In Bolivian Backwaters, One Software Entrepreneur Sees a Nation Ready to Break from Isolation

By James BargentIn the world of IT services, Bolivia is off the Nearshore map. If it is thought of at all, it is generally dismissed as a technological …

Aranda of Truextend: Costs on par with India

By James BargentIn the world of IT services, Bolivia is off the Nearshore map. If it is thought of at all, it is generally dismissed as a technological backwater, a landlocked nation of inhospitable terrain, poverty and civil strife. However, one man and his team have spent the last decade battling that perception by establishing the company they founded, Truextend, as an example of the potential waiting to be unlocked in this Andean nation.

Javier Aranda began his career as a software architect, working for high profile clients across the US, Europe and Latin America. However, in a move that would later help define his approach to business, he also turned to teaching and in over ten years working as a university professor has helped train over 2,000 students who have passed through the computer science programs at several top universities in the city of Cochabamba.

This up close view of Bolivia’s human capital potential combined with his experience working with international companies furnished Aranda with the confidence to challenge convention and set up a company offering Bolivian software development to US clients.

An Image Makeover

In doing so, Aranda also sought to capitalize on Bolivia’s Nearshore advantages and globally competitive prices. “Bolivian prices are not high compared to other Latin American companies, they are similar to India,” he said. “It is a good thing for our clients to keep the costs low but to have a Nearshore partner.”

However, he also faced several serious challenges. The first was overcoming the negative image many US based clients had of Bolivia and their concerns over doing business with a Bolivian company.  “People have a bad impression of Bolivia – that it is an insecure place, a dangerous place,” he said. “Because of the media there is a bad perception of Bolivia and that first impression is difficult to overcome.”

Nevertheless, over the last decade, Truextend has steadily assembled a healthy client base consisting almost entirely of US companies through relentlessly but patiently challenging those perceptions and letting the quality of the company’s work speak for itself. “It was hard to gain a reputation and to let the clients know that we can do this, that we have the engineers, the infrastructure, we have the conditions to provide Nearshore services,” he said. “It was a long path.”

Aranda also had to contend with a skill’s gap when it came to assembling a team prepared to operate in a global marketplace. “We don’t have a lot of engineers here,” he said. “We have good universities but the engineers are not exposed to the technologies and the projects of the United States.”

Rectifying this has been at the heart of Truextend’s company values, which have been heavily influenced by Aranda’s years of experience in education and love of teaching. “(Education) – that is our culture, it is the philosophy. We have to create a culture where our engineers are constantly educating and growing professionally.”

For the company’s workforce, this philosophy manifests itself as continuous training programs on the latest developments in critical areas such as agile methodologies, software processes, tools and frameworks, mobile technologies and Microsoft, Oracle and Java technologies.

Learning English  

In addition to this, employees receive intensive English language training, taking 3 hours of classes a day for 18 months, and receive funding and incentives to further their education through post-graduate programs and international courses and events.

The results of this, Aranda said, is clients content with talent that meets the requirements and standards of international companies, a workforce content with a career that offers them the chance for personal development, and, for the company, steady growth and rock bottom attrition rates.

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However, Aranda and Truextend’s commitment to education does not end with those already working for the company. The company also runs a biannual training program for high-flying recent graduates, who are paid a stipend to receive 5 months of training geared towards preparing them for the global software development marketplace.

Of the 7-10 students that complete each course, the top performers are offered positions at the company. However, Aranda views the program not only as an extended selection process but also a service that benefits the broader community and the industry in Bolivia.

“We like to reward good students, we like to help the community and we like to help our business,” he said.

“The priority is to provide an opportunity to students who have good scores at the university and try to teach them how to work with certain technologies to create better engineers. Ideally, those engineers will be with us but if not then we are also helping the community because we are creating a culture where they will learn and they will go to another place and help another company.”

While Truextend’s long-term planning and commitment to education have enabled it to post slow but consistent growth since it was founded, the company still remains an isolated figure in the Bolivian Nearshore market. This, Aranda believes, is unlikely to change without serious public sector investment in improving telecommunications infrastructure, promoting broader internet access and improving English language training.

However, Aranda does not expect to see this happen any time soon. “Unfortunately here in Bolivia, there is not any support for software or software companies that export services and that is because there are many other areas that require help … the government is trying to invest everything they have in the poor.”

Nevertheless, while the government has focused on the basic needs of its poorest citizens, ITO trailblazers like Aranda and Truextend have managed to demonstrate the country’s latent potential and how it can be realized through a commitment to education and a willingness to challenge conventional thinking.

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