that allows me to work on music projects as well,” she said.

“The ICT Academy is our contribution to the establishment of an education system which provides high-quality, formal and informal learning for young people in the sector that is generating the greatest number of jobs,” said Goran Mladenović, manager of the Niš Cluster of Advanced Technologies.  

During 2014, of 67 first-generation students at the two ICT cluster academies, 43 were employed by IT firms, some even before graduation.

"The development of a knowledge-based economy, primarily in the context of IT technologies, is Niš’s biggest opportunity for development,” said Dejan Pavlović, CEO of Ates Soft, one of the Niš Cluster of Advanced Technologies member companies that support the ICT Academy by offering job opportunities and experience to its graduates. “There is no time to waste. It’s time to take action!” he added.

The ICT Cluster Academy project was supported by USAID’s Sustainable Local Development Project, which runs from December 2010 to August 2016. The project’s core activities focus on assisting inter-municipal partners to add jobs and reduce unemployment in 32 Serbian municipalities clustered in eight regions.


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