Like the future, open source is already here, it's just unevenly distributed. In particular, Latin America is emerging as a real hotbed of not only free software coding, but free software uptake by governments - to an extent that puts the UK's pathetic bumblings in this area quite to shame.
South America has another notable property alongside this hectic hacking: it's in more or less the same timezone as the US. This interesting collocation of capability and convenience caused a lightbulb to go off in the head of Ryan Bagueros a few years back.
He realised that sitting on America's doorstep was a postivie hotbed of cool coding talent, who could be employed for far less than your average Yank hacker. Putting two and two together – or rather, Latin America programmers with North American companies – Bagueros set up the innovative North-by-South (NXS) “near-shoring” company that aims to connect those two parties for mutual advantage.
Here he talks about the genesis of the idea, how to create and manage distributed development teams, the advantages of using programmers based in Latin America, and why free software is so damned successful in that region.
GM: What's your background? Why did you decide to start North-by-South?
RB: My background is that I grew up in a steelworker family in northeast Ohio (Cleveland-Akron-Canton) as the steel industry there was being destroyed. I got a computer when I was 10 years old or so and a few years later I got a 1200 baud modem. I got on BBS'es and fell in love with the communications medium. I was heavily involved in the 216 BBS community. I taught myself programming and when I got out of high school, I was a little naive about what I could do with my programming skills. I worked in construction until I discovered that I could make money programming.
I moved to Dayton, Ohio and founded an Internet business there called NiteOnTheTown.com - I put Linux on old 486 machines, attached a webcam, and set them up in Dayton-area bars. The idea was that you could see what was happening at the various bars, pubs and clubs before you went out for the night. I still was a little naive and didn't realize I could be making a lot more money in San Francisco. As it happened, my girlfriend moved to San Francisco for school and I went with her in 1999 and was immediately in demand for my programming skills with Linux, Perl, etc.
At the same time, I got involved with people developing software tools for independent and freelance journalists. Coming from Ohio, there was an explosion of culture I was getting used to. So, during the day I was working on professional web development and at night, I was working on a number of open source projects that involved publishing audio, video, photos, etc. This was in 2000 so that concept was really new.
In Latin America, these tools were being heavily used by freelance journalists who were documenting various big events - the collapse of the Argentine economy, the attempted coup in Venezuela, protests against water privatization in Bolivia, so it was exciting that the software we were building was being used every day by thousands of people throughout Latin America.
I started working a lot with Latin American programmers and sysadmins because we were hosting the software here in San Francisco. So, literally every day, I was working on IRC with open source programmers in Latin America on development and support of a bunch of different web publishing tools and other software projects. The software was really integrated with what they were doing and so if a server went down or something, a mob of Latin Americans would rush into IRC to get the applications back online.
At the same time, I was moving up as an engineering manager at an incubator-type company in San Francisco, which launched Tagged.com (amongst many other websites) and eventually I was Director of Engineering at that company. While I was doing this, the free software movement in Latin America was really taking off, with Brazil leading the way via a presidential decree that mandated a migration to open source software.
So, a lot of the Latin American programmers I was working with took jobs with the government, either getting involved with the migration efforts or initiatives like "Digital Inclusion" in Brazil (an ambitious effort to bridge the digital divide by building computer labs and doing trainings, all based on open source software, even in remote locations of the Amazon).