Coding in Chile
27 June 2021
What is it like coding in Chile?
I’ve been programming in Chile since 2017. There aren’t many other Americans crazy enough to go live on the other side of the world (it’s not zero, though!). I thought I’d share some of what to expect if anyone comes to Chile for work, or finds themselves work with people from there:
Most buildings in Chile don’t have heat or air conditioning. This means that you’re hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It doesn’t get very cold in Santiago, it goes down to around 30 degrees on a winter morning. The thing is that without heat, you feel the cold even when you’re inside.
Warm clothes help, of course. But when you’re coding you need your hands exposed to work the keyboard and mouse. Furthermore, because you’re sitting at a desk you’re not moving, so you feel even colder. My fingers and toes get cold, and without using a heater I’d lose feeling in them.
The best thing to do is buy a heater. I prefer the electric ones. If you use a gas heater indoors for a long time dangerous fumes can accumulate. With a heater, your surroundings can reach a good temperature in the winter so you can focus on your work. During the summer, a fan is needed for similar reasons. I take heat pretty well, but those who don’t will be quite uncomfortable sitting in a hot room trying to code.
Getting gear is straightforward. If you live in Santiago, there are many stores selling computers and accessories. If you don’t want to go to a physical store, MercadoLibre, the Argentine e-commerce company, has lots of options and ships throughout Chile. You can also order on Amazon, but this will tend to be slower and more expensive than what you’d expect in the United States. Also, some items on Amazon won’t ship to Chile. Prices are generally the same or higher than in the U.S.
Salaries are also lower. A full-stack developer makes a median of 1,300,000 Chilean pesos (a little more than 1,770 U.S. dollars at the time of writing) per month, after tax. This is more than double the median salary in Chile. With the right company and skillset you can make more than 2,000,000 Chilean pesos. This means that while Chilean developers have money left over after paying living expenses, they do have to be more deliberate about purchasing electronics.
If you buy a keyboard locally, it will have the Spanish layout. There’s a key for the “Ñ” where the semicolon is on the English keyboard, and punctuation symbols are in different places. You’ll have to get used to typing characters in new places. Honestly, it’s not that difficult. A week or so and you won’t notice that you haven’t been typing on it your whole life. Also, if you get a computer here, it’ll have Spanish as its default language. If you want to see things in English you’ll need to change the computer’s language settings.
If you come using equipment from the U.S., bring an adapter so that your charger will fit the plugs. Modern computers have current converters built into their chargers. But if you have any devices without this feature, make sure you have one so that you don’t fry them from the 220V electrical currents.
Internet connectivity can leave something to be desired.
Sometimes audio and video connections can be slow or drop, which affects the ever-present Zoom meetings. Downloading large files can take a while. Occasionally you or someone you need to talk to might lose service. To help out with this I sometimes use my phone as a hotspot, which is faster and gives a backup connection in case there's a problem with my router.
Compared to the culture of the United States, the culture of Chile tends to be more reserved in business settings and with people outside of their inner circle. Time-keeping is less strict. There’s less pressure to arrive at appointments at exactly the pre-arranged time. There’s a more relaxed working atmosphere, as people usually work to live instead of live to work. At the same time, there is more formality in many companies than what would be considered normal in the United States. Although in the startup ecosystem relations among people in companies are more informal.
Developers are everywhere. I’ve met many during my stay in Santiago. They work in everything from startups to large corporations. There are meetups and opportunities to connect with other developers, should you want to. Developers for Chilean companies aren’t just from Chile. You’ll find yourself working with developers from all over Latin America, and from other parts of the world.
Even though many developers have knowledge of English, you’ll need to at least be able to understand Spanish to be able to communicate effectively. You’ll be exposed to the Chilean dialect of Spanish, as well as the other variations of Spanish from other regions. You’ll also hear and use a lot of English words in your conversations. Even among Spanish-speaking developers, it’s often easier to use the English word than use its equivalent in Spanish when describing technical aspects of computing.
Latin American tech is booming. Startups from the region are growing globally, and nearshoring has moved a lot of development from the U.S. to the region. Santiago is a hub for tech talent in the region. As time goes on, chances increase that you’ll work with developers there, or end up paying the city a visit. Hopefully with this post you’ll know what to expect, so you can be a better team member and be more effective.