Venezuela has made international headlines over the last few months – and not in the right ways. Dubbed a humanitarian crisis, the country has been rocked by socioeconomic and political upheaval that has impacted basic infrastructure provision, caused hyperinflation, and seen people on all sides take to the streets in protest. According to reports, more than three million Venezuelans have left the country, and many are reporting a mass exodus of the next generation of tech talent.
But some young tech workers are managing amid the turmoil, intent on carving out a career in the most difficult of circumstances. One such Venezuelan is Swami Hernandez, Nearshore Americas’ own web developer and a freelancer of 6 years’ experience. Hernandez lives on the Venezuelan island of Margarita, situated about 40 kilometers from the mainland in the Caribbean Sea.
Even arranging this interview was tough; we had to opt for a hybrid WhatsApp interview with Hernandez recording her responses to written questions because Internet connectivity is slow and electricity black-outs common.
Hernandez is quick to point out that Venezuela’s troubles have been a long time in the making, and while this latest crisis has been tough, the overall picture has been troubled for at least the last 15 years. Hyperinflation has hit her hard. “I have to make three times what I used to make a year ago to maintain the same standard of living, for spending and food,” she says.
The past four or five months, Hernandez says, the core issues have been around electricity black-outs and Internet connectivity problems, both of which impact on her ability to work and to deliver to deadline.
Living on an island has actually been beneficial because Margarita generates electricity itself. “We actually are better off than other places. The last three weeks or so when it has been really really bad with the electricity, the country was without electricity for three or four days, but we only had electricity black-outs for four to five hours at a time. So we were better off than the rest of the country. We are lucky to be here, really.”
Hernandez studied Systems Engineering, but worked in an unrelated field after graduation, before taking up a position in operations that later morphed into a Web development post, once they realized her educational background. The company trained her in Web development; she later went freelance and now works for clients in different parts of the world.
Working for clients outside of the country means that Hernandez can earn US dollars, something she says is needed. “It’s the best way to have an income here, if you work for people outside of Venezuela,” Hernandez says, adding that she enjoys using her English – which she learned at 15 – for work.
Luckily her regular clients have been understanding about the impact of Venezuela’s infrastructure problems on her work. “I try to give realistic deadlines when there are big projects. I always notify about the situation so they know the deadlines have to be long because I have to take into consideration these issues,” Hernandez says.
She cites the example of a designer whose client wasn’t as understanding: “He couldn’t make the deadlines because of the issues with electricity in the last week. The client told him it wasn’t going to work if that kept happening. It depends on the client.”
Hernandez is trying to remain hopeful. “I guess the situation will end some time, but I don’t think it will be soon. I will never lose faith and try to stay optimistic.” Margarita is in some way isolated from the brunt of the troubles; other parts of Venezuela have been hit harder. “We shouldn’t be complaining because we are better off. But this is not a normal situation. It’s not okay in any way,” she says.
“There are people like me that can still manage to have a decent life here; we are not surviving, we are still living. But there are people in lower income groups who are really struggling and there is this division in the people right now where there are people doing just fine and others who are really in trouble. It’s not like the media says. It’s not the whole country. It’s not right. In general, we are not having a good time.”
Hernandez is not sure that international help is what is needed right now. For her, the people of Venezuela need to step up and actually want to make the change from within. “I’m not sure how that is done, to be honest, but it will be better to make the changes from the inside out and not have someone come from outside and make the changes for us.”
She adds that Venezuela needs true leaders who can make an impact there and really want to change the country. “I’m not sure who that is. I don’t have much faith in leaders here, on any side. I will try to stay in my country for as long as I can, because it is my country and I want to stay here.”