Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Exporting Cuban software and programming -- the times they are a changin'

TICS 2017 taglines: Intercambio entre los sectores estatal y no estatal and Juntos por la sociedad

I've been tracking the nascent Cuban software industry for some time and, after the US decided to allow the import of services provided by independent Cuban entrepreneurs, I wondered if the Cuban government would allow software exports.

I've been away for the last few weeks and, upon my return, discovered some positive signs. Foremost was the first Workshop on Informatics and Communication for the Society (TICS 2017), held in Havana on March 29-30. Fifteen projects were presented and the attendees "succeeded in identifying business opportunities in a collaborative and supportive environment." The workshop was notable because it brought together representatives of the government, state software companies, academia and the private sector and it included discussion of legal matters hindering the development of relations between the private and government sectors. About five percent of Cuba's self-employed programmers attended.

There is also indirect evidence that the outlook is improving. Consider the evolution of the government attitude toward Revolico, a Cuban version of Craigslist classified ads. The Cuban government blocked access to Revolico three months after it was founded at the end of 2007. Co-founder Hiram Centelles countered by frequently changing the IP address, but the site was illegal, and, fearing the authorities, Centelles left Cuba for Spain, where Revolico co-founder Carlos Peña lived.

They began distributing Revolico on El Paquete Semanal and it took off. Today, Centelles has traveled to Cuba, speaks publically of the history of Revolico and the site is posting over 10,000 ads per day. More important, Revolico has three competitors. (More on the history of Revolico here).

Revolico and its competitors

I also see that while I was away, Granma published a positive article on the popular restaurant-directory app AlaMesa, calling it "the first and most comprehensive directory of restaurants in the Greater Antilles."
I suspect these examples are the tip of an iceberg. I've been told that there are 607 registered, self-employed programmers in Cuba. It is an open secret that Cuban programmers are doing off-shore work and services like Cubaoutsource and Ninjacuba are facilitating freelance engagement. The wheels of government turn slowly -- slower than most in Cuba -- but it does seem that the times may be a changin'.


Update 4/14/2017

In the first version of this post, I understated the number of Cuban computer programmers with self-employment licenses. My source corrected me, saying there are currently 3,097 licensed programmers, 1,432 of whom are active. That's more than clowns and button coverers combined.

Number of Cuban self-employment licenses

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