When it comes to working remotely and managing a hybrid working model, nothing is better than hearing it from someone doing it since 2003. So we sat down with Luis Aburto, CEO and Founder of Scio to find out what worked, what didn’t, what is Nearshore development, and the long road from emails to agile methodologies.  Enjoy!

By Scio Team

As a potential client, if I wanted to work with Nearshore developers, I would like to know how they can maintain cohesion in the team. Anyone can say “I’ll find you a developer” and then open LinkedIn, but that doesn’t make you a recruiter.

It’s not about just finding resources, it’s about building high-performing teams of people who integrate well, and I’d like to see how they achieve that and motivate their collaborators to strive for a well-done job. That’s what I would look for in a Nearshore company.

Scio started all the way back in 2003, and in the years since, it refined a unique perspective on software development, remote hybrid work, and what’s next for a programmer interested in joining an industry at the forefront of innovation and adaptability. But how did it all begin?

Nearshore: A new way to develop software

Well, at the end of the 90s, very few organizations in the US realized that software development could be done in Mexico. Clients had the idea that “IT outsourcing” was something you did in India, and nowhere else you could get these kinds of services.

One of the first companies to talk about “Nearshore development” was Softtek, which started to promote this model around 1998 or so. At the time, the attitude was something like “Seriously? They have programmers in Mexico?”, and certain friction existed towards the idea of outsourcing development here.

Now, since Scio began, our focus has been working with North American clients so, by definition, we have been doing remote work since day one. Sure, we occasionally visited clients to discuss the stages of a project, collect requirements, and present advances, but collaboration has mainly been remote, through conference calls and the like.

Technology wasn’t what it is now. Skype was the most advanced thing then, but Internet speeds gave us barely enough quality to do videoconferences, so we used phone landlines and conference speakers to make calls. It sounds quaint nowadays, I think, but it helped us start developing efficient ways to collaborate remotely.

It all happened exclusively at the office, too. Today it is very common to have a good broadband connection with optical fiber at home, but in ’03, dedicated Internet connections for businesses were barely enough, so if you worked from home, sending your code to a remote server somewhere and trying to integrate it with the code written by the office team was a very slow process, and not efficient at all.

Also, we didn’t have stuff like GitHub or Azure DevOps, where everybody can send their code to the Cloud and run tests from there, so even if your clients were remote, you needed to be at the office to access your Source Code Repository with reasonable speed. 

Internet speeds eventually started to get better and the possibility of working from home became more feasible. Around 2012 we started by implementing a policy where you could choose one day to work remotely per week, so by the time this pandemic got here, everyone already had a computer and good Internet plans, so it wasn’t a very radical change for us. We just leaped from doing it a single day of the week to doing it daily.

And yes, I do mean “this” pandemic because it isn’t the first one Scio has gone through. Back in 2009, we had the Swine Flu (AH1N1) in Mexico, and we had to completely shut down because going home and working from there couldn’t be done by everyone. The infrastructure necessary wasn’t there yet, so you couldn’t ask the team to work remotely overnight, even for a short while.

Other things changed once we could implement this “Home Office Day” policy, mainly realizing this was not a “lost” day of work. The response to it was great, as you could keep in contact with the team without getting lost in a “black hole” of not knowing what was going on, and do other stuff if your tasks allowed it.

Eventually, we had a couple of team members that, for personal reasons, left the office to work remotely full-time. The spouse of one of them got a job in Guadalajara and he didn’t want to leave us, so asked if we would be okay with this arrangement. After some time seeing how well this worked out, we fully opened to the idea of hiring more people remotely, to the point we had four full-time collaborators in Guadalajara on a co-working space we rented so they wouldn’t feel alone.

A technology leap

For our clients, things worked a little differently too. Back in the early 2000’s, collaboration happened a lot through email, where you had these long chains of messages that contained whole project proposals and development plans. 

You can still do that of course, but it’s more common nowadays to just say “hey, let’s have a quick call, I’ll explain this and you can give me your feedback” to arrive at a decision, than having to compose an email, read it, discuss it with every relevant person, take note of all the stuff that wasn’t clear, and respond back and forth during the whole dev cycle.

This was our very early collaboration flow until agile methodologies became the norm. Soon our teams had daily scrum meetings with clients, with the key difference that, instead of a call of 10 or 15 participants joining from home, you had a meeting between two boardrooms: on one side of the call was the team at Scio, and on the other, our counterparts at the client’s office.

Everyone gave their status and comments, and once we finished, further exchanges were done by email or phone calls. We canceled several phone lines last year, by the way, when we realized they hadn’t been used in years. In the beginning, we needed lots of lines for every team to keep in touch with their respective clients, but now Zoom, Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, and Slack offer plenty of more convenient options to do so. Shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic, this was still our collaboration dynamic, with two meeting rooms giving their respective status, and anyone working from home for the day joining the call. 

But now that everyone is working remotely, barriers have started to diminish, both in culture and in attitude. In the US you are probably already working with people in California, Texas, or New York, so working with someone in Mexico doesn’t feel different, as long as the language skills of the person are good.

The newer generations of developers and engineers have a better level of English now than just a few years ago. Maybe because there are more opportunities to get acquainted with the language; earlier you had to go to very specific stores to get books and other materials in English, which wasn’t cheap, and without stuff like YouTube and Netflix, the type of content you could get to practice was very limited.

This evolution of the software developers, when you are not limited to local options as long as you have the necessary skills to collaborate with a remote team, is very notable. The people we used to hire outside of Morelia were the ones willing to move here, and the process of seeking out people to explicitly be remote collaborators was gradual until we developed a whole process to assess which ones fit Scio’s culture the best.

Soft skills: The key to a good team

In that sense, I think soft skills will have more weight in the long run than purely technical skills. Someone with an average technical level, but who is proactive, knows how to communicate, and can identify priorities is someone who brings more value to a team than a technology wizard that doesn’t play along and keeps themself isolated, or assumes stuff instead of validating it.

You would think social skills are irrelevant for someone working remotely when they are actually critical to collaborate effectively. Some people prefer to not interact with others and would rather just get instructions on what to do, but this only works for well-defined tasks in which it is very clear what you are trying to accomplish.

I know this is the optimal way to collaborate for those developers who are less interested in social aspects, but it doesn’t work for projects that require innovation, creativity, and problem solving, with complex workflows involving tons of people whose input is important at every step.

This is why, I think the “introvert programmer” stereotype is something of a myth, at least nowadays. This profession is moving towards a place where the most valuable persons are the ones with a well-rounded profile, capable of communicating with the business sponsors, his or her coworkers, and final users, and not only those who are super-gifted in their programming skills.

People in software, as a whole, are becoming more versatile, and the ones capable of connecting are going to be more visible and be considered more valuable, getting more opportunities in their careers. This is what I can say about the path that the people at Scio have followed so far. From now on, collaboration is a priority because remote work makes it more important than ever, and motivating and stimulating this collaboration, indeed this cohesion, is what will differentiate good Nearshore companies from the best ones.