9 Nov 2007

Working in China

Warning the following post has very little to do with MySQL and has a good chance of “ranting”.

Now some of you don't know this, but I live in Beijing, China. I originally came here to study 1 semester of Chinese and stayed. At some point, I wanted to try my luck in the job market and I found one working with a European company that has an office in Beijing.

Foreigners in Beijing

Foreigners in Beijing are treated very differently, especially when it comes to salaries. Foreigners can get paid 2-3 times the amount the local people get. This is mainly because (and there are still on going arguments about this) of the exchange rate. Chinese currency is lower then US dollar or Euro so when you arrive here, your money is worth a lot more. Also, things here (depends of course if you goto the markets to get ripped off) don't cost as much as in America or Europe, including rent.
The salaries that foreigners get here most of the times reflect what they could have gotten in their own countries. So it is a bit like earning partial salary abroad and living very comfortable here. But if you decide to leave and take your money with you, its not as much as you would have liked. This only refers to full time jobs in IT, sales, law or similar and NOT the foreigners who teach English here part time (the full time ones can make a lot of money, depends on which company they choose to work for).

Foreign Companies that come to Beijing

Foreign companies that come to Beijing are traditionally here because of some manufacturing advantage that they can get in china from the low wage laborers here. There are also foreign companies that sell to china and there are also companies that support (like IT consultancies) these foreign companies selling in china. Foreign companies that sell inside china are viewed as selling “luxury” goods to the Chinese that can afford it. The foreign companies that set up shop here, bring with them other foreign companies that service them and their (sometimes also foreign) workers.

Issues of Quality

The big issue, of course, is quality. China is well known for providing extremely cheap products but not well known (if at all) for providing high quality products. Even inside china, European and American products are viewed as much much better. (I labeled Chinese products as being “cheap and nasty”, but don't tell anyone here..)

Now, sometimes you don't need something that costs too much (or lasts longer then 2 months) and you are perfectly happy buying cheap Chinese products. Sometimes you feel that this item should be good and sturdy, so you buy American or European. You have a choice and choice is good.

China is doing a lot of effort to chance their image on the issue of quality, but I don't really think anything will chance any time soon.

After being here for so long, I think I can summarize the quality problem with the following sentence: “They just don't know what you want from them” and “They just don't know what quality means to you”. They just have a different culture and thousands of years of doing something differently. Sometimes when you see something that to you, seems absolute crap will seem to them like it's perfectly fine and why are you complaining.

China and IT

So I don't think that many people know this, but china is not particularly strong in IT. There are not that many people who are in the field, compared to the demand. China has a problem with that “its getting dumber” or “escape of minds” because educated people try to leave china. For example, 70% of university students that study abroad, don't return.
However Chinese salaries are still low and many companies that come to china, think that they will make huge saving in IT costs of they come here, much like with the manufacturing industry. The company I work for now, was partially under that impression as well.

Foreigner Companies and IT

Because of the IT problem in china, someone needs to give IT support to the companies that are here. Chinese companies will almost always goto Chinese IT companies. Foreign companies will almost always goto foreign IT companies. The reason for that, I think, is because of the problem of quality and that “they simply don't know what it is you want from them”. There is also another big problem that many people in china and even in Beijing that simply do not know English.
So if a foreign company wants to save money, they can hire either many cheap developers or a cheap outsourcing company. If they actually want to get the job done, they will be forced to pay large amounts of money to foreigners or foreign companies. And although this may seem very blunt, I do think its very much whats going on here in Beijing.

How does this effect me and other foreigners living in China

Well, companies that come into China have this thing in their heads that things should costs far less money then outside of it. They are unwilling to spend a lot of money for foreigners when they can hire cheap local workers.
In my case for example, I tried to apply for a developer position, but I cannot even slightly compete with salaries of the Chinese developers which can be 3 to 5 times cheaper then mine (although I would argue that I do the work 3 to 5 times faster and better ;).
Getting a job as a project manager, on the other hand, was a lot easier. In that position, foreign companies would prefer to have someone overseeing the quality of the project and is it like the specifications they asked (a lot of times things get lost in translation). In the end I did get this position although in my country it would have been absolutely impossible without 5-7 years experience as a developer (minimum) and even then they would have to think about it.


1)China sells very cheap products
2)China's IT industry is really not good.
3)If you are looking for a job in China, then you can either find it extremely easily or not at all.
4)Statistically the vast majority of people that come to china, come to travel or learn Chinese.

Thank you for reading

No comments:

Post a Comment