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South American Software Development

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Back in 1984, DDJ quizzed seven software designers on a question of software development culture. The conclusion was that there probably wasn't really a cultural difference between East Coast and West Coast programmers, but that there definitely were important differences in how programmers approached their work, differences reflected in choices such as C versus Modula-2 (this was 1984), freedom versus discipline, the lone coder versus programming teams—"Cultural" differences that are still with us today in arguments over the merits of different languages, frameworks, methodologies, and business models. And while it's easy to dismiss religious debates over the merits of different languages, when it comes to proprietary versus open source or different FOSS licenses, which side you take can have $erious consequences.

Such cultural issues are crucial to understanding and working with South American software developers. In the individual case, it makes no more sense to speak of North American versus South American programmers than of East Coast versus West Coast programmers, but factors like relative isolation, economics, and government policy actually have created a distinct climate for software development in Brazil and every other South American country. Since Brazil is the largest South American country, it makes sense to focus there, acknowledging that its neighbors' software climates are in some ways different.

Six years ago, Jon "maddog" Hall, writing in Linux Journal, summarized the influence that free software had on the Brazilian development climate back then:

More than saving money, the Software Livre movement offers Brazilian states control over their technological destinies...The money they do spend on software stays in the hands of Brazilian programmers, who buy Brazilian food, live in Brazilian houses and pay Brazilian taxes.

More recently, O'Reilly's Andy Orem visited Brazil's Free Software Forum last year, an important event sponsored in part by the government, and saw much of the same thing. Past protectionist policies in Brazil, now more or less abandoned, nevertheless led to today's "self-supporting and well-educated community of knowledgeable software developers," Orem observed, adding that Brazilians are "addicted to warez."

All of this is part of South American software culture, and it matters. Yes, there are a lot of people on the continent, which says something about the sheer size of markets, and there are a lot of programmers there, too. Nearly one professional developer in ten worldwide is working and living in South America, according to IDC statistics. But it's not just a matter of numbers. As Jonathan Schwartz points out, these huge markets don't just sit back, passively waiting to consume the products you deign to offer them. Increasingly they are taking an active role in defining markets. Anyone who wants to sell into these markets needs to understand the culture of the people.

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