Announcing Char.la — Helping bridge the Spanish speaking tech knowledge gap

(la versión en español de este articulo se encuentra aquí)

I can still remember the Meetup that inspired me to start a software conference in Colombia. Harry Heymann, then CTO at Foursquare, gave a talk titled “Scaling Foursquare with MongoDB”. My main take away was to “setup MongoDB with zero shards from the beginning, even if you don’t think you’ll need it, you will thank yourself later.” This, I thought, was a problem I’d never have myself, but if I ever did, I now had a good idea on how to approach it.

The magic of this first Meetup was that I was exposed to very useful, advanced knowledge only available to me because I lived in New York City. How could I make the same happen in Colombia? A few months later I decided to run with the idea for a community organized software conference in Bogotá, Colombia, convinced Sebastián Delmont to be my first speaker, and thought up a catchy name, BogotaConf. We held our first event in 2011 where our objective was to bridge the tech knowledge gap. Since then, and thanks to many wonderful friends we’ve built a healthy software community in Colombia. We’ve hosted 9 international conferences and founded several local community meetups. We think it’s time to take it further.

Introducing Char.la

Today, Nicolle Jiménez, Julián Duque, David Avellaneda and I are launching Char.la as a monthly online Meetup, focused on sharing intermediate and advanced technical knowledge … in Spanish, community organized and not-for-profit. The first event will be streamed online on November 15th at 8PM COT.

Here are the main problems we’re aiming to solve:

  • Bleeding edge and advanced content is typically in English only
  • The low density of specialized technologists who can share their experience
  • The limited exposure to deep technical problems and solutions in the region

Bleeding edge and advanced content is typically in English only

The toughest barrier we’ve found in bridging the tech knowledge gap in Colombia and Hispanic America is the limited availability of advanced technical content in Spanish. Most of it comes from bilingual volunteers who blog or take on efforts to translate documentation, articles, and tutorials mostly at an introductory level.

In other cases, educational startups like Platzi and Oja.la are fulfilling the demand for learning in Spanish by creating high quality paid and free material. The rise of these initiatives has increased access to localized introductory and intermediate knowledge to many hobbyist and professional technologists. With Char.la, we’re aiming to provide another layer of technical depth for those who are interested in exploring further or need inspiration in advanced technical subjects.


The low density of specialized technologists who can share their experience

Both, Bogotá and Medellín have developed very healthy JavaScript communities over the past 5 years, thanks to the work of volunteer organizers and a growing local community that attends regular meetups. Unlike New York or San Francisco, neither Bogotá nor Medellín have enough programmers interested or experienced in Erlang, for example, to have a dedicated Meetup for it (Elixir doesn’t count :P). This generally makes it harder for specialized and advanced knowledge to be shared, leaving us with introductory talks in general subject meetups.

Specialized Meetups are a great sign of a healthy local tech community, and these are not always limited by knowledge density. There are a number of logistical factors that reduce our ability to have local events. For even a small event to run smoothly, you need a team of volunteer organizers, a venue with minimum A/V specs, and reliable transportation (in Bogotá, it can take up to 2 hours to get to a venue in peak-hour traffic).

With Char.la, we’d like to remove these obstacles for people not only in cities of the size of Medellín, Cali or Bogotá, but also for techies in Riohacha, Montería or Yopal. We want to connect isolated technologists across Hispanic America.


The limited exposure to deep technical problems and solutions in the region

Our experience building software is limited to the kind of problems to which we are exposed. Hispanic-American programmers are more likely to work for an outsourcing company, rather than an innovation lab or a technology startup pursuing something other than a tropicalized business model. Few companies in our region are solving deep technical challenges, and even less let their team members share their knowledge outside of work, limiting the access to technologists hungry for knowledge.

It’s quite unlikely that someone in Bucaramanga has had the need to deal with sharding a 300 million record NoSQL database, but it doesn’t mean they wouldn’t like to learn about it or wouldn’t be better engineers if they did. The privilege of speaking English should not limit access to knowledge, and Char.la is here to share advanced technical research, experience, problems, and content with the Spanish-speaking world.

Why is this post in English if Char.la is for Spanish speakers?

We’ve noticed great bilingual software engineers are more likely to roam English content than Spanish one because of the higher quality of English content. Help us change that, tell your bi-lingual self or friends to go to Char.la and sign up for our mailing list, we’ll be sharing instructions on how to submit talks soon.

Char.la is an initiative for Hispanic American technologists. With ❤ by Colombians. Follow us on twitter @quecharla and @colombia_dev