Hatching the plan

Why go to China in the middle of a pandemic? That’s the first question people asked me when I told them about my plans to go to China for the summer. 

China has always fascinated me since I first travelled there in 2011 when I was still working for AMD. One of my responsibilities at AMD was to be the executive sponsor for our Fellow and Senior Principal engineering training programs and as a result I had a lot of interaction with our engineers. Obviously, I spent a lot of time with the US/CA engineers but every time I visited India and China, it struck me that these engineers were just as smart and perhaps even more motivated but lacked experience. To me, that was the big difference between US engineers and China engineers.  Of course, experience is just a matter time and interesting projects to work on. Over the last 10 years I’ve seen China develop rapidly to a point where they are leading in more and more technology areas ranging from their traditional strength in manufacturing to very advanced machine learning technologies. 

While I have travelled often to China, probably close to 40-50 times, I have never had the chance to actually live there and experience China up and close. I wanted to change that and during the summer of 2020 I put together a plan to experience that.

I’m fortunate that I work as a technical executive in the Azure, Microsoft organization and that Microsoft has a strong presence in China. Especially, Microsoft has a Research Lab (MSRA) in Beijing that has a rich culture of inviting visitors to collaborate with them.

Career wise, I was at a good point for a disruption. I had been operationalizing a major project that I had incubated and built from the ground up for 5+ years and I needed to revitalize myself, learn new things, and expose myself to new experiences. This is why I didn’t want to wait until COVID19 was over and miss this opportunity.

With that in mind I formulated a plan about spending a couple of months at MSRA, why this was a good thing for my company and myself. I discussed this with my manager and what I expected to be a difficult conversation was the easiest thing in the world. After a brief explanation of what I wanted to do, why I wanted to do it and what I wanted to accomplish my manager was all in. He even encouraged me to go longer (6 month) than I had originally planned (3 month) because he immediately saw the value of cross pollination. I then reached out to the MSRA lab director who was equally thrilled. That’s why I’m now in a Shanghai quarantine hotel overlooking the downtown Pudong area.

While I won’t go into all the details for the objectives I have for this trip, here is a list of things I’m planning to do these next few months:

  • WfH: Manage my teams back in the US. I can’t shed all my responsibilities back home,
  • Think: How I would build a Cloud infrastructure if I could start from scratch,
  • Learn: MSRA is a hotbed for machine learning, and I’d like to get more hands on with that,
  • Grow: I want to build out my business and technical network in China and get a much better idea of what makes it tick,
  • Language: One of my requirements was a daily Chinese tutor. I want to learn more than just 我要一杯啤酒 (I want one glass of beer).

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