Ecuador’s Open Source Techies Find Common Ground at ‘Agile Cafe’

Ecuador’s affinity for Open Source Software (OSS) and collaborative development is getting the attention of influential software leaders in the region. One of those people is Sid Pinney, …

Ecuador’s affinity for Open Source Software (OSS) and collaborative development is getting the attention of influential software leaders in the region. One of those people is Sid Pinney, who head up Latin American expansion efforts at the software design company ThoughtWorks. The firm recently brought its “Café Agile” event to Quito, where some of the near 150 attendees traveled as many as seven hours to participate. According to Pinney, events like this, which can be resource-intensive to host, allow ThoughtWorks “to get a better feel for the local tech scene and the people that fill that environment and understand what processes they are embracing.”

Pinney says people who want to change the world are often attracted to OSS. He has found – on the ground –  confidence and humility and a clarity of thought that is compatible with the ThoughtWorks culture.

The company is considering opening an office in Ecuador and the Café Agile event allowed leaders to identify potential employees – or “ThoughtWorkers”. “The theory of building something that can be used by anyone changes the tenor of someone who will work with you,” he said, “we are tech geeks meeting fellow travelers and we are trying to get a better picture of the people in Ecuador.”

Ecuador is very strong on the programming and coding side, but falls short with Project Management

One attendee and prospective ThoughtWorker, Johnny Ordóñez Ortiz, a computer science engineer who graduated in 2005 from Chimborazo Polytechnic School, and is currently working for IT services company InterGrupo agreed that there is a strong inclination towards OSS in Ecuador. He has seen its impact on the local market and software professionals. However, he said: “In many cases the costs of several Open Source solutions are soaring due to customizations and maintenance of foreign solutions that are adapted to our reality with adverse consequences.”

Although Ordóñez Ortiz is interested in OSS because it “provides great opportunities to countries like mine: improves education and quality of life,” the most important things to him are the solutions OSS can bring to business and societal problems. This line of thinking is in keeping with the ThoughtWorks philosophy that seeks “to revolutionize the IT industry and create positive social change.”

photo patricEven though the Ecuadorian tech sector is growing, it is – according to Ordóñez Ortiz –largely leveraged by the Ecuadorian government, the largest IT services contractor in the country. One of the speakers at the Café Agile event, Jose Villareal, of practisis software, explained that there is a decree mandating the use of OSS for government agencies and this has created a very high incentive for people to develop OSS and new methodologies. “I think even if they take out the decree, the process is already installed and people love open sources,” said Villareal. “If you go back ten years, maybe people wouldn’t have been incented to do it. But the popularity was triggered because the government got involved with it.”

Being heavily dependent on one client could have dire effects, because there will be possibilities of government engaging other providers or restricting software development to government functionality. “The innovation engine often is hampered by traditional management,” said Ordóñez Ortiz, “We must work closely with universities and achieve synergy between schools, government and companies.”

Excitement and Interest

During his presentation, Villareal talked about entrepreneurial activities in Ecuador, and the fact that there is a big interest in Ecuadorian developers. “There are already companies in Ecuador doing social apps for Facebook and creating tools for banking software and other applications,” he said. Ecuador, Villareal explained, is very strong on the programming and coding side, but falls short with Project Management. That said, Villareal believes that the skill level is compatible with the ThoughtWorks requirements.

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When word spread about the ThoughtWorks’ event, Villareal recalled, people were excited, but also wondering why the company was going to Ecuador, especially since the event was focused on Agile development – a topic that not many people were talking about. One group that was particularly interested was the association of software developers, AESOFT. “I spoke to a lot of developers and engineers who are interested in companies with advanced technologies coming to Ecuador, and a lot were keen to look into working with ThoughtWorks,” said Villareal.

He takes a long view of the potential influence that ThoughtWorks, which he views a very skilled tech company, will have on the overall Ecuadorian technological ecosystem.  “When you have them as a neighbor you can only improve. Everyone will be benefited even though we are fighting for the same talent, we will all be better off.”

“It’s good for the community to have someone external be the catalyst to put things for discussion about new methodologies on the table so they can learn from bigger companies – and they become the catalyst for smaller companies to adopt these methodologies in their work,” said Ricardo Arguello of Soporte Libre, who gave an insider’s perspective about Agile infrastructure at the event. “It is mutual learning –they learn from us as a community and a country – about how we work – and we learn from them, and it is good for the country, it raises expectations for software development.  We have to think about this company coming to our country not as a risk, but as an advantage and it will make things happen and be positive in the end.”

Like Villareal, Arguello believes the competition for talent will benefit everyone, “At the beginning we were concerned about that but not anymore,” he said, “it will encourage specialization, it will raise the level of expectations about programmers and developers. It is not good enough to be a good developer anymore. You need think about social projects – all of us have a sense of being part of something bigger.”

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