Open Letter to Puerto Rico’s Information Technology Sector

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Note: This letter was originally posted on the News Is My Business website in the context of the CIO & IT Leadership Conference celebrated February 7, 2014 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

I was recently reading the January 2014 publication “Perspectivas“ from Estudios Técnicos and came across a quote that inspired me to write this letter.

“All nations have opportunities which they may grasp if only they can summon up the courage and the will … it is possible for a nation to take a new turn if it is fortunate to have the right leadership at the right time.“ – W. Arthur Lewis

I don’t have to tell you that Puerto Rico is going through the worst economic downturn in its modern history. Underfunded pension plans, overestimated government budgets, increased taxes, higher utility costs, and higher unemployment. Economic indicators like employment, cement sales and gasoline consumption show a constant downward trend. Bankruptcy filings are up from 2012 and the government’s credit rating is junk. Young professionals and retirees are leaving the island for one of the 50 states at an alarming rate.

As all of this happens, companies tend to be more cautious and more timid in terms of expansion and investments opportunities. It’s a normal and typical response.  Once you identify the possibility of a risky future, you tend to preserve cash to maintain operations in rough times. Creativity becomes worry and strategic plans become no more than a cash flow strategy plan.

But as it becomes more evident day after day, the recovery from this depression won’t be easy. We have been trying to jumpstart our economy since 2008. Since then we have had government incentives, economic forums, multi sector summits, seminars from experts, and roadmaps. It is time that we stop thinking that things will be solved magically or that some federal agency will save us. If we don’t do it ourselves, nobody will.

There is no other way. We have to do it ourselves.

Puerto Rico’s Information Technology sector represents all that is great about our biggest asset, our people. Our people have the talent and the skills to excel in the global marketplace. Something envied by other cities and countries. Highly educated, bilingual, professional, quality oriented, multicultural.

We have to harness the power of our biggest asset and create our future. Not by exporting our people but by exporting our knowledge and creativity through exciting products and services.

So, this is my challenge to all of you.

  1. Ask yourself, what is your biggest competitive advantage?
  2. Use a lean methodology and create a product or service around it.
  3. Target customers and clients in the states and especially in Latin America.
  4. Hear your customers and ask for help.
  5. Be relentless.

Let’s focus on building intellectual property and products and services that people want.  If we do that, the jobs will follow. The time to talk about plans is over. It is time to do and execute.

Focus on exporting. This is our platform. This is what’s needed from you.

Puerto Rico depends on it.

7 Comments
  1. Jonathan

    Great article, I couldn’t agree more!
    However, there is subtle but big problem which I’m sure is one of the top reasons that triggered this situation: the hiring process. To add to your list:

    6. When interviewing potential employees, don’t allow your Human Resource Coordinator to use an intern to complete an ongoing interview if they’re going to walk out in the process. The interview is a two-way process. Assumptions can be disastrous when the intern had better manners than your coordinator.

    7. Always thank people for their time and interest in your company upon completing the interview.

    8. Nobody would pay a Chef to hire commercial-airline pilots but, everyday something similar happens in the tech world. Have one of your top developers present in the interview. This will help match your current needs and cut down time and effort spent. Asking questions such as “What would you do If we gave you $2,000 right now?” is bland and irrelevant and could be skipped like the classic “Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?”.

    While it is good to get a sense of the candidate’s ambitions and their vision; Technology moves too fast so, any reply to that question is as good as fiction. This brings me to the next point.

    8. Having a Computer Science degree is not necessarily a guarantee that the candidate is a skilled software engineer. Considering how every major college in Puerto Rico is focused in retaining students rather than keeping up with current technology demands and practices; enforcing this requirement only makes sense if you’re looking for a software archeologist.

    Having said all this, the only way to really test someone is to see them working. Invite them to work a full day with the team on a similar task required for the position. Make it clear that they won’t get paid but you will take care of lunch. It is a tradeoff and not everyone will be on board for it but it’s a win-win situation. If they can’t appreciate the benefits, they are better somewhere else.

    Until the résumé becomes extinct, it is time for the IT sector in Puerto Rico to adapt new strategies or slowly fade along with their resources.

    Reply
  2. Christian González

    Jonathan:

    I agree that the hiring process is a big challenge. Although this was not the purpose of the letter, your suggestions are on point and would definitely help organizations be more effective hiring top talent.

    Points 6 and 7 should never happen. Mistakes occur and sometimes people are not having the best of days. The important thing is to have the opportunity of knowing about these mistakes and making sure that they don’t happen again.

    Although I agree completely with point 8, we have to filter candidates somehow. After that initial interview (and if the candidate passes that initial screening), we schedule a second interview with either one of our software architects or one of the owners. I understand that this is not optimal, but there is no way (for now) to deal with all the great candidates that there are out there.

    There’s truth in your last point but I have mixed feelings about it. When I see a résumé, there are certain things that I can assume just by looking at it. If you are an engineer or a computer scientist I know that you followed a certain path. That you paid your dues and that you experienced certain formative moments in college that would let you work with problems in a certain way. This doesn’t mean that you necessarily have those specific qualities by having those degrees or that someone with another degree couldn’t have them. It just means that it’s easier to differentiate and asses who should have the skills to do the job in a certain way. I know there are thousands of examples of people without a STEM degree who have excelled in our industry. We have to do a better job considering all degrees but I can’t disregard all the skills that candidates with STEM degrees could have right off the bat.

    I agree that colleges are not doing a good job keeping up with technology, I just think that it’s not ONLY about technology. There are a lot of skills that are needed to excel in IT other than programming languages, databases, or API’s.

    Your comment about allowing someone to work for a full day is a great way to change the traditional interview process. I think that we (Wovenware) could incorporate it to our process. Not in all interviews, but in some specific cases.

    I really appreciate the time you spent commenting on this post. Hope that at some point we can talk about it personally.

    Reply
  3. Raul Colon

    I could not agree more if only the terrain was at least easier from the perspective of operating a business.

    You said it right you need to “summon up the courage and the will” but I see very little being done to help those who go a bit further than building courage and take some pretty crazy risks (the only way you can set up a business in Puerto RIco if you don’t have the capital).

    We need more posts like this and people executing your your recommendations to make this place a better place.

    Reply
  4. Christian González

    Thanks for your comments Raul.

    Starting a business is ALWAYS about risk! The important thing is to know those risks and mitigate them the best you can. Remember that you should always validate with your customer if they need what you are offering. Get out of the office and talk to them! It is the most important thing when starting a business in my humble opinion.

    You see, there are a million things that I could tell you that our business has to do to maintain its “good standing” with the Government. From taxes to accounting, and from questionnaires to ridiculously expensive insurance policies. But that is nothing compared to the success of your own company.

    When you succeed, and I know you have already, none of this will matter.

    Reply
  5. Simmone

    Truly inspiring Christian… And you are right, starting a business is always about risk and although conditions are not always in your favor, we need to focus on the goal, rather focus on un encouraging factors (I need to remind me these things al the time) :) Much success Christian.

    Reply
  6. roberto ortiz-feliciano

    El tubí o not-tubí de la informática…
    Recientemente participaba en un debate con algunas personas que consideraban desde sus perspectivas las posibilidades y potencialidades del incipiente sector de informáticos en Puerto Rico: su enfoque era el clásico emplazamiento de aquí no se puede expresado en algunas de sus versiones más comunes… Les expresé antes que nada mi duda sobre la manera de acercarse al tema…
    Tal vez amigos hacen la pregunta equivocada. Es una premisa inequívoca que el desarrollo de nuevas tecnologías es asunto de proponer alternativas creativas, eso creo que lo podemos estipular. La creatividad, por su parte como concepto ha sido convertido en una mitología. Algunas personas lo tienen, supuestamente, y ciertas personas no. La realidad, sin embargo como cualquier arquitecto o compositor puede atestiguar, es que es un trabajo duro y no deja por completo de ser un método ya que implica diferentes aproximaciones a diferentes formas de hacer las cosas (tal vez hasta de pensar antes que nada). La creencia en los mitos, en vez de la realidad de la creatividad, crea una narrativa cuestionable sobre el contexto, en este caso de las empresas informáticas. Mientras, podemos valernos de unas caracterizaciones consabidas tal como que los empresarios o emprendedores son muy impulsivos y no pasan suficiente tiempo en la elaboración, pensamiento y la investigación de antecedentes, eso conforma el marco de un estereotipo más o menos válido: Sólo miran (proponen) la idea, cuando el verdadero desafío es ubicar la idea en (su) contexto. Tienes que mirar (sentir/palpar) el mercado, así como el producto. Tienes que entrar en las cabezas de los clientes, la audiencia del proyecto o los potenciales usuarios. La capacidad de ver el contexto, así como el objeto define el diseño creativo; y todo desarrollo de nuevas tecnologías es un proyecto de nuevos diseños (formas).
    Aristóteles fue una de las figuras intelectuales más importantes de la historia. Sus estrategias lógicas fueron las encargados de producir algunos de los mayores avances en el pensamiento humano. Aristóteles (tal vez de los primeros informáticos) describe cómo las palabras y sus inter-relaciones (el idioma como sistema congnitivo) son poderosas herramientas para el pensamiento.
    La creatividad es una actitud definitiva y fundamental para el investigador que debe existir en todo proponente de sistemas de comunicación, el concepto aristotélico de sabiduría práctica (phronesis) es el fundamento de esa actitud. Los datos tienen que ser analizados con la única particularidad del enfoque, estar fuera de foco a menos que sea un asunto de estilo presagia la distorsión. No es posible distinguir sin hipótesis válidas, lo que significa que los datos (con toda su importancia) son dependientes de la teoría (pensamiento).
    En física o ingeniería, por ejemplo, una pregunta de Fermi es un problema diseñado para enseñar la importancia de identificar claramente los supuestos, la aproximación y el análisis dimensional.
    Bueno, entonces propongamos como tesis que el proceso creativo está lejos de ser inescrutable, misterioso o mitológico pero una metodología actual para ayudar a resolver los problemas, luego podemos correlacionar lo que es indispensable:
    1. Seguir avanzando; la iniciativa es ineludible, la duda no debe ser una mecanismo represivo sino liberador (lo podemos hacer) e inspirador (porqué hacerlo);
    2. lo que permite que la imposibilidad sea parte de nuestra práctica (escribir, reescribir y luego corregir);
    3. y ¿qué escribir…???: preguntas, todo tipo de preguntas; y,
    4. al redactar las interrogantes visualizamos todas las respuestas, pero insistiendo en enfocar cuál (de todas) es la pregunta correcta.
    La respuesta equivocada puede y podría ser la respuesta correcta en busca de una pregunta diferente.
    “La filosofía no está aquí para proveer todas las respuestas. Lo que puede hacer sin embargo, que es más potente, es hacer las preguntas correctas.” (Zizek)
    “El enigma no existe. Si una pregunta puede ser expresada, entonces también podrá ser respondida.” (Wittgenstein)
    De modo que en lugar de pensar si existen X, Y, o Z características para proponer ese escenario “ideal” para desarrollar nuevas alternativas digitales tal vez debemos estar preguntando qué realmente es lo que necesitamos para impulsar dicha actitud (que como he propuesto en este constructo es lo que es realmente necesario).
    Mark Schill en Praxis Strategy Group desarrolló un sistema de clasificación para la revista Forbes que mide el crecimiento del empleo en los sectores más identificados con la economía de alta tecnología (incluyendo software, procesamiento de datos y publicación en Internet), así como el crecimiento en ciencia, tecnología, ingeniería y matemáticas. Esta última categoría capta el crecimiento de la tecnología que cada vez más se está llevando a cabo no sólo en las empresas de software o electrónica, pero en cualquier industria fundamentada en ciencia y tecnología digital: acentúa la notable confluencia de ingeniería, con experiencia de “marketing” y, quizás lo más importante, acceso y viabilidad.
    Veamos: una comunidad de rendimiento alto es cualquier grupo de gente motivada con un interés común en la construcción de una (cambiante) economía competitiva y habitable (sustentabilidad).
    Algunas de las características de una comunidad de alto rendimiento incluyen estar:
    conectado a las telecomunicaciones de banda ancha de alta velocidad,
    nutrir las operaciones (educación) centrándose en las industrias de tecnología e información, y,
    pensar en grande.

    ¿Es ese marco de referencia es relevante a tu comprensión (imagen)…? Lo es a la mía, bueno, pero nuevamente es asunto, antes que nada y sobretodo, de actitud…

    Reply
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