Programming at the Bottom of the World

The Wall Street Journal recently described several startups that are helping people to learn to develop software, including Treehouse Island, specializing in web and mobile phone development technologies such as HTML5 and Android. One of their customers, Nahuel Chaves replied:

I am a Treehouse Student for less than a month.. and i am loving it!. I have to say that its giving me an awesome opportunity to learn and also be known by others, which is almost impossible from where i am (Ushuaia – Argentina).

I’m almost addicted to treehouse :)


Sailing the Drake Passage, Tierra del Fuego. Photo by 23am.com via Flickr.

Ushuaia (population 56,956) is the southernmost city in the world. According to Worldcrunch, Argentina is building a new Silicon Valley On South America’s Southern Tip. The government is robbing people in Buenos Aires and the rest of the country to subsidize migration to Ushuaia. Tariffs are very high, so electronics such as laptops and cell phones are priced at triple that of the USA. The Ushuaia manufacturers do little, simply importing parts and screwing them together, adding a case, and manuals.

Sebastian Bassi, author of Python for Bioinformatics, objects to the scam, but another Argentinean, Rodolfo Domnanovich, argues that it is good policy because developed countries shielded their industries from foreign competition when they were developing, and many trade barriers remain today even though those countries have become rich. Sebastian Bassi works for Globant, a consultancy with many customers in the USA and other rich countries, so he is more likely than most people to understand the benefits of free trade.

Photo courtesy of 23am.com via Flickr.

The Argentine government subsidizes Ushuaia because they believe that establishing settlers reinforces their claim to sovereignty of the area. The former military government in 1982 attacked the British colony in the nearby Falklands/Malvinas Islands, and in 1978 nearly attacked nearby Chilean islands in the Beagle Conflict. The Pope successfully mediated the conflict. Perhaps someday there might be oil or other natural resources under the sea that the Argentine government could tax.

Ushuaia formerly centered around a prison built by the Argentine government to populate the area to establish sovereignty. The prisoners constructed the town buildings and a railway, The End of the World Train. Perhaps they could attract more tourists by renaming it the Southern Cone Gulag Archipelago.

Kayaking near Ushuaia, courtesy of 23am.com via Flickr.

23am.com meets sea lions in Tierra del Fuego.

Port of Ushuaia courtesy of Flavio Ensiki via Flickr.

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