Lockdown Economy Albania in a Technology Center with Rezart Alija and Gentjan Mejdani

The interview was transcribed by students of Epoka University

Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world. This interview was done in collaboration with Epoka University.

In this Lockdown Economy interview, students from Epoka University, namely: Suada Hoxha and Ketjona Lepuri, in collaboration with the social, nonprofit initiative of the Think Tank AlterContacts, discuss with the owners and managers of TCT (Tirana Center of Technology), a local, innovative business about their business conducting, how it started, but most importantly, how it was affected by the pandemic, and what they did to overcome this challenge.

In this constantly changing environment, Gentjan Mejdani and Rezart Alija (owners and managers of TCT) found a way to engage the youth. These entrepreneurs have a strong and encouraging message for the youth in Tirana.

Watch the video version of the interview.

I would like to first ask you to tell us more about your business. What does it actually do? For how long have you been running this business?

Rezart: Okay, so 5 years ago, we had this idea of training youth. We had noticed that a lot of youth were not managing their time optimally, and inspired by our experience in the USA, we decided to start-up a business here, in Tirana. We started small first, with only one laboratory at the “Tirana Center of Technology”. At that time, in 2015 to be exact, Genti was training on the use of CISCO, whereas I was instructing on the application of PASCAL. Then, the next thing you know, the business “boomed” and with every year, we expanded it. Now, we have six laboratories and over a dozen CISCO equipment and approximately 80 students concurrently. Needless to say, we are happy with our start-up and investment.

I am glad to hear that you are happy with your business, but how were you feeling when the pandemic happened? How did it affect your business and how did you feel about that?

Rezart: Actually, before the pandemic, we had already started with online training. Roughly over a year ago, we began online training through a project called “Risi Albania”. So, since we had already commenced with the remote instructing, it was not very difficult for us to continue this teaching method via online means during the pandemic. We do understand that, for students, online learning can be more difficult than learning from attending the lectures in the physical classes, but by using the latest up-to-date software and by doing live online lectures, we believe that we are enhancing the online learning experience for the trainees. I would say that we surpassed this challenge successfully.

Gentjan: If I may add, I wanted to say that, yes, the pandemic brought us to some tough decisions, but as Rezi said, the transition to online training was not difficult for us, since we had already implemented this type of technology and online, live instructing. Of course, the aspect of being there physically in the class might have been missing, but other than that the students got to experience the same level of training as before. We tried to keep the learning as interactive and dynamic as possible.

Rezart: All of our staff is tech-oriented: instructors, assistants, us, everybody. Meaning, none of us found it difficult to use technology, because we use it every day. Hence, this transition period for staff like ours, with instructors who educate others about software and IT usage, was relatively smooth.

So, based on what you said about your project and your overall experience with technology, you implemented the online “learn from home” method immediately, right? You did not take any time off?

Gentjan: No, for us, it was a small change. As small as it could be since we were already doing half of the sessions physically in the laboratories and the other half online even before the COVID-19 hit. To change that to only remote training was not difficult and we saw no reason to pause our activities and the learning process of the students for long.

It is great to hear that the situation did not prove to be very strenuous for you, but what would your input be regarding the current situation? Now the lockdown has been lifted, but there are still ongoing limitations. How are all these circumstances affecting your business?

Rezart: I am sure that every business is hurt by this pandemic situation. All businesses are still feeling the effects of the lockdown because many countries including our own, are still not 100 per cent open. Certainly, you may have heard from the news that the GDP of many countries has decreased since last year by 5, 10 or even 15 per cent. Meaning, the income of every citizen decreases. Less income means less money to spend. But, since we provide services, we expect people to spend. Our business is based on a service that is not a necessity for people; if people have less income, they will prioritize spending their money on necessities such as food, electricity, and others, rather than on our services.

Thus, we have noticed a decrease in our customer numbers due to the coronavirus outbreak, but we expected that. However, there is also another reason as to why the number of our customers has reduced. In Albania, we still don’t think that online instruction is as effective as in-class training and the people living here do not see online learning as a legitimate and viable option for studying. So, it is difficult for us to convince students to try out this method of training. We also have a “don’t-pay-until-you-are-satisfied-with-the-service” policy, where students can check this experience out for themselves and if they are not satisfied, they do not have to pay; and if they are, they can continue studying for free for 2 to 3 weeks and then pay the fee, granted they have been satisfied with the course up until that point.

That is an amazing approach to the situation. It seems to me that you have adapted quite well, however, I don’t think that all of the businesses were this prepared for it, and many of them in Albania and worldwide have gone bankrupt. How would you say your competitors handled the situation?

Gentjan: We have been the first in this market, the initiators of this kind of business. Thus far, we have not heard of any other company doing what we are doing. This is an advantage we have in the market, but other than that, our driving force is the quality of our instructing. We try to get the most knowledgeable and engaging instructors from the market. Quality is our keyword.

Rezart: Actually, during the lockdown, we did several server administration courses, like Windows and Linux server, using the “Axure Cloud” service. Hence, we are using the last up-to-date state-of-the-art technologies. If we as a technology-oriented business cannot overcome this difficulty during the lockdown, I do not know which businesses can.

I guess that explains your success thus far, even during these circumstances. But another thing that comes to mind when asking about your business in the current situation, would be your future plans. What is your outlook regarding the upcoming months? Are there going to be any changes or additions to your strategy? Maybe something related to your business structure?

Gentjan: We have already added more classes that students can take online, even classes that before, for us, it was unthinkable that we could manage to do them remotely. We have found and are even currently finding new ways to bring these classes online. This is a new path and for now, this is our approach.

Rezart: This pandemic is changing our era, our century. It has had a huge influence on businesses. The online form of conducting a business has become even more relevant now and the traditional businesses are being forced to change their means of operating the business to online, or face bankruptcy. So, in these challenging times, we have to find new ways to adapt to this constantly changing marketplace and technological era, and try to innovate new paths for our activities.

So, your short-term plans are to continue conducting your business online, and not physically?

Gentjan: We play it by ear, nobody knows what is going to happen next. There is good news regarding the vaccination, but that is scheduled to happen some months into the future here in Albania, therefore, the situation remains unclear for the moment. However, we think of our business as very adaptable to changes in the market. Thus, we should be able to overcome any outside challenge.

There are some certain things that can make it more difficult to work, even for businesses like yours. Students for example, just like anyone else, may face some difficulties, such as the lack of internet connection. that prevent them from joining these online courses. What would be the two or three things that would facilitate or elevate your business in order to better prepare for these problems?

Rezart: Just like you mentioned, one of them would be the technology itself. Internet connection is very important to have online streaming, high-quality learning. It is crucial to have a good, reliable internet connection and electricity. These are dead-stoppers in any business, especially in ours, because “online” cannot work without internet connection and electricity. And, sometimes, we do have problems, but I think we are good so far. Another thing worth mentioning is that Tirana does not have the same number of students it used to have a year ago. Tirana had around 20 thousand students last year at this time, but now, there are no more students in Tirana from around the country. This is another factor that impacts our business. Also, the mentality of online learning has to change. If our youth follows the approach that online learning is possible and effective when done right, many people will embrace this idea, because most likely, as a software developer or even a network engineer with all the cloud services available today, in the future, you will be working online, from home.

The government can help push this mentality forward as well, by creating a fund to subsidize online training for people who want to follow them, knowing that these people “tomorrow” will pay more taxes and be better and more productive for the country and society as a whole. There are many countries that follow this way of reasoning and support people who train themselves.

Such insights are indeed very interesting and would certainly help businesses like yours in the current conditions. These were the questions that we had prepared for you. I would like to thank you for the input. If there is anything you would like to add, you are free to do so. It was a great pleasure to talk to you and have this conversation. The answers were informative and I am sure that the viewers are also going to be very excited by this video.

Rezart: I just wanted to add that we at “Tirana Center of Technology”, give 110 per cent of ourselves to train you. We really put effort and care into making sure that by the time that you finish our courses, you pursue the IT career that you have always wanted to.

About the Guest

The growing adoption of mobile and cloud operating systems, software-defined networking and big data analytics, are forcing individuals to acquire new skills in order to increase their qualifications and enhance their career opportunities.

For students who want to develop their skills in order to fulfil the market needs and growing demand, Tirana Center of Technology offers a comprehensive portfolio of the most popular PROGRAMMING, IT, DATA, and DESIGN trainings. TCT experts/instructors work in private or public companies, and they share their expertise with the students at the center. Firstly, our main focus is practice. We believe that preparing for life in a workplace and confidence are gained only through the knowledge that can be learned in practice.

Secondly, our training center is holding instructor-led online courses, where individuals can take a course from the comfort of their office or home. Even with a busy schedule, one can find some spare time to take a course. TCT also welcomes international students who can be interested in our training by holding and providing course lessons and materials in English language.

The UN-registered nonprofit social initiative that helps small businesses and self-employed professionals to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.