Open Enterprise Interview with Ryan Bagueros, North-by-South

Latin America is emerging as a real hotbed of open source

In many of the articles I've read in the business press about the up-and-coming trend to "near-shore" to Latin America, business culture similarities and reduced language barriers are mentioned a lot. It is true that most our developers speak English really well (and I can read/write Portuguese and, with a lesser skill level, Spanish).

But, that's all secondary to the main advantage I emphasize about working with Latin American programmers: all of our developers are part of the incredible free software movement happening in Latin America, supported by progressive government initiatives. We are giving companies access to open source developers who would be making 6-figure salaries if they lived in San Francisco. But, they live in Latin America where cost-of-living is less and there's some benefit from the currency exchange so we can make them available at significantly discounted rates while still paying them above-market rates for where they live. Our developers have significant experience with open source technologies because free software is literally sweeping across Latin America.

Many of our developers have worked on open source migration projects for the government or enterprise, state-owned IT firms. That means they've all got a lot of real-world, enterprise/government-level experience with Linux, Plone, Drupal, dotProject, PHP, Python, Ruby, etc. That's something that other off-shoring locations just don't have which is this extraordinary social movement towards open source software. We maintain a news website about the free software movement in Latin America.

This strength, though, is what I would say could be the potential weakness. Our projects are competing against jobs that might pay less but are more personally fulfilling. For instance, working on building educational computer labs based on free software for areas afflicted by poverty is more rewarding than "yet another social networking site" from Silicon Valley. However, part of the reason we took some investment capital is so that we could be selective in the projects we work on and I think we've done a good job of taking on exciting, innovative projects. At least, we haven't had any problem staffing a project yet.

How many coders do you now work with in Latin America? Is it getting easier or harder to find new people/new skills?

Right now, we have between 35-40 developers in the network. As we do more projects and Latin America programmers see that they can live a flexible lifestyle making good money working on projects using free software in San Francisco, more and more people want to become involved. NXS is also an effort to materially support the free software movement in Latin America. So, there is a momentum building with NXS right now - more and more developers are becoming involved, more and more companies in San Francisco are finding us as a solid alternative to other development options, and we're continuing to scale out our model. So far, we don't have many "strangers" in the network.

They are all people who we've worked with in the past and there are about 25 - 30 more people like that who want to become involved. After that, we'll have to start working with people we don't necessarily know. Brazil, in particular, is a very social country and we know a lot of open source developers there. So, right now this isn't a problem.

Aside from paying people for their work, do you make any other contributions to free software there? Do you contribute code back to the projects whose work you use? What licences is the work you do for customers released under?

We want to do more work which contributes actual code back into the free software community but, right now, I'd say our main contribution is providing Latin American free software programmers with a lifestyle that enables them to have more time to spend on open source projects. We definitely encourage our customers to contribute code back into the community but there is some resistance to that. The work that our developers have done for the government or related IT firms does get contributed back into the community and we want to do that too.

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