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Hiring Engineers in Latin America: Insights From Etsy, PayPal, Pinterest, and Zillow

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The Karat Team

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There’s currently a lot of momentum and interest in hiring software engineers from Latin America — particularly Mexico City, Guadalajara, São Paulo, and Buenos Aires. We expect these cities, along with others throughout Latin America, to continue growing and eventually become some of the top cities to hire software engineers. This presents an opportunity for global companies to tap into the region’s booming engineering talent before it becomes more competitive. 

To help companies that are looking to break into the market, engineering and talent leaders from Etsy, PayPal, Pinterest, and Zillow recently joined us for a discussion on their experience expanding to Latin America and what they’ve learned. 

The Rise of Latin America as an Attractive Hiring Market

According to Deborah Dana, Managing Director of Etsy Mexico and Senior Director of Product at Etsy, companies historically entered Latin America, and more specifically Mexico, for one of two reasons: they wanted to target consumers there or access the talent. As the tech scene started to grow and boom in Mexico, it emerged as an attractive market because it was conveniently close to the U.S., had a sizable English-speaking population, and had a talent pool with growing tech skills, thanks to the startups and companies that had laid the foundation. 

Companies realized they could not only open offices in Mexico to target consumers, but to also gain global talent. “I think that’s been the case at Etsy,” said Dana. “We really value having global views, global talent, and the development of product. It makes our products much more diverse, and our products therefore are able to attend a global market instead of being fully focused on one market.” Now, many other companies are setting up offices in Mexico primarily for the talent — not just for the consumers. 

Beyond Mexico, companies that are now entering Latin America are discovering the region’s agility, cultural diversity, adaptability, readiness to work remotely, and government support — all of which help support a company’s growth. It’s advantageous that Latin America’s workforce operates in a similar time zone as that of the U.S., which means companies are able to seamlessly work with talent there and embed the local workforce into their organization. Another factor that’s contributing to this current boom is the number of STEM graduates in Latin America. Between Brazil and Mexico, there are about half a million STEM graduates each year

Duarte Mendonca, Director of Talent Acquisition at PayPal, said the company expanded to Mexico, Guatemala, and Brazil for some of these reasons, including the large pool of STEM graduates, time zone-friendly geographies, and strong talent pool.

Choosing Where to Hire From

Companies that have their sights set on Latin America first need to decide where they want to set up an office or hire from. Miguel Angel Morales, Head of Talent Acquisition, LATAM at Pinterest, said he’s seeing the largest concentrations of tech talent in and around Mexico City and Guadalajara in Mexico, São Paulo in Brazil, Medellín in Colombia, Buenos Aires in Argentina, and Santiago in Chile. Out of all these cities, Mexico City is unique in that it attracts talent from all over Latin America and even the U.S. 

However, there are additional factors that companies should consider, such as the total addressable market, diversity of skills and how it compares to your hiring needs, cultural proximity, and costs. While Dana sees the largest concentration of talent in Mexico and Brazil, she pointed out that Mexico is more culturally similar to the U.S. than Brazil. 

Within a country, companies should also consider looking outside of the major cities. For example, companies looking in Mexico may be tempted to just stick with Mexico City and Guadalajara. However, they should keep their doors open to the entire country because the COVID-19 pandemic caused many people to move. Being able to hire remotely across a country or region can widen the talent pool and ensure that you don’t miss out on skilled engineers. 

Tips for Success

To succeed in Latin America, companies need to have a real commitment to it. There will be many roadblocks and challenges along the way, so having an executive leadership team that truly believes in the vision is critical. Companies should also have a concrete plan. They can’t just hire one engineer and see how it goes. 

Having a great site lead, who is familiar with how the talent market works, knows what the hiring landscape is like, and is able to translate business needs into hiring needs, is another important component. Julio Sáenz, Senior Director of Engineering and Mexico Country Lead at Zillow, said that the site lead also has to be able to expand the mindset of the company and local people in order to navigate cultural differences. For example, Mexico and other Latin American countries are highly hierarchical, unlike the U.S. The site lead needs to not only work with cultural nuances, but also change people’s mindsets so that everyone’s more open to adapting. 

Lastly, companies need to be aware of cultural differences in compensation and the interview process. Morales explained that Latin American candidates value salary and bonuses more than equity, which is the opposite of candidates in other regions who place a higher value on equity. Mendonca added that the interview process is much more personal in Latin America, where “people want to have a rapport with the recruiter and the business before you’re asking them to take an assessment. So you need to invest in them before they invest in you.” 

When interviewing, it’s important to recognize the effect that language and cultural differences have. Companies need to remove bias from the interviewer in order to find the right person for the role, rather than coming to the conclusion that that role doesn’t exist in the region due to these language and cultural barriers. 

One solution is to host practice interviews so that interviewers understand the cultural differences and companies can prevent them from leading to a negative result. Similarly, companies can create a candidate program that allows candidates to practice interviewing and ask questions. Implementing a consistent interviewing process to ensure that candidates are being assessed in the same way also helps to remove bias. 

Integrating and Developing Talent After the Hire

Once companies make a hire, the work doesn’t stop there. They also need to make sure their new employees become fully integrated into the company, and this can be done by setting up a program that provides new hires with mentorship and coaching. Simply sending a survey isn’t enough though, said Sáenz. You really need to connect with people, understand what’s happening, and turn their feedback into actionable changes. 

These insights are just some of the things that companies should know when hiring in Latin America. To hear more advice from these talent and engineering leaders who have helped their companies successfully expand in the region, watch the full discussion

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