Chinese talents in the US are ditching the Valley for Beijing — Here’s why
AS China’s push for global dominance in future technology – such as such as artificial intelligence – intensifies, Chinese-born talents who were trained in the United States are becoming a crucial component in fueling the country’s drive for innovation.
Although not an entirely new phenomenon, there’s now a marked increase in the number of talents (colloquially known as “sea turtles”) returning home for a job in technology. According to one survey, 432,500 graduates returned to China in 2016, a 22 percent rise from 2013 figures.
Tech Wire Asia did some digging, and here’s why we think many of China’s top US graduates are ditching Silicon Valley for Beijing:
Modern technology is driven by data, and China generates a lot of it.
The massive volume of data from 751 million internet users, coupled with the public’s willingness to share it makes the country an exciting prospect for those wanting to experiment and innovate.
After leaving the prestigious Carnegie Mellon’s computer science Ph.D program to join Facebook in 2010, Xu Wanhong could not resist a chance to jump ship when being presented with an opportunity to return home.
“I didn’t go to the US for a big house. I went for the interesting problems,” said Xu who now works at Kuaishou — a US$3 billion enterprise.
Xu is one of the many who traded comfort for big data, wanting to experiment and turn theories into realities, or in other words, “innovate”.
Success stories such as Tencent’s We-Chat and SenseTime’s crime-busting surveillance system has only fueled this trend further.
The tech industry accounts for 15.5 percent of ‘sea-turtles,’ overtaking the finance sector and up 10 percent from 2015, according to a survey by Zhaopin.com.
China is not shy when it comes to investing in technology.
The country’s Ministry of Science and Technology has pumped in US$430 million in eight AI research projects this year alone. And in the last two years, about US$1 billion was invested by the government on local startups.
Alibaba Holding’s historic US$21.8 billion IPO in 2014 could have further fueled the revolution.
Alibaba and Tencent compete with Amazon and make the cut when listing the top ten most valuable companies in the world, allowing Chinese venture capitalists to close the gap with their American counterparts.
For Princeton graduate Wang Yi, it was not easy to leave his job at Google as a product manager and along with it, the American dream. But he was determined to start something back home.
His gamble paid off when LingoChamp, an English learning application he developed in 2012 upon moving back home, raised US$100 million in July.
Unbreakable Bamboo Ceiling
There is a perception that Chinese tech workers do not advance to the top, proportionate to their number, at Silicon Valley. This phenomenon is called the “Bamboo Ceiling.”
This “perceived” notion, coupled with a lure to go back home where jobs are aplenty, make the choice an easy one.
“At Google, at LinkedIn, at Uber, at AirBnB, they all have Chinese engineers who are trying to figure out ‘should I stay, or should I go back,’ ” said GGV Managing Partner Hans Tung.
“More and more Chinese engineers who have worked in Silicon Valley for an extended period of time end up finding it’s much more lucrative for them career-wise to join a fast-rising Chinese company,” he added.
One engineer was said to have been hired by a start-up with cash and shares worth as much as US$30 million for four years.
“This is only the beginning,” said Spencer Stuart’s headhunter, Ken Qi.
“More and more talent is moving over” due to the momentum in China’s innovation drive, he added.
In the past, the U.S tech companies were the ones offering highly coveted positions, along with it the status.
However, local companies such as Tencent Holdings Ltd. and up and coming Toutiao are providing just as prestigious jobs, according to a Bloomberg report.
Microsoft stalwart Qi Lu’s move home to head Baidu Inc’ AI development is one such high profile case that proves the point.
In addition, US President Donald Trump’s administration’s increasingly restrictive policies on immigration provide another push for workers and students to return home as well.
If these trends continue in the future, China, whose graduates once coveted American citizenship and jobs, will start winning (and wooing) much of its talent for pressing innovations back home.
College graduates will just stay put in China to seek opportunities at home and enjoy the financial incentives as well the advanced technology it offers while contributing to its growth.