Meet Ilya Brotzky. Ilya is the CEO and Founder of VanHack - a startup on a mission to create a borderless world for tech talent.
Here we learn more about what led him to Canada, the origin story for VanHack and insights for newcomers looking to integrate into the Canadian tech ecosystem.
What’s your story?
The first memory of my life was actually immigrating, leaving the Soviet Union country I was born in - I remember getting on a flight to Moscow and then from there to Israel. We lived in Israel for 2.5 years then moved to Canada when I was five. I grew up in Canada, I was a competitive swimmer and that helped me get into University in the US where I studied business and entrepreneurship. From there I got three job offers, one in India, one in Brazil and one in China. I ended up going to Brazil because I had been there before and it had the best salary.
I got connected to a tech accelerator where I met a lot of software engineers who were really good at coding but not so good at English and soft skills. So we started an English school for developers to teach them how to do job interviews and prepare themselves for getting hired in Canada. VanHack aka. hacking Vancouver was the original name and idea and we’ve since evolved to a van that moves hackers. That was a 2015-2016 timeframe. From there, we realized that instead of just helping people get soft skills and career coaching, we actually could become more of a recruiting company and help employers find hard-to-fill senior tech roles from talent around the world. And now we've done 1,973 hires and are getting close to 2,000 hires. We have a team of about 30 people from around the world and our goal is to create the world's largest global tech recruiting company.
The way VanHack works:
For candidates - there's a lot of online education and content that they can first learn and prepare for interviews from on our platform. Then they can apply for jobs that sponsor visas or offer remote work. Once they get hired we help with the entire immigration process - visa, relocation and settling them into the new cities.
For employers - we're able to offer them a larger talent pool outside of the local market. And we can help them hire between one to 100 software engineers. Our software helps them with the interview process - videos of candidates, showcasing their English level etc. plus our support throughout the visa process.
What led you to choose Canada as the place that you wanted to build in?
I moved back home in 2014 and started working on the project as a side gig. I didn't really think much of it in the beginning. Because my wife wasn't a Canadian citizen, it was hard for us to move to the US. Canada has a much friendlier immigration policy which solidified the decision. We spent a good two-year period where we were working in Europe too, before Canada’s immigration policy evolved. So we went to Germany and then Portugal to expand the business in Europe as well. I kind of see myself as a global citizen and potentially living a more digital nomad life but Canada will always be my home.
It was a long journey, you would go into a company and tell them that you're going to help them hire people who don't have work permits and they're looking at you like you're crazy - LMIA was a dirty word. So that's really changed a lot, given the Global Talent Stream that came about in 2017. Also since COVID, companies are much more open to hiring people they have never met. Canada's a country built on immigrants and it's really a battle between countries if the person emigrates to Canada - that's an economic stimulant for our country versus Australia or Germany.
We’re not just changing a person’s life, but also their entire family’s. It's very personal for me because I moved to Canada when I was five and if I think about how my life would have been if I hadn't, especially with the war going on right now in Russia and Ukraine, I could potentially have been drafted to that war. Hopefully not but you never know that. So every time we help someone relocate we’re also helping their families, sometimes they have young kids too. We have this joke that we've had 30-40 VanHack weddings because people are dating but in order to get the actual visa for their significant other they have to get married. So people send us pictures saying I got the job offer and I guess I'm gonna have to propose to my girlfriend now. And then a lot of VanHack babies are born in Canada. Many new Canadian citizens come out of us bringing candidates here. We love these stories.
What advice do you have for newcomers who are looking to break into the Canadian tech ecosystem?
There's a lot of opportunity but you also have to know how to position yourself and understand that if you're not like a senior software engineer, it might be a little bit harder, like if you're in QA or PM, or digital marketing or sales, so be patient with that.
Networking once you've come to Canada, going to events, and talking to people in your domain, is probably the best way for you to get hired. So I would go to as many meetups and events and conferences and things like that as you can and try and get a referral and build your network that way.
You can also add people on LinkedIn and ask them for informational interviews or for a coffee chat. That also helps a lot.
Make sure you have a Canadian-style resume, and understanding how to do job interviews in the Canadian way is also important.
Also, apply to a lot more jobs than you think. A lot of people come and say, you should aim to apply to at least 50 to 100 jobs or something like that.