Then, I realized we may be onto something here. I mean, China.
On one level, as one source wrote to me via e-mail, “There are many people who have been staying in Silicon Valley and seldom visit China [who] hold hostile views towards China (accusing China of pumping out cheap but low quality products).” On another level, “expats and those who have been doing business with China appear to think China used to be a manufacturing center for low quality stuff, their designs are now catching up together with their focus on product quality.”
While I hope to do a series of China myth-buster stories — hopefully in collaboration with my colleagues — I now see a pressing need to bring China, or things about China, down to a more human scale. China cannot remain just as “a concept” or a set of “talking points” to those of us who live outside China.
China — as indicated by its 53 different ethnic groups and several languages -- isn’t a monolithic nation. It’s full of lively people who often think very independently; some are funny and others can be more serious; and I dare say that even irony is no stranger to the Chinese. They all face their own daily challenges and struggles just like the rest of us.
Enter the world of M (I don’t have her permission to use her full name). She’s my new Chinese friend. I met her only a few days ago in Shenzhen, but I immediately liked her when I saw her beautiful smile and sensed her quiet determination when she talked.
She looks incredibly young – as though she’s fresh out of college. But it turns out that she’s far beyond her undergrad days. She has already experienced a few major career changes. Educated as an engineer, M initially worked as an embedded system designer. However, she wearied of engineering, and moved on to a short stint as an analyst in Shenzhen. But she left again. Now still in Shenzhen, she works for a Shanghai-based company with offices all over the world, as a marketing person.
When she described her first job, after college, as an engineer, she made it sound like an assembly job. Doing layout work on a board is generally considered the fate of the female engineer. Everyone sits at a long work bench, focused on the layout. An expat engineer I met in Shenzhen pretty much backed up what M was saying. He noted that many engineers in China aspire to something else, beyond boilerplate engineering, when they pass 30.
That reminded me of EE Times' own global salary survey conducted in the fall of 2010. Jack Ganssle, a columnist for our sister website Embedded.com, who saw the survey, wrote about a year ago: “In China everyone hates their jobs. Only 26% report being satisfied with their career and employer, and 41% are actively seeing a new career. I’m astonished, as one would think engineering a path out of abject poverty or an escape from manufacturing jobs in Foxconn conditions.”
Well, M pretty much confirmed what Jack saw, intuitively, in our survey results.
I asked M, “Why did you decide to become an EE in the first place?” Her answer was very clear. “It was my parents’ choice.” She said, “My parents thought it was a good way for me to earn money.”
But wait, you let your parents choose what you were going to become?
To her credit, M doesn’t blame her parents for choosing wrong. M adamantly defended them. “You must understand that China is still poor. We must first earn money to support our family.”
That’s when it suddenly hit me. Pursuing one’s dream (and interest) in a career must be regarded as an act of sheer dilettantism for many people living in the world today. Survival is the true priority. You have to make a living. In the eyes of M’s parents, turning M into an engineer was her ticket to a more prosperous life.
Luckily, M now loves being a senior marketing manager. Leveraging her experience as an analyst, she now gathers data, correlates it, adds her analysis, and sends reports to her big boss. She’s happy and that makes me very happy for her.
When M insisted on taking me out for dinner, I asked: “Are you married? Do you have kids?” Yes, M is married and has a young son. I said, “I know I would enjoy your company enormously, but you really don’t have to do this for me. You should go home and be with your family.”
But M said, “Don’t worry. My husband is taking my boy to swimming tonight.” M also shares quarters with her in-laws, who moved to Shenzhen to help take care of her son. Both M and her husband work to support the family of five.
M, during dinner, talked about how China has grown so quickly over the decade, and how the Chinese government – although this may sound a little intrusive – had to make choices in terms of what professions are more needed than others. Obviously, EE was on that list.
I know it’s not my place to pass judgment on someone else’s career. And I have to be careful about criticizing the choices made by someone else’s government. Luckily, I could leave that up to M. After a thoughtful pause, she rested her chopsticks, looked into the distance and said, “But one of those days, when my son grows up, I’d like to be able to tell him, ‘Choose whatever career you like.’”
When that happens, perhaps China can be said to be truly “prosperous.”
A female Chinese guardian lion stands in front of Pekin University gate. The lions are always created in pairs, with the male resting his paw upon the world and the female restraining a playful cub that is on its back (shown).
Sometimes ,even if they love what they do,they have to quit their jobs ,because the jobs they love pay sucks,they can barely make livings for it. And then ,they will try to find civil-service jobs, work for the goverment.Survival first. Sonuds like a living tragedy,isn't it?
I am also engineer from china in shenzhen.
Make a living is first.
The CPI here is very high,one month salary can't support one square meter house in shenzhen.
If your one month incoming is very low, you even can't make friends with the girl that you loved.
I once worked in famous plant and factory that come from usa, that the manufature center in china.
My previous job was, until the new manager arrived, probably the best job ever. I did look forward to each day as a new adventure. I was supporting a research scientist as we were developing a new product, and I got to do all kinds of things. It was a job that I loved, and it paid what I thought was fairly well. Then I read one of those salary surveys. Do those folks really make that much? How about if you ask for copies of their tax returns? Or does every other part of the country make more than Southeast Michigan?
Admittedly, it was a long time I have been in China. Every time I was there though regardless if it was the old Beijing airport (the "proper" communist style) or the spanking new one right of the plane I started picking the "smell" of the system. I am pretty much sensitive to it as one born and grown up under The System (somewhat more lightweight version of it, not much though: tanks vs. people exercise was included). Until that changes there is not much which can prevent another bloodbath any given moment, since there is always a chance that some group will find it convenient to proclaim themselves more "communist holy" in order to get the power. Power is everything in this system and if the economic gains are to be lost so it will be ... Have they stopped printing religiously in every paper in every issue on the front page that the Taiwan will be brought to the fold with the following punishment for the traitors?
To an extent, yes. I met several young Chinese with an EE degree left the engineering job, and now doing market analysis/financing. Many I talked to them went that route for money.
Engineering jobs in China seem to come in several different levels; but the entry-level seems to be always boring (true in the U.S.?), the pay sucks, and many end up leaving...
This is a problem throughout much of Asia, not only China. Most people choose a course of study without too much thought.
They end up being disgruntled workers. I've met many smart people who went through 4 years of engineering studies. They're capable and good at the work, but they have no love for it. Most of them would love to jump out at the first opportunity they get.
A new and unusual defination of communism. A free society get to pick their careers (based on money or interest, who cares). A more restrictive sociery uses "senority". But governments in communist countries used to pick your career for you.
It's an article not a social statistical research paper. People knows Chinese social image will agree with the story's representativeness.
Making a living as #1 priority, even so true for us Chinese engineers living in North America. Although a lot of time priority has been over targeted, but don't see much Chinese risk taker.