Juan Pablo Buriticá has built and led distributed teams, most recently at Stripe, where he was the head of engineering in Latin America. Currently living in New York City, he is originally from Bogotá, Colombia. Buriticá led the creation and growth of Colombia’s JavaScript community, now one of the largest Spanish-speaking JS communities in the world.

What are the biggest challenges for coders in Latin America?

In the United States, you get trained at different companies. You have people moving back and forth and having that shared experience. In Latin America, you don’t get access to big products and difficult problems. All you get is to build this tiny part that was outsourced from someone else who did the thinking. There’s a huge experience gap, and it will require companies to invest in the region. People think you can just hire a U.S. product manager and go to Mexico, where people are 25% the cost, and then just profit, but you won’t build a product that easily. The companies that do the best are those that understand that it’s a partnership. Yes, there are market differentials that they can benefit from, but they’re also cheaper for a reason.

Between the acceptance of remote work and the increased investment in Latin America, do you think the balance has shifted at all?

For small companies, yes, probably. But large companies won’t be able to hire at scale in Latin America. There are regulatory, legal, and tax implications. You end up with de facto employees. You have to have local operations and comply with local laws. The investment wave in Latin America will only benefit the very few. Silicon Valley worked really well because early stage employees would get a piece of the pie. Then, when there was success, they would go and repeat the cycle. This doesn’t happen in Latin America, so I think very few people are going to capture most of the benefits. I actually think it will concentrate wealth in Latin America even more and accelerate the disruption of the job market.

Why do you think coder communities and meetups are so important for Latin America? 

Meetups provide the training that no one else does. They’re decoupled from this market, where you have to sell. You can go not just to get recruited, and that builds really healthy communities. You get access to other people’s professional experience that you wouldn’t get in your work. It’s also a way of bridging the language gap. I really believe that the fabric that sort of melds the industry and academia are these meetups.

I gave a talk at a university for first-year computer science students and I asked all of them if they would work for a local tech company. None of them raised their hands. Then I asked if they wanted to work for Google. All of them raised their hands. Still, very few of them would pass the interview at Google. They’re not being trained for the global market — they’re being trained for the local market. Meetups help stay up-to-date with the trends and give access to localized material, mostly for free. So I think they’re a great place to start.

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