Welcome again to our latest Developer Story, this week we’re learning about Tiger Wang from Shenyang, China. If you’ve missed our previous conversations, this is the motivation:
Software Development is such an interesting career - from working remotely to working in a large tech hub to checking in from the beach - each person works in a wildly different way and that’s why we love it!
We wanted to know what gets devs started, what keeps them dreaming and how they work - so we asked some of our users!
Hi, I’m Tiger Wang. I'm from Shenyang, the capital city of the Liaoning Province in northeast China.
I have 10+ years experience in software development focusing on front-end technology.
I'm currently learning to track, Unity3D, C#, 3D-Modeling and Node.js and I would like to, one day, study or work in an English-speaking country.
How did you become a software developer?
My programming career started in Beijing in 2007 and the first company I worked for was a games company called Xanamatix. The name comes from the word ‘Xana’ which means 1/75 second, in Buddhist philosophy.
The CEO, Adam, is an overweight middle-aged bald guy. He chose that name to communicate the company’s aim - to make everyone enjoy each and every ‘xana’.
But the man who affected me the most was Danny, a former Adobe scientist.
He taught me a lot. About how to learn new skills, how to keep active in the community and remain up to date in the fast changing environment.
A lot of my career has been inspired by my passion for games. It was with Danny the first time I visited a games room filled with more than 10 consoles. The first time I had to speak English a lot. These things helped my personal development and moulded my ambitions.
In China it's hard to purchase many of the games you'd find in other countries, there’s simply no local distribution. Knowing this enabled me to see the wider marketplace and learn about what games weren't so simple to obtain.
Xanamatrix shut down in 2008 but my passion for gaming had already taken root.
After, I moved from one company to another and was promoted from Senior Software engineer to Tech Leader, but my core concept never changed - "Be positive, be fun".
I was using Java to program server-side applications at the start of my career but that changed fairly quickly. I found that that was not the way I wanted to go.
I wanted to work on something that would allow me to have a 'visual' end result and could be shown and shared more directly.
That's why I pivoted towards front-end development. The first programming environment I fully dived into was Flash and ActionScript and I enjoyed spending time developing mini-websites, video players, and small Flash games.
By the end of 2012, I was still an ActionScript developer. But the capabilities of the iPhone astounded me, so I learned to develop for iOS.
I developed 10+ Apps, but none of them were successful.
The CTO of the company where I was working at the time once told me
You can't just be passionate on front-end, the back-end controls everything, are you going to be an actor or you want to be a director?
That had a large effect on me so I started to make more of an effort to improve my back-end skills.
I thought to myself, "At least you should be able to build, deploy and manage a Linux server!".
Then, in 2011, My son was born and I returned to Shenyang. I decided to become a teacher and I chose to teach programming.
I then focused my dreams on teaching and I think my students appreciated it.
Later, I realised that the organisation I was working with was overly driven by revenue rather than focusing on things I thought were important.
For me, teaching is about inspiring people and providing individuals with the knowledge to achieve what it is they want to do. Instead, it ended up being mostly speaking on big stages and giving inspirational talks that would make a career look easier than it is.
It had shifted focus to the essential professional skills one should have before looking for a job, so many people would go out in the industry without knowing the basics well enough.
How did you first approach programming?
We had extra courses available at the college. My course wasn’t software engineering, my major was in environmental science, so from there I just kept learning mostly by myself.
What made you decide not to pursue a career in environmental science?
The industry is fundamental, especially in China where pollution is becoming a major issue in many cities, but No one seems to take it very seriously. There isn’t a real effort to make a difference by, for example, reducing the usage of petrol cars.
This limits the industry a lot and means you can't make a good living.
So I had to make a tough decision after college, and I decided to pursue one of the things I was most interested in, and that was programming.
So there's not much effort from the government in terms of improving environmental conditions?
In my opinion, they are doing just enough to show it's being taken care of, but nothing close to what would be needed to be done to make a real difference.
How has your environment and family affected your career?
My father supported me a lot whilst I was becoming a programmer, especially when I came out of college.
When I decided to pivot to this career I had a year where I was just learning how to code. I took a course which my father supported me through whilst giving me a lot of space and independence.
My wife has also been incredibly supportive; especially when I decided to move to Beijing and pursue my career, which I'm very thankful for.
Was it hard to break through the tech industry in Beijing?
Yes but just like in most places around the world, if you're good at what you do you'll be able to have a good career.
Most of the people that work in tech tend to gather in large hub cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shenzhen or Hangzhou; these are really the places that offer the most in terms of opportunities in China.
Is there a strong tech community in those places?
Yes, I'd say so. Companies such as Google and Adobe organise a number of events each year (E.g. Google Developer day) but these are not very technical. They're mostly directed to publicising new products.
So what I'd like to see are more practical and technical events, revolving around workshops and learning about new technologies. Unfortunately there aren’t many like those yet.
The mainstream Chinese app market is quite different from the rest of the world - what are the most popular tech products on the landscape?
These are the top 3 Chinese internet companies and their primary business (sorted by market value)
- tencent.com, instant messaging software (Wechat & QQ)
- game (mobile & online).
- alibaba.com, e-commerce, online shopping (taobao.com), cloud service (aliyun.com)
- baidu.com, search engine, online ADS service.
We call these three companies "BAT", they make up more than 70% of the Chinese mobile market. It is kind of a monopoly.
Editor note: Social media in China is a big deal. Check out this infographic to get a better sense.
What sort of awareness do Chinese people have of platforms used by the rest of the world?
Some of the more curious people such as myself know about things like Youtube, Facebook etc. but a lot of other people don't feel the need to explore more content that's available out there and they're often hindered by their lack of English.
We live within a very limited version of the internet.
We have what's referred to as the great internet firewall, which prevents people accessing popular platforms like Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Skype and most other things built and distributed outside the Chinese market.
Do people commonly circumvent these limitations through, for example through VPNs and proxies?
For me it's simple to do so, the government claims you're limited but if you try just a little bit you can really do anything you want.
For example, I've learned a lot about many new technologies through Treehouse although if you're not actively seeking these platforms you will not easily hear of their existence. I was able to use Shadowsocks (a VPN service) to access western content without much trouble.
But most people do not realise they're being controlled; they're happy with what they have, with a limited selection of movies, apps, video games and content.
You're still able to get a lot of stuff shipped from abroad, but you have look hard for these things and wait a long time for shipping as there's no local distribution.
If the internet shut down and computers stopped working all of the sudden, what career would you fall back on?
I'm very much into drawing, painting, and art in general.
I often think that if we returned to having no internet connection, we would still do the same things. The Internet is simply a channel.
That said, I am more of an engineer than a programmer, I can make things and focus on other endeavours easily.
I'm actually trying to combine my skills and prepare for a change. I'm excited to evolve and to learn and do new things.
What do you have in mind for the future?
I want to lead a project with a group of people and build a game.
I can do different things such as design. I want to shift from being a builder to a producer.
It's not just a change in career I’m looking for, I'd like to relocate. I don't know how it works in the UK, but here in China often it's not the best person who gets the top job, instead it's someone that's connected enough to key people in an organisation.
Although I have the skills needed to do what I want, this problem will make it more difficult for me to get in the driver's seat and build the life I want.