When Maritza Díaz –ITjuana’s CEO– travels from San Diego (California, USA) to Tijuana (Baja California, Mexico) to do business, the sign’s always there, right where the soil rushing under her automobile can start to be called Mexican. It reads: “Aquí comienza la Patria” (“Here begins the Homeland”).
Though technically (and legally) true, Maritza is somewhat bothered by the statement. Born in Ecuador, she migrated to California in her early twenties and has made the 25 minute drive from San Diego to Tijuana (and back) several times over the past decade. From Ecuador to the US, from the US to Mexico and from Mexico back to the US. The places, the people, the culture; they’re all different, she knows. But she also knows that, in a deeper sense, they’re one and the same.
“It’s The Americas, with an S,” she said in an interview with Nearshore Americas. “If you asked me back in 1992, back in Ecuador: ‘Are you an American?,’ I would have said ‘Absolutely.’ I believe in a future in which we’ll see each other as a continent, together”.
There’s No Such Thing as a Nearshore Here
Martiza’s troubles with that sign and her dreams of an integrated continent began back in 2014, during the first of what would become many, many drives from San Diego to Tijuana. She was working at Thermo Fisher Scientific at the time and was tasked with traveling down to Mexico to recruit about 30 software engineers for the firm.
“I honestly felt that Tijuana was a suburb of San Diego.The border crossing was so similar; they didn’t even ask me for my passport. We just kept on driving, and I was like ‘Are we in Mexico yet?’. Until I saw this big Mexican flag, and that’s how I knew. ‘Wow, we are in Tijuana’,” she said. “ It was very intriguing. That trip opened up my eyes not necessarily to the reality, but to the opportunity.”
The trip opened her eyes not only to the land, but also to the people. Convinced that Tijuana’s engineers were as good, if not better, than the ones in California, she came back with 35 of them and an expanded vision of what the hunt for talent looks like.
“Their brains are the same. The difference is that they are 20 minutes down the road and they come [to California] almost every day to have real time conversations, face to face interactions,” she explained. “They understand exactly what we need to build, and they do it. These real time interactions make a world of difference when building high quality software.”
“We are not nearshore, because there’s no shore that separates us. We are a continent; no shores”–Maritza Díaz, ITJuana’s CEO
Martiza’s first trip to Tijuana evolved into a philosophy and, eventually, into an enterprise. She’s now ITjuana’s CEO, a firm specialized in the building and transfer of software engineering teams in Mexico for companies in the US.
ITjuana emerged during a booming period for the outsourcing industry. Wage inflation, rising operational costs, a shortage of IT talent and the ever-increasing pressure to be more and more profitable has pushed US companies to hunt for employees abroad.
Due to lower labor costs and their geographical proximity, Latin American and Caribbean countries have become preferred sources for IT talent. Firms like ITjuana have made the most out of this fact, giving rise to a whole industry that finds and builds talent in the nearshore of North American companies. Maritza estimates that the US needs over a million software engineers to cover the talent gap. The task is huge, and companies will need to source their employees from places other than San Diego and Tijuana if they expect to keep pace with demand, she added.
“It’s The Americas, with an S”–Maritza Díaz, ITJuana’s CEO
In spite of all the talk about nearshoring, Maritza finds the term incorrectly applied when speaking of the American continent. For here, in America, there’s no such thing as a nearshore. It’s all one large chunk of land.
“There’s no shore that separates us. We are a continent; no shores,” she said. “That’s the future: joining forces as Americans to become the strongest continent there is.”
Ecuadorian Woman Migrated to San Diego and Hopes to Change the Face of Tijuana
Though her relationship with Tijuana covers but a fraction of her life, Martiza Diaz seems awfully dedicated to convincing others that the city’s true face is masked by stereotypes and misconceptions imposed by outsiders.
Mexico is known mostly as a manufacturing country, and Tijuana is one of the crown jewels of such fame. The city is filled with maquiladoras, factories that assemble and transform raw materials into finished products. Though maquiladoras have been one of Tijuana’s main economic drivers for decades, as well as a major source of employment for its population, they have garnered infamy too for their low-wages and intense working conditions.
“I really want to change that perspective. That when you think of Tijuana, you think of a super high quality source of excellence where you are developing a technological hub”– Maritza Díaz, ITJuana’s CEO
Tijuana -like many Mexican border towns- is known for its high levels of crime and violence. It remains as one of Mexico’s cities with the most homicides accumulated during the year.
In spite of the numbers and the stereotypes, Maritza urges her colleagues to see beyond what’s said and seen in the TV screens to find the potential that remains hidden from most people in the US. Behind the mask of a crime-ridden manufacturing town, she sees the face of an already emerging future that’s driven by technology.
“That’s the perception that most people have of Mexico and the rest of Latin America, but reality is so much different,” she stated. “I really want to change that perspective. That when you think of Tijuana, you think of a super high quality source of excellence where you are developing a technological hub.”
And she might be onto something. Maritza began her career in IT in California back in the late 90s. She has had a front row seat to observe the evolution of the tech industry, from its epicenter, for decades: from the Dotcom Bubble and Y2K to the rise of Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook. She knows what success looks like in the IT ecosystem. She has been a firsthand witness of it and believes that there’s still gold to be struck in Tijuana as a tech hub. But it’ll take a lot of work, plus a lot more of convincing to do.
“We have to focus on keeping up with the creation of success stories, so that when you get that argument, you can actually show them. Not talk about it; show them what is possible,” she said.