Software engineering and computer science have played a major role in the most recent innovations that have changed the way we live: rocketry, the Internet, mobile phones, search engines, massive air travel, etc. . In fact, 92% of the largest U.S.-based software companies started since 2003 had a technical co-founder . Any nation that hopes to remain competitive should have great software engineers. As strange as it may sound, there aren’t any universities in Colombia teaching "Software Engineering" or "Computer Science". It’s impossible to attend a Colombian university to become a software engineer. How did Colombia allow this to happen?
For decades, Colombian universities have taught something called “systems engineering.” Systems engineering is “an interdisciplinary field of engineering that focuses on how to design and manage complex engineering systems over their life cycles [...] It overlaps technical and human-centered disciplines such as control engineering, industrial engineering, organizational studies, and project management.”  40 years ago an MIT alum visited Colombia and helped the Universidad de los Andes create a systems engineering program that contained some computer engineering elements. When computer science and software engineering became popular globally, several Colombian universities chose not to launch such undergrad programs. Instead, they opted to copy the lead of Los Andes. Fast forward to today- if you’re in Colombia and you want to go to college to study computer science or software engineering, you will have to settle for systems engineering.
Some universities have added the phrase "and computing" to the name of the degree obtained, thus making it “systems and computing engineering." Nevertheless, it seems to be an afterthought. A lucky Colombian systems engineer gets to study around 70% of the classes that a software engineer gets to study. The other 30% is packed with finance, business, and management   . And this is bad. Although this is not a statistical-driven assertion, my perception after having interviewed hundreds of systems engineers in Colombia, is that most of them want to become project managers. Their ultimate professional goal is to manage other people. They don’t want to do any coding themselves. They even look down upon software engineers that “have to code.” In fact, they seem to ignore the fact that -at least in Silicon Valley- software developers earn more than project managers.
Colombian systems engineers know about software, hardware, design, network administration, and much more. Yet, few of them are capable of contributing to global open source projects. In fact, and very unfortunately, Colombia is one of the least active countries in GitHub  . Colombia is educating a lot of generalists, but it’s not educating any experts. As we say in Colombia, “tenemos mucho cacique y poco indio,” meaning “we have many chiefs and few Indians.”
Obviously, Colombian companies needing software engineering have issues. Some companies don’t even know who to hire . Others end up hiring engineers of all sorts, including electronic engineers, industrial engineers, and, of course, systems engineers. The few that want to compete at a global level, like Bunny Inc., have a hard time finding talent. In fact, we had to develop tests that allow us to identify great engineers that have gone above and beyond their university learnings. Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, those tests are quite lengthy.
What can be done to start having more software engineers in Colombia? I’ve tried contacting the engineering department of several Colombian universities. Unfortunately, they are unresponsive. Colombian universities don’t collaborate with the private sector the way it happens in other countries. Maybe it’s time to build a new computer science and software engineering school in Colombia? Maybe we should forget about universities and, instead, go for online education? I don’t have a clear answer, yet. What do you think? Hopefully, in a not-so-far future, Colombian technologists will stop dreaming about becoming other people’s bosses and start dreaming about becoming globally recognized experts. Only then will Colombia be able to innovate globally and fulfill its dream of becoming a technology entrepreneurial hub .
Edit: Thanks to the feedback of several readers, I updated the title of this post and added details about how the Universidad de los Andes created the first systems engineering program in Colombia.
P.S. We have great career opportunities for kick ass [software] engineers. Learn more at http://bunnyinc.com/jobs.html.
P.P.S. Thanks to Francisco Padilla, David Montaño, Carlos Beltrán, Germán González, Mesi Rendón, Abelardo Duarte, Tara Tyler, and Omar Duque for providing ideas for, reading, and commenting on drafts of this article.
P.P.P.S. Thanks to Jorge Vargas, I learned about this related post that is definitely worth a read: Una Propuesta para Afrontar la Crisis de la Carrera de Ingeniería de Sistemas. And thanks to Camilo Aguilar, this other one: Un desarrollador de 20 millones mensuales.