With more than 30 years’ experience in the software services industry, Jorge Aramburo has been a pioneer of change and development for Colombia, using his company, Productora de Software SA (PSL), as a means to advance the nation’s technical capabilities.
With global clients like Deloitte, FedEx, Bridgestone, and many more, PSL and its founder have had no shortage of demand, but, according to Aramburo, unless the country can address the talent shortage soon, that demand will go unmet.
Nearshore Americas: What has been your experience of the software development industry’s evolution in Colombia, and what are the key issues you’re facing today?
Jorge Aramburo: The industry has improved a lot in the last 10-12 years. PSL was the first company in a Spanish-speaking country to achieve the CMM Level 5, which was once the best software practice model in the world. Once we achieved that, other companies started to think that if we could do it, so could they. At that time, around 60 companies in the country started to embrace best practice models and standards. In the last 12-13 years, these companies have been trying to improve every day and every year, so right now the country has great software development teams all over.
This is especially true in Medellin and Bogota, so Colombia is considered by many companies in North America as one of the countries with high-performance development teams. Colombia has progressed a lot and can compete with any country in the world in terms of best practices, quality and performance.
However, the main problem in Colombia is that there is still a huge shortage of IT people. Right now, the country could employ 50,000 more developers, but we just don’t have them. It’s a catch 22 situation: people that want to study computer science don’t have the resources to do it, and the people who do have the resources don’t want to study it.
Bilingualism is also still an issue; less that 5% of our population understands English, which is a real problem when you try to export software services.
Nearshore Americas: What are you and your company doing to try to fix these issues?
Jorge Aramburo: We have tried to participate in many initiatives, not only locally but also nationally, but there’s a real problem with money; the country simply does not have enough resources to pay for university studies. We have tried to convince the government to invest more money into educating our people, but politicians do not understand the real world. They are good at making speeches, but they’re not good at doing the right things.
Right now, we have some programs in place in the country to subsidize the poorest people who want to study computer science, but that’s not enough. When you have 2,000 people at university, it doesn’t make a difference when you need 50,000. This continues to be a massive problem in Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, the States, the whole world in fact.
Right now, trying to compete without software is the same as trying to compete without electricity, and the world doesn’t have enough people to make the software that we humans now need. Salaries have increased between 20% and 30%, because many companies are trying to get IT people. When supply and demand are not balanced, prices go up, and that is happening in every country. The problem is serious and I don’t know what is going to happen.
We are very fortunate as a company, because we can attract many brilliant IT people. This is down to our culture and desire to make a difference. For us, meaning comes first and money comes second, so we’re a different company. We’re not here just to make money, but to add value for our clients, our people, and their society. However, even with that approach, we still have the same talent shortage issue.
Nearshore Americas: Looking at the next generation of technology, such as IoT and AI, at what stage do you think the Colombian ecosystem is prepared to deliver on those?
Jorge Aramburo: I think the country is heading in the right direction, especially at PSL where we have some projects using them already, but we’re not the only company doing so. This is a knowledge industry, so we have access to the same knowledge and equipment. The difference is that development is a cultural problem, not an economic one. Besides that, you have access to clients in the US, but embracing best practices, learning different tools and concepts is not enough; you have to face big challenges for your level to go up.
We have had the possibility to work with US clients and to write software for IoT. Right now we are using IBM Watson and in the process of absorbing AI business challenges. This is good for medicine, but we’re also trying to use them for business applications, so we have the capacity.
It is a privilege to work with US- and Canada-based companies, because in Colombia we do not have to solve many complex problems. Big databases here are made up of around 500 million records, but in the US or Canada we’re talking about billions of records that have to be accessed in a fraction of a second. Having the opportunity to work with these companies provides us with the opportunity to absorb the technologies, so we have been fortunate to work with them.
Nearshore Americas: How have you been able to develop or work with advanced products during such a time of IT talent shortage? Where is the talent coming from to get you to this stage?
Jorge Aramburo: We have a solid training program and we are very close to the biggest universities in the country. We teach at those universities for free, training students about the newest technologies in their last year of study. This is to increase the level of talent, not only at PSL, but the whole country.
When universities see that there are companies involved in complex projects across the world, they realize they have to raise the level and make the effort. It’s like a spiral; if one part of society tries to do better, they pull the rest of society up with them. This is happening right now in Colombia.
There is also the client side of the coin. When you have to work with start-up companies – which are small by American standards, but huge by our standards – and disruptors in San Francisco, for example, the complexity of the work you face is amazing, which has been very encouraging and exciting for us. This has forced us to increase our level to a point we could not imagine some years ago.
Nearshore Americas: As CEO of PSL, what are your personal goals for the company and how will you achieve them amid the issues you face?
Jorge Aramburo: My main goal is to make PSL the best software services company in the world, not because of the money, but because of the meaning. In the past, we had another goal: to demonstrate to our people that Latin America had a role to play in the software services sector. At that time, people used to tell me I was crazy, but we made the effort and kept working hard, and we got there.
Anyone can talk about culture, but the only tangible manifestation of culture is behavior. We show this by allowing clients to talk to anyone they want in the company. Half the problem of making software is technical, but half is human, and this makes it very complex. Making the effort to deal with the human side has been a problem for many companies trying to become world-class. It’s one of the most important aspects of this business, but companies care more about revenues. You have to ask yourself whether or not you added value, if your customers are happy dealing with you, and if you are happy dealing with them. This is our way.
We are not satisfied with just the money; we are satisfied if we make the lives of our customers easier. If you try to add value, if you are honest enough, if you face the truth, and are committed to the truth, and make the effort to be better tomorrow, you are going to get clients, for sure.