Why offshoring to Latin America is different
25 July 2021
Outsourcing can be a risky endeavor for software development. Building software well requires tight communication between all stakeholders. This can be complicated by differences in language and culture. So much of communication is based on context, what is implied and understood rather than explicitly said. When you communicate via screens a lot of this context is lost. Different cultures have different norms that further make effective communication difficult. Furthermore, large differences in time zones leads to at least one party being perpetually inconvenienced by working at odd hours. Add it all up and you have a lot of disappointed managers paying for their “cost savings” in fires to be put out and headaches.
At least when it comes to U.S. companies, I think nearshoring, offshoring to a closer location, has a lot of potential and can avoid the pitfalls of offshoring to Asia or regions farther away. Latin America, our neighbors to the south, offers a workforce of skilled developers at a fraction of the cost of their U.S. counterparts. The cultural and geographic difference between the U.S. is smaller, making the coordination needed to bring software to life easier than it would be offshoring the project to other regions.
What do I know? I’m from the U.S. and have lived in Chile for over five years. I’ve worked with developers from all over Latin America and on software for users in Latin America, the United States, and beyond.
Latin American time zones overlap nicely with continental U.S. time zones. In Chile, for example, the time difference between the time on the East Coast of the United States fluctuates between 0 hours and 2 hours ahead. Colombian and Mexican hours overlap more with the U.S. Central, Mountain and Pacific time zones.
There are differences, but they’re not so great that people in both regions can’t find a time to meet that is convenient for all involved. At most, if you are on the U.S. West Coast and working with someone in Brazil, you’ll meet with your Latin American colleagues near the end of their workday when you’re starting yours.
The region is highly accessible. If you live in San Francisco, it’s faster to fly to Guadalajara, Mexico’s tech hub, than it is to fly to New York City. Overnight flights aren’t required to have face-to-face time with local teams.
Language and culture
Latin Americans are very familiar with U.S. culture. They listen to American music and watch American movies. Developers typically have a good level of written English, just from learning how to code, poring through documentation and StackOverflow answers, and participating in online conversations. Many will also have intermediate to high levels of spoken English. You’ll be able to write and speak in English and be understood, and you’ll be able to understand them when they communicate with you. And if you have one of the 40 million or so people who speak Spanish in the U.S. on your team, communication for devs from Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America gets even easier.
Latin America, like the U.S., takes much of its cultural foundation from that of Western Europe. This means that the general conceptions of what’s good, what’s bad, and how society should work are very similar. There are differences, of course, just like there are differences within individual countries. But with careful communication, you won’t have any wild misunderstandings due to cultural assumptions.
Latin America has produced startup unicorns like MercadoLibre, Rappi, and Cornershop. The developer behind Nextjs is Argentine. One of the authors of Xamarin is Mexican. Many large tech companies have development offices in Mexico. I throw out those examples to show that there’s no shortage of talent in Latin America. There are top-notch developers working on world-class software to be found. Will every developer be world class? Of course not. Just like every American developer isn’t world class. You still have to do your diligence to bring in the people with the skills and experience that you’re looking for. But in Latin America, the people you want are there waiting for you.
One versus many
For the price of one developer in San Francisco or New York, you can hire a team of people in Latin America. Offshoring development has its risks, but the profile of Latin America reduces the chance of running into issues in many of the areas that tank offshored projects in other regions.