Bewildered: Where to go after big tech?

The young elites working for tech giants feel the chill this December as many of them are being “optimized”.

Photo from CFP

Photo from CFP

By ZHOU Shuqi


WU Jing’s career at iQiyi has come to an abrupt end in early December. It was nothing personal, more than half her colleagues in the content production group were canned as the video streaming platform's innovation and business run into a bottleneck. Local media reported that as much as 40 percent of all iQiyi employees will be gone.

How the mighty are fallen

Times are tough at the tech giants. Baidu, ByteDance, Tencent, and Kusishou –the go-to places for graduates for many years – are all laying people off.

Many from top universities, who are often the hyper-privileged products of a highly effective educational system that has taken them on a seamless journey from kindergarten to post-graduate. Many assumed, without ever giving it much thought, that a job at a tech giant meant a great salary, a great future, and a great social life. So mortified are many of them by this sudden jolt into the real world, that they simply can’t cope. The gravy train has hit the buffers.

Wu joined iQiyi in the days of sensational variety shows The Rap of China and Idol Producer. When the video streaming platform made its debut at NASDAQ at US$18 (115 yuan) there was an atmosphere of heady exuberance. There is not such much joy around iQiyi today, with shares trading at less than five bucks.

Wu had noticed the weight that descended on the company: no more trending original shows and no money to spend. It was just a phase, she thought, a notion confirmed only two weeks ago when her boss asked her which new project she would like to take on. After six days as a core member of a small team, Wu updated her social media status to “looking for a job.”

Musical chairs and merry-go-rounds

CHEN Yi worked for a top production firm that had just nailed US$ 50 million Series D financing.

Then in October, the company lost 5 million yuan despite all sales targets being met. “My leader told me she was considering letting my assistant go,” he said. “It turns out, I wasn’t wanted either.”

LIN Xiaoran worked for Guagualong, the education arm of ByteDance. When after-school tutoring was banned this summer, her company laid off over 4,000 employees. Since August, Lin’s group had seen five leaders come and go. Her desk in the office had changed eight times, so, when the company thanked her for her service in November, it came as no surprise. “Many of my friends had been laid off already. I knew my turn would come. But still, it is hard to just soak it up and move on,” Lin said.

LIANG Tian was laid off by Baidu in October. “I watched team leaders change like a merry-go-round,” Liang said. “Every single one of the team was thinking about squeezing one another out of the game instead of doing their jobs.”

“I was the top-rated employee in my division in Q2, and in Q3 they asked me to leave,” she said. “It is pretty obvious that I’m not the one with problems.”

Paths diverge

Chen is sending his CV to all the other tech giants. “Platforms like Tencent and Alibaba are still better than small companies,” he said. “You can learn so many things there and even if you are sacked again, it won’t be hard to find another job.”

Liang, on the other hand, hasn’t rushed out to find a new job. She has been traveling around China for two months If nothing else, her brief brush with Big Tech has taught her that life is about more than making haste and money.