China is one of the biggest markets in the world with its fast growing economy and unique form of capitalism, companies across the face of the Earth are fighting to get a presence established in this vast country. While we have many clients from Hong Kong and completed many different daily deal and group buying websites we’ve never worked on a major customization project with a mainland Chinese client until now.

Earlier this month, Agriya signed a contract with a Beijing based consumer company to provide backend support, maintenance and development consultation to their Chinese team of programmers. As part of the contract three Agriya employees had to travel to China’s capital city to formally sign the contract and start working directly with the China team. Two of our programmers will be working onsite in Beijing for the next two months and we’re thrilled that they are as excited about the project as we are and are certain that this will help increase the cultural understanding between India and China – almost certainly the world powers of the future.

One of the Agriyans has just returned from Beijing this week so we caught up with him to find out more about this country and the job Agriya will be doing there.

On Society Development

Aravind, the CTO of Agriya and the go to guy for anything technical, was extremely impressed with what he saw of China, which although confined to Beijing allowed him a unique insight in to this often mysterious culture. “In terms of infrastructure development, China are about 5 or 10 years ahead of India” Aravind said, “Beijing has a reputation of being massively crowded just like any Indian city but the thing that struck me was there weren’t as many people on the roads or outside, everyone seemed to be working indoors or in offices.

On The Communication Barrier

It has been notoriously difficult to do business with China in the past because of the inherent language barrier. India has been able to capitalize on this because every university graduate is taught in English and English is the connecting language for the dozens of different languages spoken in India. You’ll often find groups of middle class Indian teenagers conversing in English in the coffee shop rather than their mother tongue. China on the other hand is only just beginning to implement English as a mandatory skill to be taught to students and one statistic we’ve seen says that there are more students learning English in China than there are English people speaking!

But how did this affect the communication between Agriya and the Chinese company? “Spoken English is a big problem for the Chinese” says Aravind, “beyond the basic words such as hi, thank you, please and hello they didn’t seem to be confident speaking the English they knew. I’m not too sure why this is because their written English is generally quite good and we have been able to converse through emails and instant messenger in the lead up to this trip.“. In order to overcome the language barrier, the Chinese company brought in translation experts to help facilitate the communication between the two sets of developers, in the end two local translators were hired along with a 3rd who was flown in from New York.

Did the introduction of translators help with the communication? Aravind reveals what it was like. “It wasn’t too difficult for us to communicate because we are all used to having translators in our own country; sometimes you need to buy something from someone who only speaks Hindi and I only speak Tamil and English so we need to get a translator involved. The same goes for the Chinese companies, they are so used to using translators for business it’s almost second nature for them now and the translation etiquette with the pauses is well honed. There were small issues because the translators need time to learn the technicalities of the project and programming in general but apart from that everyone seemed to be comfortable using translators and who knows, with Indians’ reputation of picking up new languages quickly we may have two fluent Mandarin speaking developers coming back to Chennai in a few months!

On Chinese Programming

India and China both have different reputations for the things they are good at. India is often showcased as being a knowledge and brain center, a place to outsource business work and China is famous for its manufacturing industry which creates virtually every toy and product we buy nowadays. China is trying to establish itself as a knowledge center and we’ve seen a small increase in the number of Chinese BPO and IT companies, but what are their standards like?

Aravind tells us, “From the code that we reviewed which was produced by the Chinese programmers it was quite solid and well programmed but it used techniques and customs that we were using 4 or 5 years ago. They’ve got a good grasp of the basics but they struggled with the more advanced styles that we use in our software.” There are probably many reasons for this, Aravind revealed, most likely because “the advanced coding theory is usually published in English and it takes a while for it to be translated properly in to Mandarin, so India’s programmers are able to use the techniques immediately but Chinese programmers have to wait until it has been accurately translated to put the theory in to practice.

On The Chinese Work Culture

Both India and China have a fierce reputation for producing hard workers that will work from morning to night and even through to the next morning if you demand it of them, but the Chinese work ethic even blew away Aravind, “I was amazed at how dedicated and sincere the workers were, we’ve always believed that we had hard workers at Agriya but China seems to take it to another level. When we arrived we urgently needed translators to start work on Monday and the Chinese HR lady was in her office all weekend on the phone trying to arrange a translator, that she could just leave it until Monday didn’t even cross her mind, I don’t know if she even went home on Saturday!“.

On The Chinese Cuisine

India has a well deserved reputation for being one of the culinary capitals of the world, simply put: you haven’t lived until you’ve tried real, authentic Indian food cooked in India by a housewife. Forget what you eat at your local Indian restaurant, real Indian food is far better. All three Agriyans were naturally apprehensive about the food they would get to eat in China since it’s so different to what they were used to and to make matters worse one of the team members is a strict vegetarian.

Aravind explains “We were all worried about the food options although the two programmers thought they would be OK because they are non-veg eaters but non-veg in China is mostly pork, beef or from some nameless animal and after the first culinary experiment they decided Chinese food wasn’t for them! Fortunately Beijing is a lot like any capital city anywhere and there are restaurants to suit every taste bud and just down the road from the office there is an Indian restaurant which even serves the famous South Indian dishes like Dosai and Idly!

Closing Thoughts

This is not the first time Agriya has ever done some on-site work, infact we’re quite experienced with it now and have sent programmers to Canada, the Middle East and now to China. We understand that some customers want the cost savings of outsourcing to India but with the convenience of having programmers in the same office and we’re happy to work with anyone to get our programmers to your location for the duration of the project.

This new project in China is a milestone event for Agriya because it represents an entry in to the last major economy – something which very few other Indian IT companies have managed to achieve.

We wish the two Agriya programmers living onsite in Beijing the best of luck and we hope to be able to publish many more photos of Agriya’s first big project in China.