A small city located on the northeastern shore of the tranquil Lake Chapala, Ocotlan is one of many towns that provide young talent to supply the demands of the burgeoning tech hub in nearby Guadalajara.
Home to some 80,000 inhabitants, Ocotlan is about an hour’s drive from Guadalajara. It boasts several local colleges, including the private Ocotlan Technology Institute (ITO), the University of Inter-American Development (UNID), the Mexico Siglo XXI university center, and the public Cienega University Center (CUCIENEGA) campus run by the University of Guadalajara – as well as a high school run by the same institution.
CUCIENEGA, which is part of Mexico’s second biggest public university network, also has campuses in the towns of La Barca, Atotonilco El Alto and Puente Grande, all located in the western state of Jalisco. In total, the campuses are home to 6,000 students, including many from other small towns across Jalisco and even the neighboring state of Michoacan.
Galileo Garcia, the head of the electronic engineering and computer sciences division at the Ocotlan campus, told Global Delivery Report that approximately 40 students graduate from his department each year The majority are young men from lower or middle-class backgrounds who “end up working in Guadalajara because it is a highly developed market known as the ‘Mexican Silicon Valley,’” Garcia said. “Some other graduates have found work with software development firms in Mexico City and Veracruz,” he added.
CUCIENEGA offers bachelor’s degree programs in information technology or computer engineering and charges no tuition fees. In order to prepare the students for their professional careers, the university encourages them to take part in internships with its business partners. “We also have a business incubator that provides coaching for graduates and members of the public to help them found and manage their businesses. The companies that have emerged from the incubator include some that develop software and build web pages,” Garcia said.
Most graduates are drawn to Guadalajara because of “the employment opportunities that it offers,” he added. “With most of them coming from Ocotlan and nearby towns there aren’t really any local businesses that can offer employment in the fields that they studied.”
Making the Move
Once such CUCIENEGA graduate is Ricardo Castellanos, an Ocotlan native who studied IT and now lives in Guadalajara where he runs his own software startup called Fraguala. The firm, which provides web systems and app development, was founded a year ago and is comprised of six part-time workers.
“Ocotlan doesn’t offer much in the way of opportunities. I had no reason to stay there. Guadalajara is a hub of knowledge and we’re learning about new technologies every day here,” Castellanos said of his decision to migrate to the big city. “I think the wage I make in Guadalajara is three times as much as I’d make in Ocotlan. Of course Guadalajara is more expensive as well – particularly the rent – but the cost of living is not three times as high as in Ocotlan.”
Castellanos noted that “Guadalajara draws a lot of migration” from all across Mexico, including nearby the towns El Salto and Chapala, further afield cities such as Guanajuato and even the northern border town of Ciudad Juarez, which lies approximately 800 miles away. Aside from its economic allure, Guadalajara also provides an escape from the drug-related violence that has plagued Juarez in recent years, while even the normally tranquil town of Ocotlan was rocked by a major shootout between a drug gang and federal police forces that left eleven people dead last week.
Guadalajara’s Grassroots Community
Reflecting on the main draw of the city for tech workers, he cited the grassroots growth it has experience in recent years. “One of the best things about Guadalajara is that the people have made a real effort to create communities where we can exchange knowledge,” he explained. “These communities aren’t created by schools or big businesses, but by tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs with knowledge of different verticals. I think this has helped Guadalajara to grow as a tech hub. Of course it’s great to have IBM, HP and all those big companies here, but above all it’s the entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts who have made Guadalajara grow in the way it has.”
Looking back on his time at CUCIENEGA, Castellanos praised Garcia as “a very good teacher and an excellent person” but admitted that in retrospect he feels that some of the other professors were “poor technically” or lacked sufficient passion for their work.
Still, he remains eternally grateful for the support of the university staff. “When I left CUCIENEGA it was because the professors gave me their blessing,” he recalls. “A colleague who graduated before me offered me a job and I was still a semester away from graduating but the professors agreed it would be better for me to take advantage of this opportunity. Their support in this moment was crucial for me. If not I might never have discovered this world in Guadalajara and I could still be working at a bakery or a restaurant in Ocotlan.”