The sub-title of this post was originally Ten Years On which still would have made it my first post here in a year. But I’ve been away from Canada long enough that I don’t feel the need to apologize for it (though the fact that I’m passive-aggressively acknowledging all this suggests there’s a still a little Canuck left in me somewhere).
I’ve received a number of requests (and bear in mind, zero is a number) for a follow up on a post that is now seven years old. Mostly around the state of the IT industry in the Bahamas presumably from people looking for greener grasses under bluer skies. So I’ll start with that. Then I’ll talk about the non-career stuff. All this makes for a long post but it’s been three years in the making and nothing pisses me off like a “Tune in next time for the information you *really* want” link at the bottom of a post.
The software industry in the Bahamas
Unchanged. I could almost add “literally” to the beginning of that and point out that I know what the definition of “literally” is. From my perspective, there is still no software industry of any kind in the country. The part that has changed is that I’ve become less frustrated about it. I tried to do my part and met quite a few people who were eager to participate. But I also met more than a few people who were skeptical and even some that were downright hostile.
The Bahamas is xenophobic, plain and simple. Historically, they’ve had plenty of reason to be. The size and location of the country being what it is, they probably still do. But what made this frustrating is that I could never get across the benefit of what I was doing. For the last twelve years, I’ve been living in the Bahamas but collecting a paycheque elsewhere. And willing to share my experience with others. To me, this is exactly the type of person the Bahamas should be pursuing to grow their economy. The Bahamas is fairly unique in the Caribbean for having a good infrastructure (at least with respect to internet connections) as well as being 100 miles off the coast of the US. It’s even the same time zone as Miami. Why someone more enterprising than I am hasn’t set up an off-shore development shop here is beyond me.
So if you’re looking to work in the software industry and live in the Bahamas, you’d best have a good job lined up before you come, probably remotely. Even then, after you move, you have to maintain your skills and network in the event you need to switch jobs.
I’ve been pretty lucky in this regard, working 100% remotely for all but the first 2 or 3 years of my time here. First with remote contracts, then with five years at my own startup, and now with Clear Measure, which was as a direct result of my work in the .NET community, blogging and attending conferences. Do NOT underestimate the power of contacts.
Living in the Bahamas
The nice thing is that once you put your frustration at the wasted opportunity behind you, life becomes several orders of magnitude more enjoyable here. Cost of living is manageable. We live in a gated community on a canal that leads directly to the ocean. It has a 90-foot dock that’s wasted on us. For the price we paid, we’d get a lot less house in Calgary, the city we abandoned to relocate. (At least as of the last 2000s, not sure what’s going on in the housing market up there these days.)
Other things are expensive but not prohibitively so. We pay about $200/month for electricity in the heat of summer, for example. From what I gather, even that is low compared to our neighbours. That might be because we’ve made a conscious effort to stay on top of our consumption, like switching to ductless A/C units rather than central.
As a general rule, stuff you want to buy will be expensive. I priced out a Thunderbolt display for my MacBook Pro at $1387 when it’s retailing for $999 stateside. One company had it at almost $1600. There’s 45% import duty on a good number of items plus the cost of shipping. As of January 2015, there’s also 7.5% VAT (i.e. GST to you Canadians) added to almost everything.
Availability of anything remotely fun for software developers is also a concern. I haven’t found anyone that carries Raspberry Pi and the closest thing to Arduino I’ve seen is a Netduino kit selling for $150 (compared to $70 in the US). You need to find a local shipping company or a friend who will bring something back for you. Which isn’t as hard as you might think since everyone here knows the pain you’re trying to avoid.
This is painting a bleak picture so I’ll re-iterate: it’s not prohibitively expensive. A friend of mine regularly orders guitar pedals and amps (more on that later) and he’s firmly entrenched in the upper-middle class bracket with me.
The lack of a technology industry has actually been pretty refreshing once you learn to accept it. It certainly frees up time to pursue other interests. Buying a boat is a popular one that Missus Hillbilly and I toss around from time to time. There are islands a’plenty to explore and, quite literally, plenty o’ fish in the sea. Our daughter likes to remind us that we aren’t “boat people” and she’s probably right, given how prevalent motion sickness is in our family. We’ve started experimenting with taking a charter out every few months which is always fun and considerably cheaper than owning and maintaining a boat.
For my part, I unwind by playing in two bands. Both are populated by professionals who have no illusions of superstardom and our practice and gig schedule reflects that. Local tastes are such that we don’t play a whole lot of songs I’d like to play. But I do get to play armchair sociologist trying to figure out why songs like Pour Some Sugar on Me are so &*%$# popular.
Beyond that, one of the things I like most about the country is its small size. It makes things seem very familiar and almost village-like, especially once you decipher some of the local vernacular. It’s common to run into someone you know when you’re out and about which I rarely did in five years living in Calgary. Even if you don’t, Bahamians are a friendly people by nature. It was a little disorienting at first to have everyone say “good morning” to each other when they walk into a doctor’s office waiting room. These days, I’ve become so used to it that I wonder why offices are so stand-offish in the rest of North America.
There are also the other islands besides New Providence/Nassau where I live. The government is taking them for granted because they are all, every single one of them, a national, international, and planetary treasure. If you want to see the Bahamas they show you in the commercials, land in Nassau then get out to one of the out islands as soon as you possibly can. Eleuthera is one of my favoritest places in the world and I’ve only been there maybe 4 times in my life.
Crime and (lack of) punishment
Someone will inevitably bring up crime. It’s high. I don’t think even the current government can deny it. The murder count was 122 in 2014 which is about 34 murders per 100k people. If the Bahamas were a US city, it would have the sixth highest murder rate.
I could explain this away by saying it’s mostly gang-related or it’s the same as any large city or whatever. I’d be explaining it away because I live here and need to justify why I continue to do so. The fact is, statistically speaking, you’re more likely to get killed here than in, say, Toronto or Helsinki. Depending on how you define the statistics. But when you talk to people about it, the concern is rarely about personal safety; it’s about how the crime rate is affecting the world view of the Bahamas and thus, the economy. Three murders last weekend? Hmmm…that’s too bad. The US issues a travel warning for the Bahamas? LORD TUNDERIN’ JAYZUS AND MOSES ON A BOAT, WE GOTS A PROBLEM!
Is the Bahamas for you?
I know you’re expecting me to say “it depends” like a good consultant or adult diaper salesperson. But you know what? Yes, it is. If you’re considering it and are sufficiently employed, stop waffling and get over here.
It wasn’t for me when my wife’s job gave us the opportunity to move here a dozen years ago. But we’ve always moved under the assumption that if it doesn’t work out, we’ll move back. We’re still here.
And as software professionals, that should weigh in on your decision. Day in and day out, we make decisions based on how reversible they are. If you decide to relocate for a year, it’s usually not hard to go back to where you were. Moving to a new country will, at worst, give you some perspective. And a sunburn.