posted March 04 2013
on Vincent D. Warmerdam

Developer in South America

People tend to romanticize traveling and working and although it is an amazing experience there are a few things that you should keep in mind. It is not for everybody and I get the idea that people only see the plus sides of doing it. Traveling is awesome with good parts and bad parts. Although it is easy to focus only on the good stuff when you are preparing your trip there is a small list of things to be aware of.

  • Initially I was thinking that I would be ‘earning euros and spending pesos’. Basically, this would allow me to love like a king by only working for a few days a week. For most countries this is true, generally in latin america you will have the upper hand economically. The downside however is that this does involve ‘working european hours in a latin american country’ as well. Sure the exchange rate and purchasing power can be preferable but you DO need to get the work done that your western employer expects. This can be a bit of a challenge at times. The lifestyle of latin america is generally less focussed around being productive, largely due to the sheer amount chaos but mostly because they are just not used to it. If you are in the same climate, you will be tempted to act alike.
  • Be honest. Why do you want to travel? To sit at a desk but in a different country? Of course not. You want to tango and party in Buenos Aires? You want to hike in patagonia? You want to climb machu pichu and visit the amazons. Go for it! Be mindful though that all these activities take time which is not spent on work. And recovering from these activities also do not allow you to get much work done. Be honest of how much time you must work and how much time you can party.
  • The economies can collapse. One of the reasons that pesos are generally cheap is because they hold little value to foreign investors. Buenos Aires at the time of writing (March 2013) has been having 20% inflation for the last 3 years. This also puts pressure on the euro’s that you earn and the value that you can spend.
  • You will be alone in what you do. I am from Amsterdam where we have a lot of meetup communities (like appsterdam) that allow you to get in contact with people from the tech industry. Don’t expect a massive community of developers in latin america. You might be tempted to hear that a lot of big companies are active here (Google has lots of offices in latin america) but most of these companies will only have sales offices here. Expect the research and development type of jobs to be someplace else. The start up scene is not that great here. Chile in my opinion is a small exception, something seems to be starting there. But other places did not really show a proper entrepreneurial atmosphere.
  • You will most likely experience the ‘NOTHING WORKS ARGH!’ moment. Welcome to a non western country. Governments, institutions, roads, mentalities and things just work completely different here, which has surprising consequences. Small example: an ipad is about $100 more expensive in Argentina than in any other place in the world because of the import taxes. These import taxes are meant to boost the production of Argentine goods by blocking the goods from other countries. Unfortunately this means that a lot of goods that are affordable are usually terrible. I got a bike and within a week it broke twice (the pedal fell off and it turned out that there was a staple in the inside of the tire). Some goods just need to be imported and these trade laws sometimes make it hard to get anything of quality here.
  • Trafic is different here. It is very normal to be late to a meeting (or a party) because you get stuck in two demonstrations while in a taxi. The busses usually don’t even come with a time schedule because even the bus drivers think they are inaccurate.
  • You will need to be mindful of your things. A stolen laptop is worth a fortune in this place. One laptop easily means one or maybe even two months of not having to work for the person who stole it. You will always need to be a little bit on your guard at hostels, cafes and public transport because of this.
  • Besides the obvious time difference which is a bother for communication it also seems that the clock works different here. When somebody says they will meet you at ten then they will be there around 12ish. Everything is immensely tardy here. When taking spanish classes it took me about two hours to find out what ‘tarde’ means but only after 6 weeks did I learn what ‘temprano’ meant. If you want to really enjoy the nightlife you also need to keep in mind that it completely changes your flow during the next day. Clubbing starts at 3 am and ends around 7. The next day you are worthless.
  • The deadliest ‘ARGH! NOTHING WORKS!!!’ moment as a developer is with wifi. It varies per region but it can happend that the connection fails you right in the middle of a skype call or a backup. Especially when you want to go to the more rural places or countries like bolivia you should not expect the wifi to be sufficient.
    Also hostels that offer wifi often have problems when more than two people are using it at the same time. Especially if there is somebody using skype, the rest of the hostel might be without internet for a while. You will find out how much you rely on stackoverflow during your travels here, although it is manageable. If I had to give a title to a movie about my profesional life right now it would be ‘Vincent and the search of wifi’.

Don’t expect comfort when traveling much, expect an adventure. The things listed above do make life a little more rough but also a lot more worthwhile. Your life will become a lot more like a movie and you should prepare for the chaos a little.

One thing I sometimes really miss is the structure of a western European country. There is no ‘off’ button for the chaos in the larger southern american cities.

If you are on a serious project for a client please be aware of all of these things. The lifestyle is intensely rewarding, albeit very tricky.