On August 5th, 2020, Le Wagon Talks was joined by Jamey Silveira, a Senior Strategist at Tencent Games, and Marc Plouhinec, a Java Engineer at Lazada Group (Alibaba), to talk about their experiences working in a Chinese Tech Giant.
How did you end up working at a Chinese Tech Giant?
I'm a French national who was living in Europe, Luxembourg, and after a while I started to get bored. At the time, I was passionate about software and hardware and thought to myself, where should I go — there is Silicon Valley for software, and then there is Shenzhen for hardware. I visited both places and decided to move to Shenzhen.
After speaking with a few local connections, I was able to get an interview at Alibaba Cloud and in the end took the position. For me the process of getting into Alibaba was not hard, it was the process of moving to China that was harder.
I had started studying Chinese back in college and in the back of my mind always had "Big Chinese Tech" as the ultimate goal, but it took me some time to build up my language fluency and professional skills to get there.
Like many foreigners, when I first arrived in China I started out in the education industry. Later I worked at a HK-based startup where I would built my managerial skills. Finally, I got in touch a college alumnus who recommended me for a position at Tencent Games. It was the perfect opportunity because it combined my professional interest at Tencent, with my personal interest in Gaming.
What is the biggest difficulty you face working in a Chinese company?
Language. If you're not a native speaker or speaking Chinese at a highly fluent level, you're going to run into a language barrier.
Working within Tencent you deal with many cross-regional groups, teams that are based throughout the country. When you want to collaborate within those contexts, or build your network within the company, if you're not speaking people's native language, it takes more effort on the part of foreign employees to build up those close ties. As with any large organization, those relationships are critical to your success.
I don't speak Chinese well, but for my role as an engineer, that's not a huge problem. However, the system within which Alibaba works is much different then western companies that I've worked at.
You see, there is a strong system of KPIs within the company. As an employee, if you hit your KPIs you can make a lot of money, if you don't hit your KPIs you can get fired.
The difficulty for me is that I care about quality. I want the software I write to be the best possible. However, when you're working with people whose first priority is KPIs, once they hit those KPIs, they quit. KPIs can only take you so far, and sometimes that line stops before the correct standard of quality is met.
What advantages do you have as a foreigner at a Chinese tech company?
Interacting with international clients. It's much easier for me to understand what foreign clients want because of our shared cultural background.
Experiential Diversity. Being that I worked in western tech companies for a long time, I learned international tools and systems that are not being used at companies like Alibaba. Because of this, I was able to do two things.. 1) Introduce new tools and methodologies to my teams. 2) More quickly and efficiently interact with international partners that are using those international tools.
A lot of what we're doing is trying to understand what western gamers will enjoy. My advantage, because I was raised in a western environment, is that I have an intuitive understanding about why trends occurred in the past and what may happen in the future.
Most Chinese tech companies are now focused on expanding their market abroad. The role that foreigners can take in supporting that expansion is being the bridge between the Chinese companies, understanding what they can offer, and the western markets, understanding their needs.
It's an overused metaphor, but you're essentially the "bridge" between China and the West.