Saturday, March 21, 2009

ASOLIF: my new job

This is my first post about my new job. It's been a little bit more than a year since I came to Malaga from the Canary Islands. During this time I been involving in two different migration projects (Municipalities from Axarquía of Málaga and Extremadura Regional Gov.), worked back again with Grupo CPD in ModularIT and, since march 1st, I've became manager of ASOLIF. I've closing down my little company back in the canaries so, in a couple of weeks, my only employer will be the federation of Spanish free software companies associations (ASOLIF). This is the first time I'll be working for somebody else. Since I was 23 I've always been self employed.

It is strange because I keep in contact with my ex teammates since we are all working on the GCDS'09 and also they are really involved in the Canary Islands free software companies association (ESLIC), the oldest one in Spain, which I helped to found and is one of ASOLIF founders. Since I'll be in Malaga a couple more months before moving (it loooks like I'll be living in Madrid), it is somehow like I haven't changed my job. It feels more closer to a project change rather than a job switch. I assume this feeling will be changing hard in a few more weeks.

ASOLIF is composed by 8 free software companies associations from different regions of Spain. I'm working on updating the exact number of companies involved but I guess we are about 200. Most of them are small (up to 5 members). ASOLIF is one year old and we are growing fast. From 5 associations we plan to end up this year being 10, which is a nice grow. There are many small free software companies all over Spain that can be under our umbrella soon, since all the regional associations are growing and new ones are forming. It looks like we can become a strong movement in Spain in a couple of years.

The economic crash is giving a lot of attention to technological companies. We are no exception. Outside of Spain people thinks that the biggest business related with software libre in this country are Public Administrations, but that is not true. What is happening is that there is a strong movement among them toward Soft. libre and, since in Spain they are the biggest customer of the software sector, this is changing big companies' mind. The message is clear: if you want to keep being leaders, you have to move toward free software. This is good news but there are some concerns.

These big companies do not believe in free software, they do not collaborate, the just use it. They are not changing their methodology and do not participate in general in any community at all. They just keep doing what they use to but now with free software.

Opposite to this, there is a growing movement of small companies mostly build up by technicians with a tremendous innovation factor that works with the tools and procedures close to what communities uses. They are efficient. They do not need (many of them do not want) to grow a lot, since it is not mandatory to grow for surviving is you innovate everyday. Their number is increasing fast so local support is becoming a truth in many parts of Spain.

But they are still fragile and lack of many basic skills that are necessary in any business. Since they are formed by smart guys, they know it. At least most of the ones I talk to realize many of these weak points. For a small, technical oriented service company, it is hard to invest money/time in non core but still important tasks. Their natural respond is to associate themselves with other software libre companies they can collaborate with. The nice point is that they already bring a collaboration culture with them that flows in every activity, every meeting we make, etc.

So the Federation has, of course, a common lobby motivation, but also a parallel one: to collaborate as companies as we usually do as technicians, as community members. This second objective is the reason why I'm here, since the lobby activity will lay more on the board members, specially ASOLIF President, Daniel Armendáriz.

We are still new so many basic stuff must be done, like administrative tasks, setting up some collaborative tools, open relations with many social agents, promote some internal procedures to increase collaboration among companies, etc. These kind of projects needs time become solid but when I finish my job (I have a one year contract) I hope there is a strong base to face the future with an optimistic vision.

Since ASOLIF is part of the local organization of the GCDS'09, I'll keep working on it. The local team is working hard and everybody have a nice feeling about the event. We truly believe this event can be different from any previous one. If the experience is good, probably more community projects will visualize as natural to celebrate together these kind of events where they can keep independence but share activities, experiences, time, projects, problems, code, etc. It also makes sense from a management and economic point of view. Many of the ASOLIF companies will be attending so it will be a nice opportunity to interact with developers and companies from other countries, besides attending to many desktop related activities.

One of the things I don't know how to do but I want to invest time on is to open relations between small companies or organizations like ASOLIF and community projects. Maybe bringing college students into free software communities can be a first approach. Now in Spain the college education model is switching to the Bolonia plan and one of the objectives is making the relation between universities and companies closer. Since now students have to spend some time making practices on companies, small companies can get more involved in software libre communities by interacting with them through these college students. This can be a win to win to win (jajajaja) relation... We need to find out a good model for that. Maybe it is a good point of discussion for the GCDS'09 event. If it works here, it can be translated to other countries. There are two experiences already we can learn from, the GSoC and the University Software Libre Championship (in Spain).

This is anoher nice challenge I hope I can learn a lot from, meeting new people, going to new places, facing new risks. Innovation...that's is what it is all about.
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