|No such thing as a small change|
Re: Open Source Funding: Developing Countries Better?by Anonymous Monk
|on Aug 24, 2003 at 15:33 UTC||Need Help??|
I've got some firsthand experience with this. Last year i moved from the US to Uruguay. I've been a perl programmer for many years and freelancing and doing work for a group of friends who do web consulting for the last couple years. It's interesting, because when i was working at a big silicon valley based company i had my project sent to Russia so i could focus on other projects. Now i'm on the other side working from a 'low-wage' country.
From a project management perspective it can be hard in a traditional company, we ended up spending a lot of time on specs, and when we didn't have the time the result wasn't want we really wanted/needed. It was also expensive, mostly because of the overhead of working with a contractor who had US based sales people. Maybe they were just stiffing us at the end of the dotcom boom because we had a tight deadline. Anyway the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth, both from the fact that we didn't get what we really needed and because i felt like we were paying their programmers %10 of what we would pay somebody in the US for the same work. BTW, the quality was a communications problem i think as most of their development team had PhD's. They didn't speak english, so we were limited to the two russian speakers we had working in our office and our contact with the subcontractor. We never communicated directly with the programmers in an open source style, rather had a series of conference calls. In summary, we were doing very non-bazaar style software development and language were the problems.
I ended up quitting my job not long after that and hopping on a plane to escape cubicle life and see the world. After a couple of years i have ended up in Uruguay, it's in south america between Argentina and Brazil. I'm here because my girlfriend is Uruguayan, but it doesn't hurt that i can use the low-wage/high-wage dynamic to live easily. We live what by any US standards is a middle class livestyle, we don't have a car, but we live in the center of Montevideo, have dsl, go out to nice restaurants and theater all the time. Gabriela works as a java programmer here for a local company and i work from home and cafes remotely doing development. I'm able to spend much more time exploring projects and putting development time in to new programs than i would if i lived in the US. At this point i need a couple weeks of low US pay programming work to live for a couple months. For me, and Uruguayans who have figured out how to do the same it's a great deal. We work less hours, on more interesting projects, and get paid more. We are in effect undercutting the wages of first world based programmers.
Why does it work for me now and why did it fail before working with the Russians? It's because of the style of communication and language. I of course, being from the US speak fluent english. This means we can communicate directly and quickly. We use mailinglists, irc, IM, and other collaborative technology. One thing we're looking at is getting a VOIP phone from packet8.net to allow cheap calls to the US too. With my previous project i had very limited direct communication with the programmers taking over my code.
I think free software projects could get a lot by funding their coders who ALREADY work on the project who live in the third world. It doesn't make sense for us to be searching out coders to be paid to work from the third world, but if we have a group of coders, some of which can live on $150 a month and some of which require $3000 a month, we'll get a lot code by funding a bunch of folks instead of just a few. But i think this should only be done for programmers who are good and who have been contributing anyway. It's also important that it be collaborative instead of passing off the project to the cheap coders like what corporations do in India so often.
I'm sure there are plenty of other people living in the Third World who work on a thousand and one perl projects, but they don't show up to the conferences. When i look at attending an O'Rielly conference, or even a YAPC it's between two months and a year's wages for most of the programmers i know here. And Uruguay is a middle income country. So, the folks who could be funding aren't going to have the same social networks, and as a result i bet are not suggested as folks who should get funding.
Another option, which most folks won't take, is if you want to live developing free software, move to a part of the world where you can live more easily. :-)