The Technology Industry in Guadalajara: A Maturing Tech Hub
The technology sector in Guadalajara, Mexico has grown into an important international hub. In 2019 the trade war between the US and China was already escalating but then the pandemic of 2020 exacerbated a shortage of silicon-based microprocessors. All of a sudden the entire world was talking about Guadalajara as the Mexican Silicon Valley positioned to benefit the most from the restructuring of the Asia-centric global supply chain. That didn’t happen overnight. The technology industry in Guadalajara has been evolving for a really long time.
Today, most people associate Guadalajara more with tequila than they do with technology. That could soon be changing. Tequila is big business but tech brings in more than five times the revenue than the entire beverages industry does in the state of Jalisco. Spanish-speaking people from across the continent flock to Guadalajara for the universities and many find that after graduation the labor market is better than it was back home.
There is a lot of truth in the moniker of Guadalajara as the Mexican Silicon Valley but there are still a few components that need to be developed. Honestly, I think all those Silicon Valley analogies are silly. Silicon Beach, Silicon Alley, Silicon Prairie, and Valle de Silicio tend to overestimate the size of the tech market that is being compared to Silicon Valley, California. The history of technology, industry success and failure, university support, local user groups, government initiatives, and capital all contribute to Guadalajara’s tech industry.
One of the things that I like the most about Guadalajara is the juxtaposition of traditional and modern styles all over the city. Imagine a tech campus in the historic core of the Guadalajara or a Tesla passing a horse-drawn carriage on Avenida Vallarta, or Chef Paco Ruano giving a birria tour of the Santa Teresita neighborhood. They are contrasts but they also complement each other. There is no doubt that Guadalajara has a lot of style and I think that the contrast between traditional and modern has something to do with it.
History of the Technology industry in Guadalajara
The history of the technology industry in Guadalajara, Mexico goes back a lot longer than most articles are acknowledging. Ceramics and obsidian tools were crafted in this region for hundreds of years before the Spanish arrived.
The Spanish sent all sorts of technology to the new world like guns, steel, and agriculture. Stone masons raised cathedrals in the 16th century. The copper still created what we know today as tequila. New species of Domesticated animals introduced by Spanish ranchers would forever change the landscape of the Americas. Charros from Jalisco are some of the finest cowboys in the world.
German engineers built electric lines in the 19th century. There also happen to be good breweries wherever the German people put down roots.
President Porfirio Díaz introduced the telephone and greatly expanded the railway network. The old dictator had business interests all over the country but in a ranch out by Lake Chapala brought him to Guadalajara often.
In 1888 Porfirio Díaz inaugurated the Guadalajara extension of the Mexico City to El Paso, Texas route. The train lines grew for another hundred years and Guadalajara was an important hub. The Jose Cuervo tequila train out of Guadalajara lets you experience a piece of historic yet luxurious railroad technology.
The train and the telephone must have looked like magic when they were first brought to town.
Luís Baragan (1902-1988) is considered Mexico’s most important architect. He was born in Guadalajara and studied engineering at the Escuela Libre de Ingenieros before going on to see the world and reshape Mexico City. Modernist architecture was due in part to technological advances in construction materials and structural engineering such as reinforced concrete. Luis Barragán developed whole neighborhoods promoting modernist architecture in a distinctly Mexican style often including local stone, color, and lighting.
Luís Barragan and José Clemente Orozco collaborated on a modernist-style house on Avenida López Cotilla next to the Parque Revolución that the painter would use throughout his stay in the 1930s. This is a great example of complementary forces that created a lot of elements of style that would go on to define a generation of designers. A mid-century modern esthetic is popular to this day.
Jorge Matute Remus (1912-2002) is a revered local engineer and later politician famous for moving the Teléfonos de México (TELMEX) building 16 meters to the north making room for the Avenida Juarez/Avenida Vallarta amplification that connected the suburbs. Not only did Ingeniero Matute move the 1,700-ton building he did it without dropping a call. On the day of the move, all the operators worked inside the building alongside the engineer himself, his wife, and his child. He went on to become the dean of the University of Guadalajara and later the mayor of Guadalajara.
Today, there is an architecturally significant bridge named after Jorge Matute Remus and some statues scattered about the city. Several of my friends tell stories of their grandfathers working with el Inge Matute and they all say he was a stand-up gentleman.
Guadalajara has a long history with technology but in the 21st century, it has become the tech capital of Mexico in a lot of ways.
In the second half of the twentieth century, Guadalajara laid the foundation for a modern technology industry through investment in education, a supportive local government, and an enthusiastic society. The most important factor has been the ability to pivot and evolve over the years. Much of the low-cost manufacturing jobs were shipped to China in the 2000s and the tech industry had to adapt and diversify.
A few more articles about Guadalajara
- Guadalajara Travel Guide
- The Best Restaurants in Guadalajara
- The Neighborhoods of Guadalajara
- Living in Guadalajara
- A Walking Tour of Downtown Guadalajara
Education is a Pillar of the Guadalajara Tech Industry
One of the underlining factors of Guadalajara’s success as a tech hub is human capital. The Intel Campus has nearly 2,000 employees and 24% of them have a master’s degree and 4% have PhDs. People come from all over Mexico and the region to study and some of them stay.
The University of Guadalajara
While the roots of the university date back to the 18th century and the Spanish Catholic Monarchy, the university was shuttered for 65 years after Independence. The modern university was reestablished in 1925 by the Governor of the State of Jalisco, José Guadalupe Zuno (this guy has a crazy back story but that is a whole other article entirely).
The University of Guadalajara is a top-tier educational institution that operates campuses all over the State of Jalisco for secondary and post-secondary levels. It is very competitive to be admitted to study computer science and medicine among many other majors.
The monetary cost of enrollment at the University of Guadalajara is accessible for many middle-class families, especially when compared to neighboring private universities. I have seen the university lift students out of low-income situations and others like doctors and software engineers can do very well.
The U de G has a revered second-division soccer team called the Leones Negros with one of the coolest jerseys I have seen. The university also sponsors many museums, conserves traditional architecture, and promotes community events. It is a driving factor in the educated and cultured local vibe.
The American School Foundation
In the earliest years of the 20th century the Southern Pacific Railroad had a concession to build railroads in Mexico and a significant number of families from the United States relocated to Guadalajara for work. In 1908 Miss Delia A. Walsh opened a school for the children of American workers in Guadalajara. Over the course of more than a century, the American School has turned into one of the most elite campuses for primary and secondary education in Western Mexico.
Tapatios, people from Guadalajara, tend to speak American English rather than British English and are culturally aligned with the United States. There are a lot of families that speak both languages at an advanced level and feel comfortable on each side of the border.
A classmate of mine from the Tec de Monterrey finished high school at the American School Foundation in Guadalajara before moving to the United States for an undergraduate degree at Washington University. I met him at the Monterrey Tec not long before he founded Intagono, one of the top digital marketing agencies in Mexico. There are a lot of local leaders that see the competitive advantages on both sides of the border and speak both languages without an accent.
Autonomous University of Guadalajara
La Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara (UAG) was the first private university in Mexico and one of the first modern medical schools in Mexico as well. To this day, the UAG brings students from all across Latin America to study medicine in Guadalajara.
More recently the UAG has developed a strong computer science program that can be regarded as top-tier.
Tec de Monterrey
El Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey or more simply El Tec is the premier university for STEM subjects and business majors in Mexico. The first campus was founded in1943 in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon by Eugenio Garza Sada who was a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The Tec made its way to Guadalara in 1977 first as a graduate school offering master’s degrees in administration. In 1991 they inaugurated a 100-acre campus on the outskirts of the Metropolitan Region and expanded into undergraduate majors in engineering and business. This small campus in the country has become one of the most elite schools for computer science in Latin America. Graduates can easily choose where they want to work be it a large multinational in Guadalajara, a unicorn start-up in Silicon Valley, or start something on their own. The alumni network is almost as valuable as the education itself.
ITESO, UNIVA, and the Panamericana
The Guadalajara Metropolitan Region has a population of almost 5 million and lots of those people want to go to college. The ITESO, the UNIVA, and the Panamericana are all top-tier catholic universities that have specific strengths. For the ITESO that strength is design and engineering. The UNIVA has an excellent media production program. The business school at the Panamericana has launched a plethora of successful ventures. Each of these schools has a strong alumni association.
It is no wonder that people from across Mexico and the world for that matter choose Guadalajara for school. And a lot of us decide to stay because they come to love Guadalajara and see a lot of opportunities.
Technology Industry Support for Guadalajara
One of the most important factors supporting Guadalajara as a tech hub is the high number of multinational technology companies. There is a unique set of skills that employees receive working at the different multinationals. If someone spent two years working at Tata Consultancy Services it is highly likely that they speak excellent English. Someone with two years of experience at Oracle speaks good English and probably knows Java.
In addition to practical, on-the-job training, tech firms tend to promote learning events for technologies they use. Oracle owns the Java SE platform after the acquisition of SUN Microsystems. Not only do they use a lot of Java as a programming language but they sponsor all sorts of events to help people learning Java have more success thereby increasing the candidate pool of potential future employees.
Oracle has a unique role in owning the rights to the Java platform. There are also independent tech user groups that have a strong social factor as well. For years there was one guy that hosted the Python users group and taught basic programming classes, in his second language, to kids in the barrio. Brightcove hosts a Ruby meetup group. Wizeline runs a full-on academy with boot camps and user groups on half a dozen different technologies and career development topics. There are tech events for young people like Campus Party that combine the social and the educational in the form of conferences and hackathons in a party-like atmosphere.
Guadalajara offers a lot of ways to learn new technologies some formal and some informal.
Tech Companies in Guadalajara
Siemens AG is a German multinational conglomerate corporation and the largest industrial manufacturing company in Europe. They have been in Mexico since 1884 to build electric power plants and electrical transmission infrastructure. They arrived in Guadalajara in 1911 to build a hydroelectric plant and bring that electricity into the city.
In February of 1970, Kodak inaugurated a 100-acre factory on Avenida Mariano Otero just down the road from the celebrated Plaza del Sol mall. For 40 years the US brand brought photographic technology to the big cities and small towns across Mexico. I found a really nice photo album of classic pictures of Kodak advertisements across Mexico in the 1970s.
Unfortunately, Kodak mistimed the transition to digital photography and lost most of its share of the photography market. The factory was closed in 2012 and the campus was eventually renovated into a mall called Distro La Perla. A small section of the property was developed into a tech campus with space for Wizeline, Kodak, HP, Toshiba, Luxsoft, and more.
The IBM campus feels a long way away from Guadalajara today but in 1975 when it was first opened it must have felt a lot further. El Salto is technically in the Guadalajara Metropolitan region but out in the country out past the airport.
I am willing to bet that your parents had an electric typewriter that was manufactured by IBM in Guadalajara in the 1980s. I was surprised to learn that to this day tape drives and magnetic-tape data storage, in general, was still such a lucrative business. Today, data storage, R&D, and marketing are three of the most important businesses IBM operates ns in Guadalajara.
IBM was one of the earliest promoters of Guadalajara as an ideal tech hub and believed that industry should work together with academia and government to build a local tech industry.
Hewlett Packard (HP)
HP has been in Guadalajara for over 40 years now and Enrique Alfaro (Governor of the State of Jalisco) and Pablo Lemus (Mayor of the City of Guadalajara) heaped a ton of praise on the multinational at the anniversary gala. The evolution of HP over the decades is similar to the evolution of the technology industry in Mexico. The ability to pivot and focus on the strengths of the local talent has allowed HP to thrive all these years.
HP started by manufacturing low-tech and medium-tech electronics in the 1980s and 1990s. China’s admittance to the World Trade Organization in 2001 altered the cost structure of global supply chains and Mexico lost a huge market share to China.
In a way, the loss of basic manufacturing was a long-term gain. HP noticed that the region had a lot of college-educated accountants and financial analysts and built a Latin American finance center. Lots of people spoke good English so they set up customer support centers that were in the same time zones as the highly profitable US market. They even invested in research and development in the form of printer design. Going from design to production, sales and support is a fairly complete product lifecycle in the tech world.
HP is a great place to work and I have known many people who have worked there for a long time and love the company. Geographically, HP’s main campus in Guadalajara shares a corporate industrial park with Jose Cuervo and is across the street from the ITESO campus. They are an important part of the community.
Oracle has to be the coolest name in tech in Guadalajara. Besides being the third largest software company in the world, Oracle sponsors the Formula 1 Oracle Red Bull Racing Team which includes hometown hero, Sergio (Checo) Perez. The motto is, “Driven by data” and the marketing team goes all out to show how data can be collected from complex situations like racecar driving and used to solve problems and win races. Checo had an amazing 2022 season and people around town are wearing branded Formula 1 gear with the name Oracle on it. The brand is hot right now.
In the past, Oracle was known for databases but today it is more about custom solutions for local businesses. They build the user interface, design the system, store that information on databases, transform the data, and give it back to the user. It would probably be easier to think of an industry that Oracle doesn’t work with than to list all of the custom solutions they have created. I was impressed with the projects in the energy sector and the hospitality sector.
The iOS developers at Oracle are pushing the boundaries of what is possible on a mobile platform. They recently won the Ventana Research Award for their Day-by-Day analytics product. That team is an elite group of software engineers that could work anywhere in the world they wanted.
I know a bunch of exceptional engineers who studied at the U de G or the Tec, and spent a few years working at Oracle before moving to Seattle or San Jose to work at US tech giants.
If you are looking for a job in Guadalajara, Oracle would be a great place to start that job search. There are interesting projects, good people, and competitive pay. I know firsthand that there are a bunch of excellent recruiters at Oracle Latin America.
Oracle finished building a beautiful, new, state-of-the-art tech campus in Zapopan over by the Tec de Monterrey campus in 2021.
Tata Consultancy Services
TCS is the largest but by no means the only Indian multinational tech firm operating in Guadalajara. Indian software engineers are considered to be some of the finest in the world and Tata’s engineering managers have mentored a lot of junior engineers setting them up for success in the global IT industry.
Tata has contributed a lot more than just tech know-how. Over the last ten years, thousands of Indian families have immigrated to Guadalajara to work in the tech industry. A number of small businesses have sprung up in the neighborhoods with more Indian people. There are more Indian restaurants, Bollywood hits are playing at the local movie theaters, and museums are starting to include more cultural exhibitions that originate in the subcontinent. I think that the increased cultural diversity makes Guadalajara a more enjoyable place to live.
If you owned a blackberry back in the 2000s there is a good chance that it was manufactured in Guadalajara. Flextronics made the jump from medium complexity tech manufacturing to high-tech manufacturing. They have worked with a lot of major brands to manufacture in Guadalajara and other parts of Mexico.
Wizeline is an established IT services firm that feels like a Silicon Valley tech startup with elite standards, espresso machines, gourmet catered meals, a rooftop garden, yoga, and collaborative workspaces. They create custom solutions for big companies using modern technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning. Wizeline also plays an active role in the open-source software community by hosting lots of teaching events.
Bismarck Lepe, the guy who started Wizeline, has an interesting history that is rooted in Jalisco and has grown on many sides of the border now. His parents immigrated to the United States from Juchitlán, Jalisco as agricultural workers in the 1970s. He went to public school in Southern California before studying systems engineering and economics at Stanford. Lepe worked for a number of startups before landing at Google early on.
In 2007, Lepe founded Ooyala as a venture-backed company producing video content management systems that could serve ads on new digital platforms like Tivo. In 2010 Ooyala opened an office in Guadalajara and Lepe has come to be one of the biggest proponents of the region as a destination for startups with venture capital funding. Who wants to waste money renting office space in San Francisco when Guadalajara has so many advantages?
If you are looking into expanding to Guadalajara Lepe may be able to help you out. He also runs a nonprofit called StartUp GDL that helps fast-growing tech startups all over the world scale from Guadalajara while supporting the local community.
Solucionix is a homegrown, Guadalajara-based custom solutions provider and hardware distributor. The owners are acquaintances of mine and I thought their story really fit into this article.
As the Mexican government is professionalizing the tax code, much of the reporting responsibilities have been passed down to business owners. Solucionix creates custom software and hardware solutions taking into account the national reporting obligations called “Facturación Electrónica.”
The company has been around since 2004 developing point-of-sales systems for local businesses. One of their strengths is web hosting and domain name services (DNS).
These are very talented individuals solving problems for the local market with modern technologies.
Government Support for Tech in Guadalajara
The Mexican government at all levels is pretty friendly to the tech industry. On the federal level, skilled workers like software engineers can get work visas more easily than they can be attained in the United States.
The current governor of the State of Jalisco, Enrique Alfaro, is traveling all over the globe to promote investment in the technology and filmmaking sectors. In 2022 he was in the San Francisco Bay area visiting multinationals on the penninsula with an interest in Guadalajara to talk about solutions. Significant promises for investments and expansions were made. Alfaro was even taking pictures on the Google campus even though Google doesn’t yet have a presence in Guadalajara. Just a couple of months later he was in Spain promoting Jalisco’s filmmaking industry at a Netflix campus.
Entrepreneurs from Jalisco who are residing in the United States met with Alfaro to talk about venture capital funding for small and medium-sized startups.
A collaboration by the federal government’s Secretary of the Economy, The State of Guadalajara, and the city of Guadalajara set up the incubator Ciudad Creative Digital. They teach classes, rent space, recruit talent, and make small investments in businesses legally registered in Jalisco. Animation studios, video game designers, publicity agencies, production and post-production services, and services for the film, sound, and video industry are all growing out of this think tank.
The campus for Ciudad Creative Digital is located in Guadalajara’s historic downtown across the street from Morelos Park and the Alameda pedestrian mall. At the head of the mall is the Hospicio Cabañas museum where Barack Obama, Stephen Harper, and Felipe Calderon met during the Cumbre de Líderes de América del Norte in 2009. This is my favorite part of Guadalajara and my family and I never get tired of visiting.
The CCD tech complex is at the core of a revitalization project trying to substitute public transportation for the car, pedestrian thorofares, and bicycle commuting. In addition to new construction, the CCD also restored a historic building that was falling into disrepair.
Check out the CCD Instagram profile to see what events are coming to town. The Pixelatl event is excellent.
Guadalajara isn’t perfect. There is a thriving technology industry, creative people, and a supportive community. However, there are also some challenges. Corruption and security are still major problems. The Washington Post’s article on the Guadalajara Tech Industry quotes Aristóteles Sandoval, the former Governor of Jalisco in 2016 promoting the state’s competitiveness. He was assassinated in a bar in Puerto Vallarta in December of 2020. Or ask academy award-winning director Guillermo del Toro about the security in Guadalajara. He was already famous but far from rich when his father was kidnapped in 1997. His father was returned alive after 72 days in captivity but del Toro and his family quickly moved abroad making him an involuntary exile. Security for all people in Guadalajara is a challenge that the community will be facing for the foreseeable future.
I got the idea for this article while having breakfast with my family at a new Distro La Perla mall. This new mall is the redeveloped Kodak campus which happens to include a modern-day tech campus with multiple multinational corporations. My cousin (through marriage) was there. He is a software engineering manager from the southern Indian state of Kerala who has been in Guadalajara for almost a decade. I chose to attend grad school at the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey campus in Guadalajara because of the city’s reputation as a tech hub. My mother-in-law’s people immigrated to Mexico from what was then Austria to work in the nascent railroad industry at the turn of the twentieth century. Technology is very present in everyday life for a lot of people in Guadalajara and we like to talk about tech on a global scale.
I guarantee that you are going to be hearing more about the technology industry in Guadalajara over the next few years. I think that things are just getting going.