30 March 2014

Why work in Southeast Asia?

An expat technology professional's perspective

The best decision I've made in my career so far was taking an overseas post with my company 12 months ago.  No - this isn't just Singapore specific, we travel to and work with companies in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, and Hong Kong (obviously East Asia). Following are some reasons why - with a technology lens, but hopefully interesting to people in other professions as well.
  • The tech challenges are endless
  • The Asian century is booming and tech entrepreneurs are kicking goals
  • Solving business problems with a plethora of cultures and backgrounds is truly rewarding

Tech challenges

When it comes to technology it has to be simple, mobile, engaging.  Here more than elsewhere we work the focus on simplicity and the transition to consumer style applications from a corporate perspective is rife.  There's an interesting debate on the consumerisation of enterprise applications by Deloitte here, and a few points on Forbes here - "Publicly-traded enterprise software companies aren’t investing in design enough and startups are improving their interfaces at an alarming rate.".

Many companies here haven't had to deal with the last 20 years of enterprise technologies as they just haven't had the systems in place.  Their benchmark for applications is often consumer based and they won't settle for the sub par experiences available in many enterprise software stacks (luckily we're ahead of the curve here on many fronts - e.g. the only enterprise recruitment system that provides mobile careers & job applications out-of-the-box).  It's no wonder with stats from Nielsen such as 47% of Malaysians in urban areas having multiple mobile handsets (see an objective look at mobile stats in Southeast Asia by Tigermine here) .

Configuring and building simple, mobile, and engaging systems is where it's at here - at the forefront of enterprise technology.

The Asian Century

A quick glance at the green areas in the chart above make it abundantly clear that Southeast Asia is a sea of opportunity.  With sites like Singapore founded streaming video site being snapped up for $200M it's no wonder that Singapore is pushing itself on a trajectory to be the Silicon Valley of Southeast Asia. There are also some phenomenal companies such as Bagosphere and One Cent Movement making software with social impact - attempting to tip the scales on the rampant inequality throughout the region.

It's not only software where companies are making a splash - a kickstarter campaign started by the Pirate3D team here in Singapore has over $1M in backing to revolutionise consumer 3D printing.

I'm truly excited about the slew of technology innovations that will originate in Asia.

Cultural experience

Sitting in a meeting where the nationalities are Singaporean, Australian, Japanese, Indian, and Malay really changes your perspective of a business meeting. The dynamics at play working in a cultural melting pot, and the wide range of nationalities we meet on a daily basis really allow you to hone communication, influencing, and negotiation skills.  It's no wonder it's a challenge when you look at tools like Hoefsted's that highlight the differences between cultures, and this neat perspective on communication patterns around the world.

Having lived 1000's of km away from my family for nearly 15 years now it's not surprising that home has quickly become Singapore, and this is a burgeoning trend with a increasing global workforce. A slight aside, but there are some fascinating charts from the last ~20 years of global migration here.

I love learning about other cultures, and getting to travel through this region - every time I get on a plane it's another adventure.  Somehow though it all comes back to the food, and if I can recommend one thing to anyone embarking on an overseas assignment whether it be long or brief - don't shy away from the food - try it all, and share it with whoever you can as this is where some of the best bonds and relationships are formed.

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