First, let's go back to the past. I have been in a situation like this several times over the years. Way back in 2001 i upped roots and headed to California to look for a tech job in Silicon Valley. I spent a year there and sent out more résumés and cover letters than in all the rest of my life put together. I think i only scored two or three interviews, and none were willing to make an offer. I was young and it was just after the dot com crash and 9/11, so what could i do?
In 2006 i moved to Melbourne and resolved to leave this depressing industry altogether. I interviewed and trialled at various restaurants in an effort to get back to the only other job i have ever known - working in a kitchen. All the chefs were skeptical and considered me over-qualified. By the time i finally got an offer to start in an iconic tourist spot in St Kilda, i had already accepted a job at the Australian branch of a famous-in-the-90s Silicon Valley company. I had interviewed at several tech companies and chose to go with this one in a vague hope it might allow me to move to America in the future. Needless to say, that job was one of the worst i have had, and giving up the chance to start over in a kitchen basically torpedoed my hopes of ever escaping the tech industry.
In 2009 i moved to Toronto and waited for a residence visa. Applying for immigration was extremely expensive and time-consuming, and i was not able to work at all during the time. I definitely classify those first couple years in Canada as some of the hardest in my life. We were very poor, i was forced into a big family i had no interest in being a part of, and my mental health was extremely unstable. I ended up a psychiatric inpatient and it took a lot of struggle to get back on my feet. I wanted to change careers again, but failed because everything i was interested in (politics, immigration, international relations etc) required years of study i could not afford. And at 30 i was too old to start work in a kitchen. Eventually i did some freelance tech work for very little money and very lots of stress before taking a job at a small IT services company that also proved to be pretty toxic.
2013 was time to turn over a new leaf in the EU. For the first time in my adult life i was treated like a citizen and didn't have to worry at all about my work permission or residence status. I was also far more confident in my abilities so able to pick and choose my role. But i still chickened out - i picked too early. I had found a company i really liked, but due to the CEO having a baby the timing didn't work out. I started worrying about my savings running out and decided to sign up with a famous-in-Germany e-commerce giant. I should have remembered my experience in 2006 of working at a famous-in-the-90s Silicon Valley giant that that kind of company would not be for me. But i needed a job. It all turned out well in the end, because i eventually quit and went back to the first company i liked and had a great run until Brexit destroyed my sense of security in the EU.
Now, here we are. Shenzhen, 2017. Just like when i went to Berlin, i flew over with just a backpack. My deadline to find work is when my cash hits zero. That won't be long. Unlike Germany, i do not have work permission. This feels more like the US in 2001 or Canada in 2009 - i am a foreigner with a real desire to live here and to contribute to the economy, but not with a unique enough skill to be worth the effort required for most companies to sponsor me. Unlike the US and Canada, i do not speak the language fluently, which is another major hurdle. It's very tough to even get my résumé considered, much less find work. Especially outside of Beijing and Shanghai, which are the two major centers for foreign workers in China.
Despite everything stacked against me, i have managed to score interviews at three companies. One is an American e-commerce company that pretty much everyone in America has heard of. One is a South American company that builds business software in a similar vertical to my previous employer. And one is a European company that provides services in the local supply chain. The second company is a perfect fit for my skills - i specifically reached out to them and proposed they create a role for me. They were very keen to hire me, but not willing to sponsor a work visa. The first company i interviewed at a few weeks ago and the recruiter keeps stringing me along saying they need more time to consider. The third company i interviewed at last week and just sent the offer yesterday. Deadline to accept is Wednesday.
It's a no-brainer, right? Just take the job; at least they will sponsor my visa. Once i have the visa it's much easier for other companies in China to hire me because it's just a work permit transfer rather than a complete visa application. If i really hate the work, i can just grit my teeth and peace out in 6 months. Meanwhile i might have passed HSK4, which would unlock the opportunity to study at a Chinese university or possibly work in a Chinese-language workplace. Seems good, right?
Why am i still unsure? I think part of the reason is because i haven't worked for over 6 months. The effect of not working on my mental health cannot be understated. My alcoholism is all but gone. Drug abuse, nope. Sleeping patterns, normal. Moods, fine. Physical health, very good. I don't have a very rich or exciting life, but i am so much happier. I cannot wait for universal basic income. I cannot wait for retirement. But, unfortunately, i live in the present day where i am forced to work to afford food and a roof over my head. I need to suck it up. Fuck capitalism, by the way.
The other thing that is worrying me is thinking back on the work environments that caused me the most personal stress. Specifically the big Silicon Valley company in Melbourne, the small IT services company in Toronto and the big e-commerce company in Berlin. Common frustrations at the two larger companies were: an incredible slowness in getting anything done, the tendency to throw away months or years of work as a result, and a politicized management chain that forced me to work on projects that reduced my or my team's efficiency at delivering real customer solutions. The smaller company was problematic because it was a dying company and most everyone had stopped caring before i was hired. Middle management was too pussy to fire anyone, and upper management wasn't even in the office anyways. So the two basic themes are out-of-touch management and a lack of employee engagement. Typical white collar problems.
If i wasn't such an underachiever, i would have pushed harder to get myself into management. I know i think a lot deeper about my guys' motivations than most managers who appear to only be doing the job for the status and not because they really care about improving the happiness and efficiency of their team. But management is not something that i really want to do (yet) in China, because i don't like the idea of foreign companies hiring foreign management to boss over the local workers. It feels too much like colonialism. I have mostly been applying for plain ol' developer roles.
So, i would be entering this new job at a low rung - around 26000€ per annum. That's a little more than local companies pay mid-level software developers, but quite low for senior-level and something like a 50% paycut from what i earned in Berlin. I don't care. Money isn't important. The corporate culture is important.
I was interviewed by HR, middle management and a team lead who may or may not be my team lead in the role. HR was awful, one of the least friendly and most poorly-organized HR people i have ever met. Then i remembered that i have only interviewed at a handful of "regular" companies in the past. I sometimes forget that companies outside of the tech industry don't have the touchy-feely, shower-you-with-perks HR staff that the tech industry does. The management team was much more friendly, but their look of relief didn't escape my notice. Clearly the IT department is under a lot of pressure and they desperately need good workers. Their salary isn't high enough to attract workers driven by cash, and their technology isn't interesting enough to attract workers driven by technical passion. I read the signs and get the impression there is a fairly quick turnover and a fairly junior team. A strong management could prevent that, but unfortunately C-level is not located in China. Even if the CTO gave a shit about the IT department, it doesn't seem like it would help much since this isn't a tech company so there is no Silicon Valley pampering of the technical staff. It seems tech workers are instead bent to the deadlines and requirements of the global SCM industry, which is likely to create a comparatively stressful environment. Not a good corporate culture at all.
But, you know, it's also an opportunity, which is what i told them in the interview. I didn't talk myself up too much because it's not the Chinese way, but i did say i have experience in communicating with people who don't understand how software is built. Although i would be hired primarily as a developer, perhaps i could help make a difference in how the company feels about the IT staff and how the tech staff themselves feel about their role in a company that isn't focused on tech. Yeah yeah, there's me wanting to go fix everything again. Contrasted to the interview i had with the famous American e-commerce company, it does seem like a more interesting challenge. At the famous American e-commerce company i would just slot into their massive tech team as another little cog, doing the same old shit i have been doing for 10+ years. Entirely predictable work - likely to be low stress but also lacking much sense of achievement. This job, on the other hand, will almost certainly suck but there is a small chance of pulling off something really cool.
I dunno. I am strongly leaning toward accepting the offer. I mean, i know what i am getting into up-front, right? Just, i also know that applying for the visa is going to be a massive pain in the ass, possibly even requiring me to fly to Australia just to get a "legalized" copy of my diploma and then fly to Canada to file the forms... and all on my own dime, since company support is for sponsorship, not for flying all over the world to get the fucking documentation together. God, immigration is a suck. Just to get a hard-scrabble job. Meanwhile, learning Chinese. Meanwhile, developing local friendships. Meanwhile, 12 days annual leave means not really living the digital nomad dream. But this city has millions of migrant workers facing the same challenges, and they are hustling hard for much less pay. What better way to try understand that experience than to take the job?
Sigh. I do fucking hate work, though.