Tales about Aviation, Coaching, Farming, Software Development

Leading a mixed language development team

This week I decided to join the development team of my client RealWorld Systems here in Panama for a long-term involvement. After providing consulting services for the company for a few months I felt that joining the team would make sense and I appreciate the offer made to me by RealWorld's president.

We are developing a trading system for the financial services industry in Java using tools and technologies such as Spring Framework, ActiveMQ, Lingo, Hibernate, Eclipse - to name just a few.

The team consists mostly of Panamanian developers, which provides an interesting challenge of its own for me. The official language in Panama is Spanish. So we do our planning sessions and team discussions mostly in Spanish, but we write comments in code, documents and our JIRA issues in English, as our management and the other part of the team is not fluent in Spanish. Daily Scrums with the whole team are done in English so that everybody can understand what's going on.

But I can tell that this mix of languages is not easy to handle for everybody. I'm very grateful to my Colombian wife Nazli for teaching me Spanish in all the years we are together now. Without my Spanish language skills leading such a team would be much harder. English is the dominating language in software development, but that doesn't mean that everybody is absolutely fluent speaking it or has equal access to information provided in English. So it's very helpful to speak the native language as well.

Actually I made the same experience before in my home country Germany. Many German software developers understand English quite well, but you really need to be able to think in the language in order to understand the deeper meaning of documents or books you read or to be able to not only follow, but contribute to technical discussions. English from school usually isn't enough for that.